East African Countries Sign Joint Pact on SGR

East African states are undertaking huge infrastructure projects linking city to city and border to border, such as these roadworks in Kampala city

Kampala, Uganda HABARI DAILY I Construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that will connect the seven East African countries of the East African Community (EAC) has taken a significant step forward with the signing of a joint pact by line ministers from four member countries. The ministers, along with delegations from the other member countries, met for two days of negotiations at the Mestil Hotel Nsambya on May 24th and 25th to discuss the construction of the SGR as a joint initiative.

The signatories of the joint communique were Kipchumba Murkomen, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Roads and Transport, Dr. Earnest Nsibimana, the Rwandan Minister of Infrastructure, Simon Mijak Mijok, the South Sudanese Minister of Roads and Bridges, and Fred Byamukama, Uganda’s State Minister for Transport. The delegations from the remaining member countries, excluding the Democratic Republic of Congo, were headed by their respective Permanent Secretaries.

While all the ministers agreed on the importance of jointly handling the SGR project, they differed on the approach to financing the construction of the railway network. Uganda has enlisted the support of Standard Chartered Bank, Citi Bank, and other equity institutions from Europe to secure funding through Yapi Merkezi, a Turkish railway construction firm. Kenya, on the other hand, is in advanced stages of procuring additional funds, primarily from China, to expand its existing SGR network.

According to Kipchumba Murkomen, the Kenyan government has launched a comprehensive plan worth Ksh2.1 trillion ($15.3 billion) to extend the SGR to Kisumu, Malaba, and Isiolo by June 2027. The plan entails constructing an additional 2,746 kilometers of the SGR, bringing the total expenditure on the modern railway system to approximately Ksh2.75 trillion ($20 billion).

The ministers and delegations also reviewed the progress made on the implementation of the directives set during the 14th Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP) Summit, which took place in Nairobi in June 2018. They expressed their appreciation to their respective heads of states, particularly President Yoweri Museveni, for their commitment to the regional SGR program.

Dr. Earnest Nsibimana emphasized that the SGR would greatly contribute to the economic development of the region by reducing transport costs, enhancing the ease of doing business, and improving competitiveness. He praised the completion of the Mombasa-Nairobi-Naivasha SGR section and the ongoing construction of the Naivasha-Malaba and Malaba-Kampala sections, set to commence in August 2023. Feasibility studies have been completed for the SGR Kampala-Kigali and Tororo-Nimule-Gulu sections, while studies for the Nimule-Juba sections are still ongoing.

In a bid to foster regional cooperation, the ministers agreed to extend an invitation to the Democratic Republic of Congo to join the SGR cluster under the NCIPs. Furthermore, Uganda’s commitment to commencing construction on its section of the SGR in August has revived hopes for the extension of Kenya’s SGR to Malaba, which is contingent on the completion of the Ugandan section.

Justus Omae, the Executive Secretary of the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA), announced that East African states would convene in June to discuss intermodal transport and SGR funding. Omae stressed that the establishment of a reliable SGR system was crucial for the region’s transition into a modern economy and its penetration of the global market.

Uganda sees the SGR as a vital tool to enhance the speed and reduce the cost of transporting its exports, including coffee and tobacco. Currently reliant on costly and slow road links, as well as a century-old narrow gauge rail line built during the colonial era, Uganda seeks to leverage the benefits of the faster, more efficient, and stable SGR network. With its track gauge ranging from 1,420 mm to 1,460 mm, the SGR can achieve speeds of up to 200 km/h, making it a game-changer for regional transportation and trade.

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