Northern Corridor seeks new routes to ease congestion at Malaba, Busia​

Wednesday February 16 2022
Traffic snarlup in Kenya near the Malaba border with Uganda.

The long traffic snarlup caused by trucks along the northern corridor highway at Malaba border Town in Bungoma County, western Kenya. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The Northern Corridor is surveying alternative transit routes within East Africa to increase cargo haulage and reduce backlog at border points.

The transport corridor, long disadvantaged by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and facing fierce competition from the Central Corridor, is now eyeing alternative transit routes through Lwakhakha (Kenya-Uganda border), Nadapal (Kenya-South Sudan border), and Todonyang (Kenya-Uganda-Ethiopia border).

The Northern Corridor links the Kenya sea port of Mombasa to the hinterland countries of Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

“To ease congestion of traffic at Malaba and Busia border stations and to offer alternative transit routes for truckers, the NCTTCA Policy Organs in their August 2021 session, directed the Secretariat to undertake a trade and transport logistics survey of Northern Corridor alternative transit routes through Lwakhakha and Nadapal,” said Justus Omae Nyarandi, the executive secretary of the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA).

“Opening alternative transit routes through Lwakhakha and Nadapal will ease traffic through the Malaba and Busia border stations. The traffic targeted to use this route includes cargo to South Sudan, Northern Uganda, and parts of North Eastern DRC.”

Throughput increase


Despite Kenya having many border stations in operation, only two — Busia and Malaba — are used by heavy commercial vehicles. 

However, with increasing volumes of traffic on the Northern Corridor, these stations are stretched, often leading to long queues of trucks and delays in clearance of freight. 

Total cargo throughput at Mombasa increased in the past five years, from 27 million tonnes in 2016 to 34 million tonnes in 2020 against a target of 35.90 million tonnes, the June 2021 Northern Corridor Observatory Report shows. 

The survey conducted in October 2021, was validated by stakeholders from the member states during a virtual workshop held on December 9, 2021.

“The survey observed that the member states have made strides in development of transport infrastructure on the Northern Corridor contributing to increasing volumes of cargo traded and transported along the corridor,” said Mr Nyarandi.

“Nevertheless, infrastructure deficiencies were noted and recommendations made to facilitate use of the alternative transit routes through Lwakhakha and Nadapal by heavy commercial vehicles.”

Holding areas

The Northern Corridor transport infrastructure comprises roads, railway, and pipeline, inland waterways, border stations, Cargo Freight Stations (cargo holding/handling areas) and weighbridges designated by the member states.

Total trade along the Northern Corridor is estimated at $3.17 billion, according to the Northern Corridor Observatory Report, 2021. 

Formal trade between Kenya and Uganda accounts for 32 percent, followed by trade between DRC and Rwanda at 19.1 percent of the total trade value within the region. 

Kenya is the single largest exporter in the region.

“Uganda is 98 percent Northern Corridor. Kenya’s cargo is much bigger. And with the use of the SGR, the Northern Corridor is likely to claim 50 percent of imports to Kigali,” said Mr Nyarandi.

Despite the shrinking volumes in 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic, transit cargo volume in 2020 grew by 2percent to achieve 1.360 million TEUs in 2020 compared to 1.417 million TEUs in 2019. 

The growth was attributed to tremendous transit traffic growth for Rwanda, South Sudan and DRC while Uganda and Burundi recorded a slight decline according to the Northern Corridor Observatory Report 2021.

In the report, imports take the lion’s share of total cargo throughput, accounting for about 80 percent, and leading to an unfavourable trade balance. 

Cargo haulage by rail has been increasing steadily from 28 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2019. 

Uganda took the largest part of transit traffic through the Port of Mombasa, accounting for approximately 76 percent of transit traffic, South Sudan stands at 10percent, and DRC at about seven percent.

“The introduction of cargo transport through the SGR from Mombasa to Naivasha and onto the Standard Gauge railway to Uganda is significantly going to change the equation on the Northern Corridor,” said Nyarandi.

“The fuel jet through the port of Kisumu has also seen significant transport volumes on the Northern Corridor.”

The Northern Corridor is also eyeing a transport route to Ethiopia. However, Kenya is yet to upgrade the international trunk road and development of the Kimaeti–Malakis–Lwakhakha route off the Webuye–Malaba highway.

“The transit route from Kainuk to Juba through Lodwar and Nadapal is under construction, but there is need to give priority to construct the one kilometre stretch of road between the Kenya and South Sudan entry/exit clearance stations at Nadapal to enable heavy commercial vehicles to use of this route,” Nyarandi told The EastAfrican

Gazetted station

The Northern Corridor also expects Kenya to develop the road connecting Moroto–Uganda to Todonyang–Kenya/Ethiopia border through Lodwar. 

The road has a high potential of boosting trade and tourism in that region among the four countries Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda. 

“Furthermore, there is a need to gazette a border station between Uganda and Kenya at Nakiloro/Lokiriama and a border station at Todonyang between Kenya and Ethiopia,” he explained.

The border stations and the Moroto–Todonyang road will help connectivity to the Lapsset corridor for shippers in Uganda and beyond that opt to use Lamu port.

“It will also offer the shortest distance by road from Uganda to Ethiopia; about 250km,” said Mr Nyarandi.

The Northern Corridor received a boost last week following the re-opening of the Katuna/Gatuna border between Uganda and Rwanda that had been closed since February 2019 amid a diplomatic impasse between the East Africa Community neighbouring nations.