Four EA Countries join the Kenya-Uganda SGR Project

Beijing’s assessment indicated at the time that, without Uganda, whose participation is key to connecting South Sudan and Rwanda to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, the SGR’s viability would be undermined.

By DailyNewsUg,

Four East African Community member states this week joined the Kenya and Uganda joint project to develop a modern railway on the Northern Corridor.

But lack of funds continues to haunt the joint standard gauge railway (SGR), which terminated in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Central Rift region.

On Friday, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan joined SGR Cluster Joint Ministerial Committee and committed to engage development partners in seeking funding for the of the railway to ease movement of goods on the Northern Corridor.

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During the meeting in Mombasa, the ministers in charge of infrastructure acknowledged the fundraising challenges the project has faced in the past five years.

In July 2023, Kenya and Uganda revived the near-dead project to build the SGR railway between them but failed to convince financiers the viability of the project.

The two governments agreed on the search for the money, which could include loans or an arrangement for the public-private partnerships to extend railway from Naivasha to Kampala before extending to Rwanda and South Sudan.

The two governments hoped to finalise joint resource mobilisation before December 2023 to fund the line from Naivasha to Malaba, then onwards to Kampala, and from Kampala to Kasese-Mpondwe with a branch line from Bihanga to Mirama hills to ferry goods from Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

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The two had approached different financiers from Europe and in Middle East, who had shown interest in investing in the project envisaged about 10 years ago. Funding had been conditioned on a joint bid, which both countries couldn’t mount.

In January 2023, Uganda signed a memorandum with Turkish firm Yapi Merkezi giving hope for the start of the Malaba to Kampala phase.

But this is dependent on the progress from Naivasha.

On Friday, Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transport Fred Byamukama said they are in the final stages of the negotiations with a proposed contractor, who is expected to sign the contract this month.

“It was a challenge to do the project piecemeal, we cannot have SGR in Malaba to Kampala if Naivasha-Malaba is not complete. That is why we are seeing funds to ensure the sections are done simultaneously,” said Mr Byamukama, adding that partner sates are pursuing resource mobilisation as a project.

Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Roads and Transport Kipchumba Murkomen said that the other countries joining the cluster will increase Kampala and Nairobi’s bargaining power among donors, who have been evaluating viability of the project for many years.

To ensure the connection between Mombasa and Kinshasa, the ministers committed to assent and ratify the existing SGR Protocol and the SGR Tripartite Agreement by the DRC. The five partner states agreed to establish a framework that facilitates cross-border maintenance of the SGR assets and facilities.

“Kenya and Uganda have completed harmonisation of the technical specifications and standards. Rwanda hopes to join framework between Uganda and Yapi Merkezi, to update of feasibility study of Mirama Hills-Kigali section, which will make the project more viable,” Mr Murkomen said.

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He added that Kenya has estimated the cost of constructing the line from Naivasha to Malaba at $5.3 billion.

Rwanda was represented by Infrastructure Minister Dr Jimmy Gasore and DRC by Minister of Transport Roger Te Biasu.

The project has been in limbo for over five years. In 2019, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, on his fourth trip to China, failed to secure $3.68 billion to fund the third phase of his signature SGR project to extend to Kisumu, then on to Malaba.

Instead, Kenya bagged some $400 million to upgrade its 120-year-old metre-gauge-railway to Malaba on the border with Uganda. Beijing’s assessment indicated at the time that, without Uganda, whose participation is key to connecting South Sudan and Rwanda to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, the SGR’s viability would be undermined.

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