Goodbye 2023, hello 2024; please be a darling, as these are truly uncertain times

Monday January 01 2024

A cartoon illustration. PHOTO | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Goodbye to 2023…and a hesitant welcome to 2024. These are uncertain times, so we have to be cautious about what lies on the road ahead.

There is good news, though. In the first few weeks of 2024, we will likely have the tape cut on the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFHP), a joint development by Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. About 10 days ago, Tanzania’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy, Doto Mashaka Biteko, said the 80MW project was “99.9 percent complete”.

The Rusumo hydroelectric project is important for more reasons than just energy. It is located at Rusumo Falls on the Kagera River on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania, and not too far off from Burundi.

It is a relatively quiet border, nothing like the wildness at the Kenya-Uganda borders of Malaba and Busia, and the Kenya-Tanzania border of Namanga. It is the first purpose-built transnational project to come online in the post-1977 East African Community (EAC).

Read: Why business is booming in Kenya-Tanzania border town of Namanga

With Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania eating from the same pot, optimistic regional integrationists believe they are less likely to break it; helping glue the region together.


Likely to be close on its heels, in mid-December, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved $696.41 million for Burundi and Tanzania to start phase II of the joint Tanzania-Burundi-DR Congo standard gauge railway (SGR) project.

The financing is intended to construct 651 kilometres of the Tanzania-Burundi railway line. The electric SGR project will be connected to the existing railway network, providing access to the port of Dar es Salaam.

A total of 400 kilometres of rail infrastructure has already been built in Tanzania, from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, since the start of the first phase of the project. The rest of the section from Dodoma to Tabora is under construction.

Additionally, a branch of the railway, the Isaka–Kigali SGR, is planned to link the town of Isaka in Tanzania to Rwanda’s capital.

The Tanzania-Burundi railway should be a long way toward completion in late 2024, without unforeseen interruption. The remarkable thing is that since the Kenya-Uganda Railway entered Uganda, there has been no new land-based cross-border regular transport infrastructure built in East Africa in over 100 years.

There has been a slightly better record on Lake Victoria (Lake Nalubaale) with shipping, on one or two occasions in the past.

There were a lot of good noises from Tanzania in 2023. The government announced that it had started to work on the construction of the Bagamoyo port. It is expected that before the end of 2024, there will be some tractors moving earth on the site. When completed, Bagamoyo will be the largest port in East Africa.

Read: Is Dodoma ready to meet demands of capital city status?

With the 1,443-kilometre East African Crude Oil Pipeline (aka the Uganda–Tanzania Crude Oil Pipeline) likely to be complete at the Port of Tanga, 160 kilometres farther north, sometime in 2026, the East African coast could be a new stretch of great wealth, and the place to set up one’s stall.

In the hinterland, a fortnight ago, German biotech giant BioNTech took a major step toward producing mRNA vaccines in Africa by launching the first BioNTainer at its manufacturing facility in Kigali. It is the first foreign-company mRNA vaccine manufacturing site on the continent. It will make vaccines against various infectious diseases.

BioNTech said it is on track to complete the construction of all buildings at the Kigali site in 2024. Once complete, the factory will have the capacity to produce between 50 and 100 million doses of mRNA vaccines annually. Full commercial production is slated for 2025, but in the meantime, if Covid comes calling again, there will be something.

And when it does, this time it will be a very different story from 2020 and 2021. For many East Africans, a shot in the arm would be less than an hour away.

Meantime, there will be play. The 2024 Africa Nations Championships will be played in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar in a few months. It will be a dress rehearsal for the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations, which the three countries won the bid to jointly host.

Read: OBBO: For the big 2027 Afcon, we must now reinvent Community

One can foresee a lot of youthful energy bubbling around East Africa over this period. They won’t have much rest after it’s done. Many will be on the road to Kigali for the Veteran Clubs World Championship (VCWC). Between September 1 and 10, 2024, it will bring together 150 football greats from all regions of the world for 10 days to participate in a Legends Tournament and five economic forums.

One of the biggest names in the games will be Brazilian star Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known simply as Ronaldinho, then there will be Andrew Cole, Patrice Evra, Emmanuel Eboué, Momahed Mwameja, Juma Mossi, Jomo Sono and Hassan Karera, Laura Georges, Louis Saha, Amanda Dlamini, Bacary Sagna, Gaizka Mendieta, Miguela Pauleta, Robert Pirès, José Edmílson, Jay-Jay Okocha, Edgar Davids, Roger Milla, Kalusha Bwalya, Anthony Baffoe, Jimmy Gate, Sonny Anderson, Patrick Mboma, Maxwell Cabelino, Wael Gomaa — more former superstars than you can throw an umbrella at.

You will notice a couple of our clanmates are in the lineup.

In this mix, Kenya plans to scrap visa requirements for all Africans — and citizens of the world, early in the year.

Next week we will return to the likely horrors around the corner.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". Twitter@cobbo3