By Alfred Odong, Ultimate Media
Many people have for long known Jinja as Uganda’s most industrialized town, which in addition accommodates the country’s only power dam and the source of the worlds’ longest river, the Nile.
But after the 1970s turmoil under Idi Amin who chased Asian businessmen who had developed the town and established many businesses there, Jinja has to many become a silent unattractive town, with some people calling it a sleeping giant.
But a visit to Jinja, a one hour drive from Uganda’s capital Kampala reveals a town that is rising back to its traditional vibrancy with leading businesses, leisure venues and claiming its rightful place as the hub of Uganda’s natural attractions.
A journey to Jinja town commonly known as stone town among the youth because “Jinja” in Lusoga and Luganda vernacular means stone(s) is mostly by road. There are taxis in the Old Taxi part in Kampala, which you can board at the Jinja stage, or you can board taxis, which pick people along the Jinja Road route.
The taxi fare ranges from shs2500 to shs3000 in the normal season. The route to Jinja from Kampala is also a discovery in its own that you get to learn a lot about Uganda.
In about five minutes after leaving the taxi park in case there is no traffic jam, you get to Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb where you can’t miss to notice the national stadium named after the greatest African freedom fighter, Neslson Mandela.
At about two kilometers from Bweyogerere you reach at Namanve where there is an assembling plant for the worlds biggest soft drink producers, coca cola.
As you approach Seeta, another major town on the Jinja highway, you will notice by the road side a petroleum depot on your left, next to it you see a big signpost welcoming you to Rwenzori, not the mountain but mineral water packaging plant.
Mukono town lies next to Seeta on the Jinja road, busy with activity common in many traditional towns as vehicles, pedestrians are crossing the roads from one side to another as they transact their businesses in most of the town shops close to the road.
One of the most interesting highlights of the journey to or from Jinja is a stop at Namawojolo, where you get to enjoy roasted bananas locally known as Gonja, roasted chicken, liver, beef, which can be packed for a long Journey or for a good take back home from the journey. Almost every part on the road is notable, from Lugazi town with the Lugazi Sugar works, Cable production industries among others.
Mabira forest, one of the three major forests in Uganda is yet another point on the way to Jinja that will give one a true picture of Uganda being the pearl of Africa as its ever green vegetation and forest cover gives a true tropical climate meaning that Uganda is known for.
Just after the first part of the forest, you are confronted by a uniform expanse of green plantation, the sugar and tea plantations on either sides of the road stretching for about three kilometers after which Kitigoma trading center emerges.
This is the stage before Mbiko at the outskirts of Jinja where trailers and trucks from or to Mombasa park by the roadside. This is popularly known for prostitution as the truck drivers who are believed to be having a lot of money for their up keep on their long journeys a cross the borders of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania spend their nights here as they rest and answer natures calls to satisfy the 3rd human need.
As you close in on Jinja is Njeru town housing Nile breweries, one of the leading businesses in East Africa and King Fisher one of the luxurious venues most people who have not visited Jinja find as a must go area.
King Fisher offers a good view of the Source of the River Nile, as one can see the bars in the water, which mark the source of the Nile on the massive Lake Victoria. Though on a large water mass, King Fisher has a swimming pool, a bar with all sorts of wines, spirits and is famous for the grass-thatched hurts from where people sit to sip a drink as they enjoy a cool breeze from the waters. Here, one also has a good view of most buildings in Jinja town, the natural green, and it is a good sight for watching birds flying in the air.
As you continue to Jinja town you cant miss the Owen falls dam with the numerous electricity installations, sound from the turbines as they make electricity and the mighty bridge crossing the Nile near its source as the main indication.
As you drive towards Jinja town at the dam, on the left you will notice water levels have drastically fallen, leaving stones small and big as well as sand visible.
The gateway to Jinja is Ambakot round about, where you leave the road to the left leading to the Kimaka commanders’ college, Nile Resort and Budondo, the area that supplies Jinja with numerous foodstuffs.
There is another road leading to the Iganga, Tororo, Busia, Mbale, Kumi, Soroti, Kabermaido, Lira, Kapchorwa, West Nile, confirming Jinja’s centrality for one to go to many other parts of Uganda.
There are four fuel stations at Ambakot probably because of the many vehicles that pile the route as many business products pass through Jinja road to reach customers.
This town was once a pivotal stop for the Uganda railway as most goods from Mombasa at the Kenyan border would be brought to Jinja for later selling to other parts of the country, if they were not to be taken to Kilembe in western Uganda where the railway stopped because of the minerals that were being picked from Kilembe.
