Uganda Looks North as Rwanda Considers Eastern Connection

20 July 2015 Monday, 19:56

The Kampala-Kigali leg of Standard Gauge Railway line, under the northern corridor infrastructure development initiative, may delay as Uganda shifts its priority to “a more economically viable line” to South Sudan. And in the wake of Kampala’s changed priorities, Rwanda has been left with no option but to look east to Tanzania, a non-member of the so-called coalition of the willing of the northern corridor, for a quicker railway connection to the sea.

Individuals familiar with these developments told The Independent in Kigali on condition that they are not named that the burden is now on Kenya, with huge business interest in Rwanda and the vast DR Congo, to try and persuade Uganda to stick to the original plan to prioritise construction of Kampala-Kigali railway line.

Kenya has invested massively in the expansion of Mombasa port and is vigorously promoting it as the port of choice for the landlocked countries in the region. Any delay to construct the Uganda-Rwanda section of the railway line could see Mombasa lose the Rwanda and DR Congo market to its business rival, Dar ess Salaam port.

Construction of the railway line is one of the major projects supposed to be fast tracked by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda under a tripartite arrangement; aiming at boosting intra-regional trade by reducing the cost of transporting goods to and from the sea. Rwanda also needs the electric railway line quickly to reduce the cost of transporting imports and exports—currently the biggest contributing factor to the high cost of doing business in the landlocked country.

The project has several sections such as Mombasa – Nairobi, Nairobi – Malaba, Tororo – Gulu – Pakwach that will connect Kampala to Juba, the capita of South Sudan; and the Malaba – Kampala, Kampala – Kasese and Kasese – Kigali through Mirama hills.

According to sources, although Kampala remains committed to the Standard Gauge Railway line project to Kigali, it has decided to fund construction of the Tororo-Gulu Pakwach line first because of the big economic interests the country has in South Sudan. Compared to Rwandan, South Sudan is a bigger market for Kampala by far.

“Ugandan wants to consider South Sudan [first] because it is a bigger market and this will definitely delay the Uganda-Rwanda line,” a Rwanda government official said.

The official said that Kenya is however trying to push Uganda to consider Kampala –Kigali railway section first, but if Nairobi doesn’t succeed in influencing Uganda’s decision, Rwanda is almost set to look east to Dar es Salaam that is after all nearer to the sea. “Uganda cannot afford the cost of constructing Juba-Kampala section and Kampala-Kigali section concurrently. For us we shall consider turning to Dar es Salaam on central corridor that is even near,” the official said.

Rwanda and Tanzania have recently warmed up to each other after some period of cold diplomatic relations.

Uganda’s minister of Works and Transport John Byabagambi has confirmed that Kampala is working on the eastern route to Nairobi first; and will thereafter embark on the northern section to South Sudan.

“The problem we have is money; otherwise we would develop all the sections at the same time. We need all the projects but now our priority is Kampala-Malaba route that connects to Nairobi and then northern section which is Tororo-Gulu-Pakwach that connects us to Juba.”

Asked about the western section that would connect to Kigali, Byabagambi said: “We hope by 2020 a train will move from Nairobi to Kampala. However the western route that links Kampala to Kigali will come last; I can’t tell exactly when but we will embark on it after 2020.”

Byabagambi further said that Uganda government needs $14 billion to invest in all the sections. Currently Uganda has secured only $3.3 billion from the Chinese Exim bank to be invested on the Kampala-Malaba route.

“We have interests in oil and we cannot ignore prioritising it. If we get more funds, especially from oil, we will embark on developing all infrastructural projects,” Byabagambi said.

On the current construction status, the minister said that geotechnical work to ascertain exactly where the railway line would pass is going on.

Mombasa –Kigali standard gauge railway via Uganda had been earlier envisaged to become operational by 2018, but the project hit a financial hitch. With a change in Uganda’s priorities, Kigali will have to wait longer for the train to come though Mirama hills.

Why Juba first?

Latest statistics shows that South Sudan is Uganda’s main export market accounting for 15 per cent of the country’s total exports by July 2015. It was followed by Kenya, DRC, Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and UAE. Uganda mostly exports agricultural products (80 percent of total exports). The most important exports is coffee (22 percent of total exports) followed by tea, cotton, copper, oil and fish.

Despite the conflict in South Sudan, Uganda trade with Africa’s youngest country has been improving with informal exports to Juba growing from $9.1 million in 2005 to $929.9 million in 2008. Formal exports also increased, but less dramatically, from $50.5 million in 2005 to $245.9 million in 2008. Asked whether Rwanda would consider prioritising central corridor railway, Jules Ndenga; the railway transport senior engineer in the Ministry of Infrastructure,said that government was considering both projects concurrently. But Rwanda will need about $2.4 billion to pull off both projects at ago.

The line to the Tanzanian border at Rusumo and the one to Uganda via Mirama hills are both estimated at 400kms.

Constructing a standard gauge railway is more expensive compared to the road, with a kilometer of a railway line costing between $5million and $8million, experts say. Ndenga further noted that Rwanda government was ready to go with whoever implements and constructs a railway line up to the Rwandan border. “The Railway project is our top priority; that’s why we are considering both projects on the central and northern corridors. What we need is a project that will reduce transportation costs and boost our exports,” he said. Like Uganda and Kenya, Rwanda is also eyeing Exim bank of China to finance the Rwandan railway segment as well as external private investors who might invest in the project.

“We don’t’ have any financing problem; we had bilateral discussions with the Chinese government this year in May and what they want from us is a complete feasibility study for them to provide the funds,” Ndenga said.

Africa 50, a project by the African Development Bank aimed at mobilising private financing to accelerate infrastructure development in the continent, is in charge of developing the 2,935kms Standard Gauge Railway project business plan and this could help bring more financiers.

Kenya has already commenced construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi line with over 40 kilometers already constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Capacity building

Rwanda is sending engineers to Nairobi to undergo training and, according to Ndenga, this will help to provide manpower when construction commences on the Rwanda section. Ten people are sent every month to work on Mombasa-Nairobi railway project with Kenyan experts as trainers.

According to experts, the line will initially carry diesel cars while electric trains are possible in future. Multiple unit passenger trains with a capacity to carry 960 passengers will travel at an average speed of 120km per hour. Freight trains will have a capacity of 108 standard containers (216 TEUs) and travel at an average speed of 80km per hour. A typical freight train on the line will consist of 54 double stack flat wagons and measure 880 metres long. According to statistics, transporting a cargo container from Mombasa to Kigali costs about $5,000 by road, but with the standard gauge railway in place, the costs will reduce to $2,000.

It takes, on average, five days for a truck to leave Kigali, going to western Kenya, loading and coming back to Kigali (northern corridor).

Rwanda main imports include oil—about 20,000m3 of oil products (petrol, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel) per month.

Source : Independent.Ug

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