KAMPALA DOWNPLAYS SNUB SCENARIO OVER TRANSPORT LINKS WITH TANZANIA
Political observers close to the seat of power in Kampala have downplayed the emerging talk in Kenyas media that Uganda was to shift its imports from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Tanzanian ports, following a state visit by President Museveni to Tanzania last week. While agreements were inked to commit to the modernization of the railway link between the Lake Victoria port of Mwanza to the Tanzanian coast, distance and capacity at present are a crucial restraint for importers and exporters in Uganda, who mostly rely on rail and road links to Mombasa.
While Uganda has indeed lowered excise duties and taxes for fuels imported via Dar es Salaam, railed up to Mwanza and then shipped across Lake Victoria on a rail ferry, the lack of sufficient rolling stock and ferries presently prevents a sharp shift of volumes to the Tanzanian route, with the added distance also adding extra cost. However, in the long term it is Ugandas expressed desire to create redundancy and offer a viable alternative route, and the upgrading of rail tracks from the present narrow gauge lines to European standard gauge will in time to come offer better options from both the Kenyan and Tanzanian ports.
Rumours were also dispelled that the planned modernized and upgraded rail line would run through the Serengeti National Park. The present rail line to Mwanza does not run through that park but has a different routing. It is that line which needs upgrading. Our ferries dock in Mwanza and will continue to use Mwanza to connect to Port Bell [Kampala?s
lake port suburb]. We need more ferries, more equipment and a modern rail line. This will take years to accomplish. Tanzania is also working on a rail link with Rwanda, Burundi and beyond to Congo. The entire East Africa must get better and more transport infrastructure and rail is the most cost effective way to transport goods and people, as long as it is efficient and fast. We are promoting our links to the Indian Ocean, which as a land locked country are crucial for us, to both Kenya and Tanzania as we also have borders with the latter. It is a strategic issue to have redundancies in such systems, so when one is temporarily disabled or has to reduce capacity we have a fall back. We in Uganda are not promoting to run a railway through the Serengeti and while the ultimate decision on a routing is Tanzanias internal affair we do not believe that they will move the present railway line into the park but simply upgrade it like Rift Valley Railways is proposing to do with the existing line from Mombasa to Kampala was the feedback from a usually well informed and well placed source when discussing the issue before adding: the Kenyan media have their own agenda and are often the cause of problems and misunderstandings. There is no way we in Uganda could snub Kenya as it is mischieviously being portrayed. We are partners and are equally working hand in hand to have the Mombasa to Uganda railway upgraded, so what are they talking about other than trying to be sensational.
Adds this correspondent in closing that this reflects a long term trend in Ugandan strategic thinking vis a vis infrastructure developments in the region, aimed to benefit the flow of goods and people and that there is indeed nothing more to it, and certainly nothing more sinister like has been alleged in recent media reports. Watch this space for the most current news updates and insight into national and regional issues.
As they say in the US, “It’s all good.” Even if there is a little fire where that smoke came from; I agree with the correspondent that it is a long term development planning trend for Uganda. Once the whole region infrastructure is built up, I think there will be more than enough cross border trading to justify every single rail laid down.
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