Roundup: Ugandan experts say modern railway important for promoting trade in East Africa

Experts here said a connected modern railway system in East Africa is important for the region to reduce expensive transport costs and enhance the region’s trade competitiveness.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Elly Twineyo Kamugisha, an economist and author of a book “Why Africa Fails,” said if the railway project is completed, it will be a major milestone in promoting regional trade.

“Studies carried out by experts at Makerere University (Uganda’ s top university) have found out that by far Uganda faces very expensive transport costs. This means our imports become expensive and also our exports become less attractive because they are expensive to take to the international markets,” said Kamugisha.

So the railway is very important, and it is a cheap means of transport if the country is going to increase exports, he said.

“If we had a good working railway system in this country connecting us to South Sudan, Rwanda, DRC and backwards to Kenya, it would be very important,” he said.

The East African countries mainly Uganda and Kenya have been depending on an ailing railway system constructed a century ago. This time round, there are growing calls in the region to construct a standard gauge railway.

Back in the day, locomotives bellowing black smoke traversed rural Uganda transporting people and agricultural produce.

Farmers from a far quickly transported their produce to the nearby train stations so that their produce could be taken to far markets that would fetch better prices. Both domestic and regional trade was booming as trains traversed borders.

Following years of mismanagement, corruption and lack of a maintenance attitude, the once cherished railway system collapsed. The resort was the expensive road transport which has had an upward impact on the cost of doing business especially for a country like Uganda which is hundreds of kilometers away from the coastline.

A Chinese company is currently constructing a standard gauge railway in Kenya, an important neighbor of Uganda, with a view to promoting freight capacity to/from the port city of Mombasa in southern Kenya.

“The standard gauge railway is a very important project for Uganda and the region as a whole. Uganda’s trade competitiveness will be increased, the cost of doing business will go down and this will foster faster socioeconomic transformation,” said Susan Kataike, the Communications Officer of Uganda’s ministry of works and transport.

Seventy year old Akisoferi Karonget, a retired public servant, however cautions that countries must do away with the bureaucracies if they are to reap from the revamped railway system.

“When we have the train jointly managed by the East African countries like before, that would be better but to say Uganda does it alone, Kenya does it alone, then there is going to be a lot of bureaucracy which will affect doing business,” Karonget told Xinhua in an interview at his retirement home in Kapchorwa, eastern Uganda.

“The railway then was good even in terms of trade, it was cheap and we did not have frequent stops say at the border. Once your goods are in the train, there is no more checking up to Mombasa and when in Mombasa the same thing applies when coming to Uganda. The system was good at that time,” he said.

It is estimated that once a modern railway line connecting the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa to the Ugandan capital Kampala is completed, it will enable trains to travel at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour and will reduce the number of days it takes to transport goods between the two cities to only two days instead of the current 14 days.