EAC summit to decide fate of stalled infrastructure projects

Tuesday November 21 2017

Kenya’s standard gauge railway

Kenya’s standard gauge railway is meant to ease transport in the EAC. The SGR is expected to link Mombasa to Kampala, Kigali and Bujumbura. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

EDMUND KAGIRE
By EDMUND KAGIRE
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The East African Community Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for December 1 in Kampala, Uganda, will determine the fate of regional infrastructure projects as disputes between partner states threaten to derail their progress.

With relations between partner states such as Uganda and Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda unstable, there is little progress that can be made, observers say.

Key projects that have been affected are the standard gauge railway (SGR) linking Mombasa to Kampala, Kigali and Bujumbura, the Power Pool project enabling countries to import electricity from Ethiopia and the oil pipelines.

Observers say the disputes could deal a heavy blow to regional integration plans.

Rwandan Minister in charge of EAC Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe said there has been slow progress on joint infrastructure projects, but maintains that partner states remain committed to regional integration.

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“We will be meeting in Kampala to discuss the prevailing issues and find a solution. The Heads of State Summit will also discuss the issue of mismanagement of the Secretariat, which has affected remittance of contributions from member states,” said Mr Nduhungirehe.

He said concerns about misuse of resources at the EAC secretariat have partly compounded the issues dogging the regional bloc.

Efforts to get a comment from Kamugisha Kazaura, Director of Infrastructure at the EAC proved futile as questions went unanswered.

Mr Nduhungirehe said the summit will also discuss existing non-tariff barriers in EAC partner states.

Key among the disputes is the decision by Uganda to abandon Kenya as a route for its oil pipeline and go for Tanzania, while Kigali accuses Kampala of frustrating its plans to connect to the SGR by opting for South Sudan instead of Rwanda.

SGR to Juba

Kigali had expressed concern over Kampala’s decision to extend the SGR to Juba and the delay in extending power lines to the border, which would allow Rwanda to connect to the Power Pool.

Until now, there has been no formal response by either side on the concerns but officials say the issues will be discussed in Kampala.

Brian Cooksey, a political researcher, said politics rather than economics is driving multibillion dollar investments in new ports and railways.

“Political relations between EAC elite strongly influence which infrastructure projects are implemented,” said Mr Cooksey, adding “There is little or no effective co-ordination of transport policy in the EAC.”

Mr Cooksey said the success of mega-projects largely depend on the relations and friendships between the countries, which makes their implementation unpredictable.

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