The race for economic dominance within the East African Community appeared to be taking shape as Kenya launched the first major project under the Coalition of the Willing — the standard gauge railway — while Tanzania announced a new economic partnership with Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo anchored in joint infrastructure projects.
In Mombasa, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the first phase of the construction of a nearly 500-kilometre standard gauge railway, the first in the region, signalling a departure from the slower and ageing of metre gauge railway.
The project is the first to be executed under the tripartite coalition bringing together Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda (which has since brought in South Sudan), in what has been widely interpreted by two other EAC partners Tanzania and Burundi as a snub.
Interestingly, the two, together with the DRC, chose to announce their co-operation on the same day (Thursday), in a move seen as a reaction to the snub by the CoW. As the two coalitions pull farther apart, a battle for economic pre-eminence in the region appears imminent.
Representatives of Tanzania, Burundi and DRC met in Bujumbura, Burundi and agreed to jointly develop road, rail, air and water transportation infrastructure.
Competition between the two coalitions in the region could be a blessing in disguise — a trigger for faster development of roads, railways, ports and other key projects needed to reduce the cost of doing business in the region and improve movement of goods and people.
When completed, the SGR is expected to lower transport costs in the region by more than 60 per cent.
“This dividend is the prize we seek for East Africa. This is the reason why we must view the substantial investment in the railway as a worthy investment to underpin the regional economic agenda. An economy only ever thrives on the foundation of proper infrastructure,” said President Kenyatta.
At their third infrastructure summit in Kigali on October 28, President Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, came up with an implementation plan for the various mega projects they are pursuing jointly. Each state is expected to provide a comprehensive report on its power generation capacities and investment programmes.
They agreed to conclude negotiations with potential developers for the Eldoret-Kampala pipeline segment. As such, they will remit their contributions to the cost of a feasibility study by November 30. They are to further hold consultations on a proposed crude oil pipeline.
Tanzanian Minister for East African Co-operation Samuel Sitta said their coalition agreed to develop the Uvinza railway line from the area to Msongati, Burundi and also connecting the Manyoni-Tabora-Kigoma road via Bujumbura to South Kivu, DRC.
The meeting was attended by Mr Sitta, Burundi’s Minister for East African Co-operation Leontine Nzeyimana and the DRC Minister of Transport, Jack Lukeba.
“We also visited the Port of Kalindo on Lake Tanganyika on the Burundi side because we want to improve the ports of the lake,” said Mr Sitta.
In Mombasa, President Kenyatta downplayed divisions within the EAC, terming such claims baseless as Kenya was also undertaking projects that would ease the movement of people and trade with Tanzani. He gave the example of the rehabilitation of the Voi-Taveta and Mombasa-Lunga Lunga roads.
“There are also plans to connect the railway through Taveta to Arusha and onwards to Dar es Salaam and thus truly link the East African region,” he said.
The first phase of the project comprises a 500 kilometre line from Mombasa to Nairobi. Designs for the second, Nairobi-Malaba, with a branch line for Kisumu, are being developed.
The line is being developed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation for $14 billion and is expected to be completed in 2016.