Quo Vadis SGR Mombasa to Kampala


(Posted 10th December 2019)

Image result for East Africa Railway maps

(Once upon a time … )

When news emerged from Tanzania earlier in the week that the governments of Burundi and DR Congo had signed a deal, linking their countries to the Central Corridor SGR line, did it finally trigger the understanding in both Kenya and Uganda, that their vision to have an SGR line connect the port of Mombasa via Nairobi and Kisumu to Kampala and beyond to Kigali, had been dealt the heaviest blow yet, if not a lethal one.Cargo volumes are already substantially behind forecast for the stretch between Mombasa and Nairobi and shippers are reluctant to accept – what many say is an illegal order – to evacuate cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi strictly by SGR.
The SGR line in Kenya has now reached the Rift Valley station at Suswa but onward construction is under serious doubt, given the reluctance of the Chinese financiers to put more funding into a railway venture, which viability has been torn to shreds, given the cargos initially destined for Rwanda and beyond are now no longer materialising.
The spat between Rwanda and Uganda is seen by many observers as a major factor why Rwanda has been actively pursuing a rail link to the central Tanzanian town of Isaka and with key elements of the cooperation in place is work expected to start soon to turn the planned rail link into reality.
Kenya and Uganda have subsequently been working on the only available alternative and put funding into the rehabiliation of the 120 year old narrow gauge rail line between Naivasha and the border with Uganda in Malaba and from there on to Kampala. Crucially missing though is a rail link to the Naivasha station from the endpoint of the SGR, which in a mindboggling decision was placed nearly 20 kilometres away.
Uganda is also seeking to rehabilitate the lines from Tororo to Gulu and Pakwach and the line from Kampala to Kasese, which is close enough to the Congolese border to perhaps have bulk goods shipped by train, as and when the line reopens.
For South Sudan, initially a target for SGR links from both Uganda but also as part of the now nearly defunct LAPSSET project, will the rail link to Gulu provide the nearest access point for bulk good shipping, as the distance from Gulu to Nimule, the border point between South Sudan and Uganda, is not too distant and from there of course onward to Juba cargos can be shipped by truck.
Both Uganda and South Sudan have been offered land near Naivasha to establish a container inland port facility, where cargo can be stored and readied for onward transport, either by road or by rail.
Planners in both Kenya and Uganda are now back at the drawing board, trying to substitute the ‘lost cargos’ to Rwanda and beyond with alternative options, but informed insiders have suggested to ATCNews that the numbers simply no longer add up to make an SGR link to Uganda viable, at least not in the near and medium term.
Tanzania meanwhile has been wise to hold back any jubilations over the deals struck with Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo, having last year already bagged the pipeline deal with Uganda, which was pulled from Kenya at almost the last moment.
Said a former Tanzanian politician to ATCNews, insisting on anonymity for well understood reasons: ‘We got the deals and can be very happy with it. There is no need to rub other people’s faces into it, given that relations are often strained over other trade issues.’

While Tanzania seems ready to proceed immediately with the new pipeline construction from Tanga port to the Ugandan border, is this apparently not the case in Uganda
There, the pipeline construction remains stuck in bureaucracy and funding issues, as the major financiers, among them Total, have raised a number of issues with the Ugandan government – that is besides the discontent over tax regime issues which saw all three oil partners, Total, Tullow and their Chinese counterparts take several steps back in a wait and see setting.

All in all, as 2019 comes to a close in a few weeks, have SGR prospects been dimmed in Uganda and those who had hoped that by 2020 or 2021 they could hop on a fast train from Kampala in the morning and reach Nairobi in the afternoon, will have to either continue use busses or else fly.