Today, the railway line which passes near Ambakot roundabout is out of use for passengers but is used on a smaller scale to carry cargo from Kenya to Uganda.
Most of Jinja town are neatly kept old buildings housing shops, offices and other service businesses in this town that is the center of Busoga region. Whether night or day time, Jinja is a town live with activity as many people come here for leisure or for cheaper goods as Jinja tries to find its centrality in Uganda’s business and natural attractions. Many of the factories here that were closed by Idi Amin’s economic war have been resurrected by the former owners who came back and reclaimed the properties in the 1990s. But it is unlikely to return to Jinja of old, as some factories like Nytil which used to produce much of the clothes used in Uganda and was employing many Ugandans as well as consuming cotton produced in parts of the country has virtually collapsed, with some of its premises being used to rear goats.
But one thing you can never take way from Jinja is its natural beauty and attractions, which begin with the Nile and lake Victoria.
Even from the town center you can enjoy the cool breeze from the lake. But there is this place called Cool Breeze, which was recommended to me as a ‘happening’ place where the middle class, civil servants, the business community come to relax, drink, watch premier league, eat roasted chicken as they enjoy the musical flavour of local and international tunes.
At times, there is Karaoke for young talented chaps who have not yet produced their own music but want to show their potential in singing as they mime popular songs.
Around the same place in the western part of Jinja is the Annesworth Hotel, Timton Hotel, YMCA, Crested Crane Hotel, which is government owned, children’s hospital owned and managed by the Madhvani family before you come to a very beautiful church belonging to the Later Day Saints of Christ of the Mormons sect.
Opposite the later day saints church is Jinja Senior Secondary School, which when still a student there made me proud especially that many people used to talk of it as being the biggest school in East Africa, a confirmation I almost believed until I joined Makerere University that is slightly bigger than Jinja S S.
During the establishment of Busoga University about four years ago, many people proposed Jinja S. S. to house the University, the main reason being that it is big enough with well planned structures and good location in the center of town.
The most appealing attraction in the mighty school is the oval, cricket ground, which has been put to international standards by the Uganda Cricket Association with tuff, carpet and nets for training with no burden to run after the ball after bowling or batting.
Being a busy town, Jinja has several recreational paces, including Spekes camp at the source of the Nile where you will have an opportunity to watch traditional dancers wiggling their waists in line with beats from traditional drums, calabashes among other local musical instruments.
There is also Sombreros Night Club, the only discotheque in town, located on Spire Road. A ten minutes stroll from any part of town will get you at the popular joint. This is where many people in Jinja come to enjoy a variety of music ranging from rhythms and blues (R&B), zouk, reggae, raga, lingala, with plenty of music with the same blend but done by local artists.
A poster at the entrance indicates that Wednesday is ladies night, Friday R&B, Saturday oldies while Sundays are put a side for classic music.
If you pay this club a visit on any of the mentioned days, you will notice that the love for their local artists’ music is more than I can afford to describe. What is strikingly evident is that each time they play a song, the majority of people will sing along, emotionally taken by messages the songs carry.
In Jinja town, everybody will recommend to you a visit to Nile Resort, a striking semblance of traditional cottages and modern hotel and leisure venues at the banks of River Nile. But to have a night here, you will need to pay in US dollars though the drinks and access to the pool, gym can be paid for in the local currency.
But a visit to Jinja is not complete until you go to Bujagali falls, about 8kms from Jinja town where nature has provided a splendid venue for water rafting, sight seeing and rapids from one of the strongest water falls on River Nile.
This is where there was and still is controversy over the proposed construction of the dam to help curb the power problem the country is facing as environmentalists maintain building the dam will destroy the tourist attractions at Bujagali.
Here, you will meet traditional dancers dressed in backcloths, leopard skins, beads as they dance uniformly to give you entertainment as you enjoy the gift of nature that Bujagali is. Many people also come here to seek intervention of the local spirits from Jaja Bujagali, the caretaker of the spirits that many locals believe rule over the area and Lake Victoria. People who don’t come here for adventure must have come to offer sacrifices to Bujagali and get healed of different kinds of ailments.
That is why the entry fee of shs500 for locals and shs1000 has remained manageable for many people, including those who come to see boys who for a fee will dive in the rolling water falls for the entertainment of visitors. But those with cars pay an extra 2000, which isn’t much for what anybody will admit to you is a fulfilling experience.