Budalangi, Busia

Green reflectors put on guard-rails along the 100 m bridge in Budalangi, Busia County of western Kenya, create an amazing spectacle as one drives along the facility at night.

The bridge, known as Sigiri, is built by a Chinese company. However, it is not only a marvel at night. During the day, one gets to appreciate the great works that turned it into a wonder in the rural area.

For many years, it took up to a day or even weeks for residents to cross by boat the river that separates Bunyala south and north.

The journey would be longer if it had rained heavily upstream and the water at the lower end would be flowing with greater force, making it difficult for boat operators to sail across.

Some residents would abandon their journeys altogether during such times, others would choose to take a 40 km trip to reach the opposite side while some would risk crossing, leading to disastrous consequences.

Several lives have been lost at the spot. For the residents, however, that is now in the distant past as they enjoy using the 992 million Kenyan shillings (9.72 million U.S. dollars) bridge built by the China Overseas Engineering Group.

Business is thriving on both sides of the bridge: resorts are coming up; shops and eateries have been opened; public transport vehicles and motorbike taxis are having a field day ferrying people and goods from one side to another.

“This is the best thing to have ever happened to Budalangi,” John Oundo, a resident, said on Tuesday.

“I no longer need to plan for days, look at the sky if the rains are coming or tour the river to check the water level before I make decision whether to travel or not,” he added.

Oundo recounted that during the rainy season in March-May and in October-December, most residents never used to journey across the river by boat.

“Ours is a dry region but we are at lower level where the river empties in Lake Victoria. Therefore, whenever it rained upstream heavily, we would suffer downstream. Our lives would come to a standstill because we would not cross the river,” he observed.

At a newly opened resort on the south, business is thriving as the facility opens until late into the night, with a good number of customers coming from the opposite side of the river.

“If it was not for the bridge, we would not be operating this business. No one would have wanted to risk crossing the river when it is raining to come and take a beer on this side,” said Millicent Musazi, an attendant at the club that was opened recently, targeting the Christmas peak.

It takes some three minutes to cross the bridge by vehicle or motorbike and up to 10 minutes for those walking.

For businessman Moses Ajwang’, who runs a shop and motorbike taxi business, that is what has made his business thrive.

“I buy my supplies from Port Victoria town, some 7km away. If something is not in the shop, I just tell one of my motorbike riders to buy it for me and deliver in minutes. That boosts business,” he said.

Once the bridge was completed, the biggest losers turned out to be boat operators who for years had ferried residents from one side of the river to the other side. However, as they say, when one doors closes, another opens.

The youths are now in the sand harvesting business, with the bridge having brought new opportunities as lorries are able to reach the south from the north to buy the much sought-after construction material as real estate booms in the rural area.

The government ratified the use of the bridge in August following its completion and engineers having found it sound.

“The bride is 100 percent complete and it is structurally sound. Both static and dynamic loading tests have given positive results concerning the stability of the bridge,” said Kenya Rural Roads Authority engineer Sylvester Mwamba recently.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi who comes from the region, noted that the bridge would not only uplift the economy of the region but also lives of residents. Enditem

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