Ministers Woo DRC as Ambitious SGR Project Gains Momentum
East African countries have invited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to join the regional initiative to build the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
This was during the ministerial meeting for the development of the Standard Gauge Railway at Mestil Hotel in Kampala on Friday.
“The Ministers agreed to invite the Democratic Republic of Congo to join the SGR cluster under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects,” the joint communiqué issued at the end of the meeting reads in part.
In 2022, the EAC admitted the DRC, which is the fourth-largest country in Africa by population (95 million), to the regional economic bloc.
The decision to invite DRC came up during the SGR technical cluster meeting in Kampala on Thursday.
Experts realised that the SGR lines being planned by Uganda and Tanzania terminate at the borders of DRC.
These include Uganda, whose SGR line will move from Malaba via Kampala, Bihanga, and Kasese to Mpondwe at the border with the DRC.
Tanzania has already completed feasibility studies and preliminary designs for Phase 2, which will see the country construct 506 km of the railway line from Tabora to Kigoma, connecting to Lake Tanganyika.
Although DRC is resource-rich with large supplies of copper, cobalt, and gold, as well as the world’s second-largest rainforest, its people remain relatively poor due to poor transport infrastructure and a lack of access to regional markets.
Experts believe that the participation of the DRC in the early stages of the implementation of the SGR will boost efforts in sourcing funding and strengthen cooperation in the development of feasibility studies for the project.
“DRC is a member of the EAC community, and several railway line routes end up on the DRC border,” said the SGR Project coordinator, Eng. Canon Perez Wamburu, in an interview with ChimpReports on Friday.
“We would like to see DRC take part in these initiatives so that they can also create awareness about the project in their country,” he added.
“DRC is an important partner in our region, and we think they will show interest in the railway project to possibly extend the line deep in their country.”
The Coordinator of the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Projects at Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb Richard Kabonero consults Transport Minister, Fred Byamukama during the meeting
Observers say the SGR railway connection will help the DRC have stronger market access, increased infrastructure development, and enhanced security.
Meanwhile, the ministers reiterated their countries’ commitment to the development of SGR to facilitate the economic development of the region by reducing the cost of transport and doing business and making the region competitive.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Roads and Transport, Kipchchumba Murkomen, said Nairobi hopes to have concluded negotiations with China for a loan to build the Naivasha-Kisumu-Malaba railway line by July 1, 2023.
“An efficient transport system is an important prerequisite for facilitating national, regional and international integration; and promoting trade and economic development.”
Uganda’s State Minister of Transport, Fred Byamukama, said the construction of the Malaba-Kampala route will commence next financial year.
For the Kampala-Kigali section and the Tororo-Gulu-Nimule section, feasibility studies were completed, while studies are ongoing for the Nimule-Juba section.
Murkomen urged member states to share information about the progress of the implementation of the SGR projects in their countries.
“Let us be free to engage,” he observed during today’s ministerial meeting.
(L-R) Amb. Jan Sadek, Head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, Amb Tayebwa Katurebe; Deputy Coordinator of SGR Project, Miriam Tumukunde and Uganda’s Works Ministry Permanent Secretary, Bageya Waiswa listening to speeches at the Ministerial meeting
“There is nothing for Kenya to compete with Uganda or Uganda to compete with Rwanda,” said Murkomen.
“The dream of our grandfathers of achieving one country (East Africa) must be realized,” he observed, adding this can only be expedited by the development of a seamless railway network connecting East African countries.
The Coordinator of the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Projects at Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb Richard Kabonero said “investing in infrastructure links within the region is critical to unlocking our region’s economic potential.’
He added: “By prioritizing the development of roads, railways, waterways, aviation, and ICTs, we can reduce the cost of doing business, increase trade, and stimulate economic growth. Let us work together to revitalise the NCIPs framework and come up with detailed plans for infrastructure development and secure the financing needed to make it a reality.”
Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure, Ernest Nsabimana, said, “This is the time to transform the corridor by deepening engagement” between partner states.
He said SGR is the much-needed catalyst for driving growth in the northern corridor through improved rail transport.
“Rwanda remains committed to implementing the SGR project in the region to bring development opportunities to all our citizens,” said Nsabimana.
The delegates from Kenya attending the event
“Feasibility studies were completed; it is now time to jointly raise resources and start construction work,” he emphasized.
Regional leaders started pursuing the SGR dream in 2014. While Kenya moved fast to construct the Mombasa-Nairobi-Naivasha route, other partners failed to secure funding for the projects.
While officials say SGR will provide globally competitive transport services for both freight and passengers, increase exports to international markets, and boost tourism, partner states, especially Kenya and Uganda, are grappling with a huge debt burden.
Borrowing billions of dollars for the ambitious SGR project will put a huge strain on elevated debt.
Murkomen said Kenya is looking at the overall benefits of the SGR as it seeks a loan from Exim Bank in China to extend the railway line from Naivasha to Malaba.
Rwanda’s Ambassador to Uganda, Joseph Rutabana (L) with the Rwandan delegation at the function
“We are cognizant of the debt; a huge part of it is the SGR,” he said, adding, “but we are looking for favorable terms.”
Uganda will need over $2.8 billion from the financial markets to develop the Kampala-Malaba route.
But officials insist the SGR will lower the cost of production by 30%, increase the region’s competitiveness through a reliable transport system, and create a world-class infrastructure to attract world-class investments.
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