MOMBASA INFRASTRUCTURE SUMMIT EXPOSES GROWING RIFT IN EAC
(Posted 28th August 2013)
A growing coalition of the willing is emerging in Eastern Africa, following a first Head of State Infrastructure Summit a few weeks ago in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni hosted his counterparts from Kenya and Rwanda. During this summit key decisions were taken, such as to link East Africa’s most important Indian Ocean port of Mombasa with the hinterland through a new standard gauge railway, connecting the port with Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali. It was also agreed to base Rwandan and Ugandan revenue authority personnel at the Mombasa port to effectively bundle cargo clearances for the recipient countries at the port on landing the goods, to cut down on red tape and in particular the excessive time it takes to have cargo reach the final destinations. (It was recently reported here that RVR trains now in average take 8 days from Mombasa to Kampala, with the best ever time reduced to 4 days, but that an added 14 days are needed to clear the cargo from the port, at waypoints and the border points and at the final destination)
The summit in Entebbe also agreed to start using national ID cards to allow citizens cross national borders between the three countries from early 2014 and to fast track a common tourist Visa at a cost of 100 US Dollars to encourage foreign tourists visit more than one country in the region. (The EAC common tourist Visa has been delayed endlessly in the past over objections from in particular one member state)
The second such summit is today going underway in Mombasa at the Whitesands Beach Resort and Spa, and notably have Burundi and South Sudan joined the meeting, now dubbed ‘The Summit of the Willing’ to take advantage of new infrastructure developments opening up the region and benefitting themselves through easier port access, reduced cost of imports and exportation of produce and minerals and to jump on to the band wagon before it is too late. By the look of it though it will be Tanzania left out once more, showing the utter frustration of other EAC partners over the continued imposition of non tariff barriers, expulsion of their citizens – thousands of Rwandans living allegedly illegally in Tanzania have of late been driven across the border back into Rwanda – and ongoing issues on cross border trade and tourism, work and residence permits and a range of other contentious issues.
‘If Kikwete does not turn up in Mombasa, and by the look of it and going by media reports he is not going to be there, it will be 4 EAC member states and one applicant state [South
Sudan has formally applied to join the regional block] driving their own agenda and fast tracking projects and cooperation between them on a multilateral basis. This is perhaps the last chance for Tanzania to take stock and come to terms with the momentum gathering speed among the other four members. There is a mood one can sense that if things cannot move under the EAC umbrella, then bilateral, trilateral or multilateral agreements among those countries willing to move forward on the fast track will be signed and implemented.
Dar then can either join and make it official EAC business or stay outside but at their own loss. It should be noted that being absent will greatly impact on their own regional infrastructure projects. The Tanga to Musoma railway was to be a second link to Uganda and the Isaka to Kigali section of a new upgraded railway was to link Kigali and then Bujumbura and Eastern Congo. If the five now meeting in Mombasa however agree that they rather throw their support and money behind the Kenyan rail corridor to South Sudan and into Uganda and beyond, those projects in Tanzania are dead in the water. Kikwete’s undiplomatic outburst that Rwanda should negotiate with terrorists and groups committed to the return of perpetrators of the genocide was just the final icing on the cake really. He completely misjudged the impact of his utterances versus Rwanda’s security needs and their relentless pursuit of genocide killers and the reaction it would bring as far as Uganda. Now there are clear signals of a shift of the infrastructure centre to Kenya. President Kenyatta secured huge loans and grants from China during his visit and there is no doubt that once Chinese companies break ground for the new railway, that it is going to progress until it is finished. Look at the Thika super highway. A few years ago people doubted it would ever be there. Now it is and so will the railway in a few years time. Personally I see a watershed coming up for the EAC and the November summit will maybe give some glimpse into the future where the block is heading’ wrote a Kenya based source.
The heads of state will also be part of a commissioning ceremony later today at the port of Mombasa where a new berth for containerships will be launched by President Kenyatta. Further port facility expansion has already been agreed to, in addition to constructing the new port of Lamu which, through LAPSSET, will be the main entry and exit point for cargo to South Sudan and Ethiopia, both of which will be linked by rail and highway. South Sudan in fact is intent to build a new pipeline to Lamu to create a secure outlet for oil exports.
The winds of positive change and new hope are clearly blowing across the Eastern African region now and time will tell if all the member states, with the wind in their back, will accelerate economic integration and cooperation or if not one may be blown away while attempting to stand still. Watch this space.