17 September 2012

East Africa: Successful Regional Railway Is Possible


East Africa's infrastructure development needs to be on top of the agenda in the coming years if full attainment of a Common Market, Monetary Union and Single currency are to be fulfilled.

Recently, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Ms. Margaret Zziwa asked Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki to support programmes aimed at establishing an EAC railway authority.

Kibaki is the current chairperson of the EAC Heads of State Summit.

She was as passionate as she was determined to push for this agenda, stating that the creation of an EAC Railway Authority as a supra-national agency is a pre-requisite for development of the region.

Railways have been used in East Africa before and with a lot of success. Long before asphalt or bitumen were used, the Uganda Railway ( 'Lunatic Express' or 'the Iron Snake') was built in 1896 from Mombasa, reached Kisumu in 1901 and and arrived in Uganda in the early 1900's. In Tanzania, the TAZARA railway was built after independence.

Railways have the capacity to transport goods and people efficiently and cheaply.

In comparison to the road network which can be developed exclusively, the rail network needs ideally to be developed based on its inter-connectivity in order to enable all Partner States to immensely benefit.

East Africa's population at the close of the 1800s was probably below 25 million. Today it is over 130 million. The numbers are growing, factors of production climbing and yet we have an untapped resource which is the railway system. Between the coastline of the Indian Ocean and the outermost limit of the region is a 2,000km stretch of land.

It is true a lot of infrastructure has been built, like roads, airports and in some cases water transport. However, what was conceived and built as far back as the 19th Century and served as a great boost to transport, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and mining, is now derelict.

Reports put the cost of the Uganda Railway at the equivalent of US$800 million in today's money.

If the planners then had this vision of putting in place a basic railway system with its attendant benefits, (2,498 died in the construction process), why can't we, a group of nations with a combined GDP of about $80billion in 2012, do nothing to salvage this possibility that started in 1896? Can't we? In Barrack Obama's catch phrase: Yes We Can!

Onward EALA, Onward Ziwa, get this project underway and save this generation from poverty and under-development.

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