InfoNile

Geodata journalism. Mapping stories on water issues in the Nile Basin.

Fast and convenient: Is the Nile still an important transport route?

6th of October Bridge on Nile River in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Fredrick Mugira

Tuesday November 13th, 2018

Davis Mugume/The Niles
November 13, 2018

The River Nile has been used for millennia as a means of transporting people and goods, preceding even Ancient Egyptian civilisation.

Today it serves as both a transport route and an attraction for locals and tourists alike. Up until the 19th century and the arrival of the steam engine, it was virtually unknown to travel long distances by land. The majestic River Nile allowed people and goods to move across distances long and short.

Historical Egyptian watercraft had a high stern and bow, equipped with cabins at both ends. The boats were propelled south by the prevailing winds, while boats heading north relied on the current and oars.

The simplest type of boat in ancient Egypt was the skiff, made from tying together papyrus reeds. They were used for travelling short distances as well as fishing and hunting game in the marshes.
Longer journeys were taken on large wooden ships, which were equipped with square sails and oars. They were made of wooden planks, held together with rope, which expanded in the water, making the ship watertight. The ships were used to transport the massive blocks of stone that were used to build the pyramids, temples and cities along the river.

The only reliable means of transport
The vessels may have become more modern, but to this day the river is still a fast and convenient means of transport for the millions of people living in the Nile River Basin countries, such as Uganda.

One of these is Elizabeth Kiden, who lives in Koboko, Northern Uganda. She often visits her relatives who live on the other side of the river in Adjumani.

Although it only takes 15 minutes to cross the Nile by ferry, the first time she made the trip she was worried. “I was scared because of the large water and I imagined there were animals in the water,” she says. “But in the end it was fun.”

To this day the river is still a fast and convenient means of transport.

Lek Lek who hails from the Eastern Ugandan district of Jinja also depends on the river for transport, travelling frequently from the town of Jinja to Uganda’s capital Kampala. “It is a great experience and I do it at least once a month,” Lek says, adding that he pays 1,000 Ugandan shillings for the trip.

For others, travelling on the Nile is purely a source of pleasure. Ringo Ringo Garang, for example, is an IT specialist from South Sudan who often takes cruises to floating islands on the river. “It always gives me peace of mind whenever I cruise on the River Nile,” he says.

A business opportunity
The river can also be a source of income to entrepreneurs. Wiswa Mukuve, for example, has taken advantage of the business opportunities the River Nile offers.

The 37-year-old, who set up his own business in 1999, sells small boats and canoes to fishermen and rents out boats for pleasure trips for 10,000 Ugandan shillings a day.

He also transports passengers and commodities either on the River Nile or Lake Victoria from Masese port, about 1.5 kilometres from Jinja.

Mukuve says he makes a daily profit of 30,000 – 40,000 Uganda shillings, despite the challenges of high fuel prices. He supports his family of two wives and 10 children, who all go to school. “I have managed to buy a plot of land and I am now building on it.”

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