Africa: Call to Link Continent By Rail, Water and Air

Standard Gauge Railway train (file photo).

As the continent counts down to January 1, 2021, when the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will come into effect, several countries are still unprepared for the changes.

In Uganda, players in cross-border trade and logistics are looking at ways to revive their sectors after being battered by Covid-19, while at the same time preparing for AfCFTA.

According to Jennifer Mwijukye, the chief executive of Unifreight Cargo Handling Logistics Ltd, the focus now for Uganda, as well as the other EAC partner states, should be how to develop inter-model integrated transport that links the whole of Africa, so as to have efficiency, dependability and availability.

She says now is the time to link the continent by rail, water and air transport corridors.

"Decent options of transport should be made available for continental trade to flourish. And before we have transport systems, we will not have meaningful trade. Some hinterland countries like Uganda will suffer and even regret why they went into that free trade area, agreement," Ms Mwijukye said.

Strategic plan

Emmanuel Atwine, a senior commercial officer at Uganda's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives, said a national strategic plan is being developed to support the local business community.

"We are reorganising ourselves and to develop a strategic plan for the business sector to ensure that we all benefit as a country. This is a continuous process," he said, adding that they have been engaging local manufacturers, private sector and small and medium enterprises associations.

At the regional level, Ms Mwijukye said infrastructure projects like the standard gauge railway and meter gauge old network need to be harmonised to ease cargo movement within and outside the region.

She suggested that the EAC conduct a joint investment analysis on current and future needs of the region in relation to the return-on-investment, and to avoid having conflicting routes which may cause further delays.

Citing the recent holdups of cargo trucks at both the Busia and Malaba border posts on the Kenya-Uganda border, industry players propose that Uganda considers setting up a transit terminal in Tororo to prevent delays caused by Covid-19 tests on truck drivers.

"If we had one, there would be no need for the truck drivers to cross into Uganda. Drivers would stop there and go back to Kenya without having to be tested," Ms Mwijukye said.

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