President Museveni’s change of heart puts Kenya-Uganda standard gauge railway project back on track after months in limbo

President Museveni’s change of heart puts Kenya-Uganda standard gauge railway project back on track after months of being in limbo.
  • On Wednesday President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, affirmed the two countries’ commitment to stick to the original plans of stretching the SGR all the way to Kampala.
  • There had been growing fears that the viability of the Chinese-built rail would be in jeopardy and result in Kenya having a massive white elephant project in its hands if all the East African Countries didn’t get on board.
  • In 2018, Uganda announced it had suspended the standard gauge railway project which is estimated to cost $2.3 billion, and instead opted to revamping its old metre-gauge railway network.

After months of uncertainty, the first ray of hope about the future and practicality of the Standard Gauge Railway was ignited.

On Wednesday President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, who is on a three-day official visit to Kenya affirmed the two countries’ commitment to stick to the original plans of stretching the SGR all the way to Kampala.

Addressing a joint press briefing at State House Mombasa, the Presidents noted their desire for joint cooperation on the standard gauge railway and said a team would review the plan without elaborating further on the details of the plan.

“We want to leave the road for drunkards. In the coming years, we will move from road to rail and fuel for the pipelines. It will be cheaper, faster and away from the roads,” President Museveni said.

There had been growing fears that the viability of the Chinese-built rail would be in jeopardy and result in Kenya having a massive white elephant project in its hands if all the East African Countries didn’t get on board.

Uganda and Kenya were especially on loggerheads over the financing of the cross-border SGR with the financer - China Exim Bank - insisting that Kampala had to get Kenya’s commitment to building the section from Kisumu to Malaba before Uganda could secure funding for the line running from Kampala to the common border.

In 2018, Uganda announced it had suspended the standard gauge railway project which is estimated to cost $2.3 billion, and instead opted to revamping its old metre-gauge railway network.

“It is apparent the SGR is going to take us a lot of time to complete. First, we have to wait for Kenya to reach the Malaba border point then we can start,” Uganda’s Finance Minister Matia Kasaija told Daily Monitor.

The announcement was a blow to Kenya since Uganda had already completed the feasibility and designs for the 273km-long line between Malaba in Kenya and Kampala.

The standard gauge railway is part of the Northern Corridor infrastructure project and once complete it is designed to connect Mombasa to Malaba on the border with Uganda, and onward to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city and eventually Kigali in Rwanda, with a branch line to Kisumu, and a northern line to Juba in South Sudan through Kasese and Pakwach.

As a result of the new development, Kenya may need yet another loan from China to build the Kisumu-to-Malaba border section.

There is already growing disquiet among Kenyans on the growing Chinese loans and the country’s ability to pay off the loans or risk auctioning its sovereignty and key assets.

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