Uganda and Kenya team up on former metric gauge railway project eyeing the Congo in southern Sudan
With an eye on the markets of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, there is renewed dynamism in the Northern Corridor, as Uganda and Kenya join forces to push for rehabilitation and seamless connection of the old metric gauge railway line, on which the two countries’ officials met this week to discuss operational details.
It is understood that Kenya, which is reorganizing its metric gauge railway line from Naivasha to Malaba, wants a reliable mode of transport for the transit of goods to the hinterland in order to make its logistics infrastructure operational, in particular the Naivasha Inland Container Depot. In addition to leveraging its logistics infrastructure, Kenya is also eyeing the Congolese market of $ 92.3 million for its manufactured goods and apparently wants to see a link with Uganda materialize as soon as possible.
“Kenya is immediately interested in a seamless connection,” said Stanley Sendegeya, managing director of the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC).
On the sidelines of President Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration on May 12, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure, James Macharia, told The EastAfrican he had met his Ugandan counterpart, General Edward Katumba Wamala, to discuss metric gauge rail operations. The East African also understands that Chinese Embassy officials attended the meeting.
This meeting was part of the concession negotiations between China Roads and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and URC for the Chinese company to rehabilitate the Malaba-Kampala railway line.
“We came here to help them make this deal. It has been done, ”CS Macharia told The EastAfrican from Kampala. “The idea is to make sure that we have a flawless operation of the metric gauge railway line from Naivasha to Kampala.”
Kenya has hired CRBC to rehabilitate the Longonot-Malaba line and progress is good so far, the minister said.
“So we thought it made sense, Uganda should also start doing the same for their line in order to complete this project,” he added.
This new dynamism reflects the urgency of the two countries to access and dominate markets beyond their borders after years of failure in the construction of a standard gauge railway (SGR) of the Northern Corridor for the Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Signed in 2013 as part of the Northern Corridor integration projects, the RMS has only been operational in Kenya from Mombasa to Nairobi since 2018, but has not yet taken shape in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
“Uganda’s agreement with the contractor is to have this done as soon as possible to ensure that the line works for businessmen all the way to Kampala,” Macharia said.
These developments coincided with the approval by the Ugandan Parliament of a loan of $ 368.9 million to rehabilitate the metric gauge railway, which officials say once all components are fully renovated would constitute an important part of Ugandan infrastructure diplomacy in the Great Lakes region.
The loan includes a € 28.9 million ($ 34.9 million) concessional loan from Spain’s Business Internationalization Fund, financing two projects running simultaneously – a two-year project for railway construction and a three-year capacity building project, starting this month.
Both projects are entrusted to Spanish companies, with 30% local content, said Sendegeya.
It is understood that the Chinese are also looking for a contract.
Other donors are the African Development Bank, which will provide $ 233.2 million and the African Development Fund for $ 100.7 million – both concessional loans to finance construction and purchase of rolling stock, which includes locomotives, wagons and coaches.
“Our goal is to move freight from road to rail and we plan to transport 6 million tonnes per year. And once we do that, the costs will go down, ”Sendegeya explained, adding that transportation costs would drop from 13 US cents to 5 to 7 US cents per net tonne-kilometer.
In addition, goods in transit to the DRC and Rwanda, currently transported by road, will switch to rail and free the roads and double their lifespan, Sendegeya added.
In its efforts to revamp the metric gauge railway, Uganda is also reestablishing the road from Tororo in eastern Uganda to the town of Gulu in the north. The line is currently under construction. Significantly, the city also hosts the Gulu logistics hub, the first phase of which is also under construction, and is expected to be completed in March 2022. The hub – which will be connected to rail – has been planned as a strategic location connecting markets growing from Congo and South Sudan.
The overhaul of the Kampala-Kasese line, which ends near the Uganda-Congo border, and the Gulu-Pakwach line in northern Uganda, also plans to move goods near the border of the Congo. DRC.
“In five years, we want all of this to work,” Sendegeya said.
As part of revolutionary agreements, the DRC, whose vast eastern territory depends on the Northern Corridor for the movement of goods, has agreed with Uganda and Kenya to deploy in joint security and road construction operations for guarantee the ease of trade and the movement of goods.
DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who was in Kampala for the inauguration of President Museveni, met with the Ugandan leader and agreed to joint military operations in eastern Congo to ensure the safety of the construction of three roads who are under contract with Dott Services, a Ugandan company.
Uganda is paying 20 percent of the total cost of these roads, and last week a Congolese delegation held discussions with its Ugandan counterparts and is expected to sign an intergovernmental agreement “by the end of next week,” according to one. spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
The biggest partners
The roads connect some of the border towns of Uganda to the DRC, namely Kasindi to Beni (80 km), the integration of the Beni-Butebo axis (54 km) and the Bunagana-Rutshuru-Goma road (89 km ), with a total cost of $ 334.3 million, of which Uganda will contribute $ 65.9 million.
The DRC is one of Uganda’s largest trading partners in the region and has often been touted as an alternative market for Uganda since a civil war erupted in South Sudan in 2013 and later, when the Rwanda closed its common border with Uganda in early 2019.
Uganda’s total exports to Congo in 2018 were $ 532 million, of which informal trade exports were worth $ 312 million, while formal trade was worth $ 221 million.
Kenya has also indicated that it will move its army to eastern Congo to secure the region, following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Kinshasa last month, where he signed bilateral security, sea freight trade agreements. and transport with its host.
The agreement on sea freight will see the port of Mombasa grant certain privileges to the DRC for the use of Kenyan facilities, but also remedy the delays in imports to Congo by dedicating customs clearance channels for goods there. routed.
The rehabilitation of 260 km of the Malaba-Kampala line should be completed in less than 12 months.
The signing of the deal appears to further derail Kampala’s plan to have an SGR line from the border to Kampala and possibly Rwanda, even as it seeks to evacuate goods from Mombasa more quickly.
In January this year, Kenya began the $ 35 million rehabilitation of the 460 km Longonot-Malaba line, which is expected to be ready by the end of the year. Once repairs are completed on the old line, it will be connected to the Naivasha SGR. This will allow seamless transport of freight containers from Mombasa to Kisumu and to the Malaba border in Uganda.
Kenya Railways is already building a link line between the Naivasha ICD and the existing Longonot railway station, to ensure that this interchange is executed successfully.
The 24.3 km link will ensure that the cargo from the SGR moves to the MGR line at the Naivasha interchange for onward movement to Kampala.
In May last year, President Museveni argued that more and more goods should be transferred from road to rail, due to its low cost and the high costs of maintaining road networks due to heavy truck tolls.
Already, the National Enterprise Corporation, the commercial arm of the Ugandan army, has undertaken the clearing, scouting and maintenance of two sections of the Malaba-Kampala railway line totaling 100 km.