By Peninah Mbabazi
Published: 28th Jan 2016
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project is so far one of the expensive ventures the East African Community (EAC) is undertaking. The SGR, therefore, can be a gateway for EAC to the rest of the world, in regard to global trade, investment opportunities and pro-poor development. The SGR for Uganda’s case is a blessing, for it will bring down trade journeys to only two days, from the current eight between Mombasa (Kenya) and Kampala (Uganda). The aggregate cut on cost of goods and services will also benefit the low income earners across EAC and this is welcome.
The construction of the Uganda Railway in 1896, was the first biggest construction project that the British government undertook in sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial days. The Uganda Railway, commonly known as the lunatic express, was established with an idea of having a railway from the coastline, towards more effective control over River Nile’s source in Uganda. And trade opportunities thereof. The "Lunatic Express" was completed in 1901 and the line linked the interiors of Uganda and Kenya with the Indian Ocean at Mombasa in Kenya.
To the extent that the current SGR project goes beyond the intentions of “Lunatic Express”, to mutually interlink EAC, is a move that should be supported by well-intentioned stakeholder. By the SGR linking Mombasa (Kenya) and other major EAC cities in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Juba brings to life the Northern Corridor which is the transport artery for EAC.
As such, the SGR will yield maximum benefits once the other critical projects under energy (e.g. hydro dams and wind power), roads and maritime, are completed in time. And designated cost. EAC Governments must, therefore, commit to full and on time implementation of such undertakings as the Lamu Port -South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project to enhance EAC integration. The LAPSSET, for instance, draws critical transport infrastructure and investment opportunities for accelerated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. These can spur new technologies in agricultural production, manufacturing, services and attendant employment.
Not only does the SGR present its own obvious achievements but also consolidates other opportunities in the wider EAC projects. This can only happen to the extent that the SGR and attendant projects are implemented in a manner that fully ascribes to transparency, accountability, caution on debt sustainability parameters and reducing inequality across EAC. Through pro-people policy orientation, the incomes thereof can benefit majority citizens in rural economies across EAC, Sudan and Ethiopia.