Last week, the Government secured funding from the Netherlands to finance the development of four ports at Lake Kivu, expected to promote maritime transport, trade and tourism.
The grant arrangement will see the Netherlands co-finance 45 per cent of the construction of the ports and their facilities which will improve ferry and cargo transport between the Rwandan ports.
Rwanda currently relies heavily on road transport which weighs heavily on transport and maintenance costs, officials say.
The presence of lakes and rivers might attract both the transport of passengers and goods, but there is currently no significant inland waterway services except the very limited waterway operations in Lake Kivu.
With the existence of ports, the Government seeks to turn around that situation and transform maritime transport and make it a major transportation alternative for both persons and goods.
The Rwf22 billion project which will be built in the four districts of Rubavu (Nyamyumba), Rusizi (Bugiki), Karongi (at the Karongi cross-border market), and Rutsiro (Nkora region), will be operational by 2022, officials say.
According to the Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA), there will be three major ports with a capacity of about 1.5 million passengers per year, projected to reach 2.8 million by 2036.
A smaller port, the fourth planned port, in Karongi District will start with a capacity of about 300,000 passengers per year by 2020 and 400,000 passengers by 2036.
The port maximum cargo handling capacity is 580,000 tonnes, while the minimum is 270,000 tonnes.
Rose Rutera, the Transport Division Manager at RTDA, the procurement of the first two ports (Rubavu and Rusizi) is at final stage whereby the contract is expected to be signed by 9th December 2019, while the procurement for the remaining two ports (Nkora and Karongi) will start Early 2020
"The construction of 4 ports should be completed by June 2022," she revealed.
The project is being undertaken with the support of TradeMark East Africa. TradeMark is financing 50 per cent of the project, while the government is financing the remaining 5 per cent.
Rutera believes the development will open up western province for tourism, increase connectivity between districts along the lake shores while boosting the cross border trade between Rwanda and DRC.
"Port development is prerequisite of the overall maritime transport initiatives, which will be followed by the development and operation of ferry services on Lake Kivu," she noted.
Local brewer BRALIRWA, cement producer, CIMERWA, tea factories, and coffee companies in Western Province could become the biggest company beneficiaries of the planned facilities.
Celestin Simarinka, a boat operator at Lake Kivu believes the ports could bring positive developments in their business.
"At the moment, we don't have good infrastructure from where we dock our boats. This sometimes limits passengers from taking our boats, and occasionally destroys our boats. The existence of port infrastructure could change this," he says.
The ports are expected to boost cross-border trade between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, in 2018, total trade between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo amounted to $129.4 million.
Moussa Musabyimana, a longtime boat operator at Lake Kivu, is quite pessimistic about the proposed port's development.
"I see no much value with establishing ports because the proximity between Goma (Eastern DRC) from where we get most of the goods and Rwanda is very small, that you don't necessarily need a boat to transport goods," he says.
Musabyimana who has been transporting passengers and goods at the Lake for the last 20 years, rather proposes a comprehensive plan for tourism development along Lake Kivu.