21 May 2017

East Africa: Railway Set to Revive Forgotten Lake Victoria Transport

Photo: The Citizen
China built railway line (file photo).

Rwanda's decision to pull out of the Kenyan standard gauge railway in favour of Tanzania's Central Corridor could have just been the saving grace for the collapsed Lake Victoria transport system, after both Kenya and Uganda indicated that they will be building new ports to carry cargo across the lake.

In April 2016, Rwanda pulled out of the Kenyan SGR route after it realised that Uganda was not prioritising the Kampala-Kigali connection that would have seen it transport its goods through Kenya.

The decision to explore the lake transport option could, however, see South Sudan emerge as the biggest loser, if Kenya abandons the construction of the last phase of the Malaba-Kisumu route, which means that the planned Juba-Malaba connectivity will no longer be feasible.

Should Kenya decide to terminate its railway project in Kisumu, it will mean that the Kampala-Kigali, and the Kampala-Kinshasa connectivity via Malaba will no longer be feasible too.

"The decision has not been reached but we have a number of options at our disposal. We can decide to end the SGR at Naivasha or Kisumu but it will still be a viable venture due to the presence of Lake Victoria," Kenya's Transport Secretary James Macharia said.

Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya now hope to exploit the lake to move goods, through their ports of Mwanza, Bukoba and Musoma in Tanzania; Port Bell in Uganda and Kisumu in Kenya.

Port infrastructure

Already, both Tanzania and Uganda have said they will spend $30 million to improve their respective port infrastructure on Lake Victoria. Uganda is keen to develop its new Port Bell port in order to open up the southern route to Tanzania.

Should Uganda proceed with its own SGR construction from Kampala to Port Bell, it will hope to utilise either the Mwanza or Musoma ports in Tanzania, to receive goods from either the Dar es Salaam or Tanga ports.

Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi will also be expected to exploit the Bukoba port to receive goods from either Tanzania or Kenya, if the two railway projects are built.

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