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East Africa: Investments in Rail Infrastructure

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Members of the East African Community pledge to use Central and Northern Transport Corridors to unlock the region’s economic potential

East African Community (EAC) member states, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda are hoping to implement joint infrastructure projects to further boost regional trade and growth. Tanzanian President and Chairman of the EAC, Jakaya Kikwete is quoted by Tanzania Daily News as saying “it is my wish to see the Northern and Central Corridors infrastructure to be one in the future”.

Following a Northern & Central Corridor Investors Forum in Dar es Salaam on March 25th, EAC members launched the construction of the US$14.2 billion East African Central Corridor Railway. According to Transport Minister Samuel Sitta the project will be “the single biggest project ever to be implemented by the Tanzanian government since our countries independence”, report Reuters.

The project will involve constructing 2561km of standard gauge railway to connect Dar es Salaam to landlocked neighbours of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia and eastern DR Congo,  costing around $7.6bn, while two other additional lines will be constructed to serve mining regions in the southern and northern Tanzania, at a cost of around $6.6bn. The main line will contain spur lines that will connect to Kigali, Rwanda, Bjumbura in Burundi, and Masaka, Uganda, explain Tanzania News Daily.

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Landlocked countries in Africa are reliant on rail and road links through to main coastal economic and commercial hubs; in East Africa particularly Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. In direct competition to the Tanzanian railway plans, Kenya is also constructing a standard gauge railway, funded by China Road and Bridge Corporation, from Mombasa-Nairobi to Kampala.

The Kenyan government has claimed the new railway from Mombasa to the Great Lakes region will boost economic growth by 1.5% per year, report Ventures Africa, eventually extending to replace the ageing colonial-era narrow gauge railway that reaches towards DR-Congo. The initial 609 km section from Mombasa to Nairobi has been started with a finish date set for 2017.

China has agreed to finance part of a $3.2 billion Uganda rail plan, report East Africa Business Week; construction of the Eastern and Northern Standard Gauge Railway that will connect Kampala, Malaba on the Kenyan border and Nimule in South Sudan, while joining the wider standard gauge network, giving fruitful economic benefits from links to Kenya’s coastal commercial hub.

AFKInsider comment that Kenya and Tanzania are vying to be the preferred regional transport hub and with recent oil and gas discoveries in the region, the area has become a hive of exploration. Transport minister Sitta said “We are in competition at all times with the Mombasa port…its a competitive business so we need to be efficient”.

Both countries are also planning to invest in new port projects at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Lamu in Kenya, report Tanzania Daily News. The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project was first proposed in the 1970s to provide Sudan and Ethiopia access to the Indian ocean. In 2013 China Communications Construction Co Ltd won the US$445 million contract for the first three berths of the port and according to the Kenyan government the LAPSSET project is nearing advanced stages. The project includes an economic corridor comprised of road networks, oil pipelines, three airports and a standard gauge railway network from Lamu to Juba, South Sudan and Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia (shown on map below).

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The majority of financing for large infrastructure projects across East Africa, and large parts of the African continent as a whole, is stemming from China, who have recently signed agreements with the African Union (AU) for a network of high-speed rail links in the next few decades.

Chinese companies and banks are financing a variety of railway projects across the region  including the Addis-Ababa Light Rail Transit System in Ethiopia. In 2014 China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation completed the reconstruction of the Benguela railway connecting Angola, Zambia and south-eastern DR Congo, and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) is constructing the $4 billion, 740-km electric railway that connects Addis Ababa and Djibouti.

Open database, Aid Data, provide a useful visual mapping of Chinese-financed projects in Africa, available here.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Roads & Railways: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.1, Pp. 20715B-20716A

Ports & Shipping: Tanzania
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.10, Pp. 20607A-20608A

Roads & Railways: Uganda
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.8, Pp.20536B-20537C

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