Groundbreaking for new Ugandan SGR line expected in June


(Posted 23rd May 2015)

After the Ugandan parliament approved a 13 trillion Uganda Shillings loan, sourced from the Chinese government, will work on the new Standard Gauge Railway commence next month. The Minister for Works Hon. John Byabagambi at the same time also confirmed that the China Harbour Engineering Company will be the main contractor for the Ugandan section of what will upon completion connect the Kenyan port city of Mombasa with the Ugandan border before extending via Kampala to Kigali, Juba and Eastern Congo.

The SGR railway project – 41 kilometres in Kenya have already been completed as work there was launched last year – is one of East Africa’s largest infrastructure projects presently being rolled out and a key component in the cooperation of the three ‘Coalition of the Willing’ countries Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, aka Northern Corridor Integration Projects Cooperation.

This project will however be rivalled by LAPSSET, the Lamu Port – South Sudan – Ethiopia corridor development which includes the construction of a new deep sea port near Lamu, a railway, highway and pipeline. When complete will this new traffic axis link Addis Ababa and Juba by rail and road to Kenya while the pipeline will help South Sudan to pump crude oil from its oil fields along the border to neighbours Sudan (Khartoum) to a dedicated oil terminal at the new port for shipment. Presently does South Sudanese crude oil have to use the pipeline to Port Sudan for which the regime in Khartoum claims extortionate transit fees and has in the past time and again actually stolen oil, claims needless to say being denied but nevertheless been proven true.

East Africa has over the past years seen a massive boost in new infrastructure projects across the region, from the construction of new highways, bridges and roads to ports, airport and rail projects. Experts have already expressed doubts that all of them can be financed and built if they are to be viable enough to pay back the massive loans needed for the construction. For this reason is it going to be the early birds which, when completed like the SGR railway line from Kenya to Uganda and on to Rwanda, will leave other projects which have not yet started construction trail in its wake.

Don’t think for a moment that when LAPPSET is ready, the SGR from Kenya to Uganda and beyond is ready, that there will be much room for more such new projects. Tanzania will of course rehabilitate and modernize their central line but I have my doubts that the proposed new rail line from Tanga to Lake Victoria will be built. Who will finance such a railway when most of the imports and exports from Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern Congo will use the new Northern Corridor railway to Mombasa. They are better off to modernize the central line to Mwanza and evenTAZARA which links Dar with Zambia. There is more scope to build a new line to Mtwara and the South of the country than do the Tanga line’ added a railway expert based in Kampala on condition of not being named. He then concluded: ‘In Tanzania two main ports, apart from Mtwara, are on the map. Dar es Salaam where they are expanding and Bagamoyo. The Bagamoyo port can easily be linked to the Central and the Tazara lines and the Tanga development, perhaps it will be put back in the drawers. There is just not enough money to go around financing all of that and the Chinese are shrewed. They will want their money back sooner or later and if a project is not viable, it will not take off’.

Ugandans in the meantime are looking forward to see if, like in Kenya, where the new line has been advancing at a rate of about 10 kilometres per month, similar speed will mark the construction of the Ugandan section of the new SGR line.

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