East African leaders woo investors for infrastructure plan

DAR ES SALAAM, March 26 (Reuters) – The leaders of five East African countries went on a charm offensive on Thursday to lure investors for a massive plan to upgrade infrastructure in the region that has made big hydrocarbon discoveries.

Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, whose combined economies are worth a total $110.3 billion, are working to package joint infrastructure plans aimed at boosting trade and speeding up economic integration in the region.

Oil and gas discoveries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have turned the region into an exploration hotspot.

“East Africa is a good bet for investors … this is about mutually beneficial and profitable investments, for all stakeholders involved whether public or private,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame told an investor conference in Dar es Salaam on Thursday.

The East African Community (EAC), which groups the five countries, said in a 2015-2025 strategy document it needs between $68 billion and $100 billion over the next decade to build roads, ports, railways, transmission lines and oil and gas infrastructure.

Tanzania plans to upgrade its railway and connect land-locked Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to its Dar es Salaam port through a 1,300 km (780 miles) central corridor.

Tanzanian transport officials said the government was in talks with CANARAIL, a Canadian rail consulting and engineering firm, for the construction of a 1,464km standard gauge railway between Tanzania and Rwanda. They did not say how much the project was likely to cost.

Kenya is pushing for the development of a 1,700 km northern corridor to link Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo to its port at Mombasa. Tanzania and Kenya also plan to invest in new port projects, at Bagamoyo and Lamu respectively.

“The projects that make up the central corridor are ambitious, but they are also economically sound,” Kagame said.

EAC secretary general Richard Sezibera said on Wednesday the central and northern corridor projects would be coordinated to achieve a common regional development goal.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is hosting the regional conference, said the two infrastructure corridors could complement each other.

“It is my wish to see the northern and central corridors infrastructure to be one in the future,” Kikwete, the current chairman of the EAC, told the conference on Wednesday.

Kikwete said the DRC and Zambia had also expressed interest in joining the central corridor infrastructure projects.

He said Tanzania was tackling non-tariff barriers to trade in the region, like reducing the number of police and customs checkpoints on its road networks.

The two-day conference was attended by the presidents of Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, while Kenya and the DRC sent senior government officials.

Other participants included the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the African Development Bank.