The Coalition of the Willing, which rocked the East African Community in recent months, was triggered by fear over competition for economic dominance in the region, The Citizen has learnt.
Reports from Kampala hint that Tanzania’s aggressive ambition to invest in infrastructure, especially the construction of a Chinese funded multibillion-dollar port project, caused panic, particularly in Kenya, which has dominated the region because of its Mombasa port.
The revelation comes as Kenya yesterday launched the construction of the Sh22 trillion 1,250-km Mombasa-Malaba railway line in a ceremony attended by four presidents from the East African region.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday hosted presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Salva Kiir (South Sudan) in the ceremony. The line to be built by the China Communications Construction Company will run from Mombasa to Malaba, Kampala and then Kigali and later to Juba.
Construction work will be undertaken in three phases with Phase One starting from Mombasa to Nairobi, followed by Nairobi-Malaba and Kisumu in Phase Two and Malaba-Kisumu to Kampala in Phase Three. The projected completion date is 2016.
But as the multitrillion shillings railway launching took place in Mombasa yesterday, details that caused the coalition of the willing emerged showing that Kenya was alarmed by Tanzania’s $11 billion modern port project and plans to revive the central railway.
According to Uganda’s government owned newspaper, New Vision, at the heart of the struggle between the ‘coalition of the willing’ on one hand against Tanzania and Burundi on the other, is the competition for economic dominance between Kenya and Tanzania to control the transport artery of movement of goods into the interior.
East Africa’s largest two economies, Tanzania and Kenya, are in a simultaneous race for infrastructure development with support from China, to spur their economies. There are ongoing works in port expansion, setting up economic processing zones, agriculture road railway networks, building satellite cities, minerals as well as oil and gas explorations.
Both countries have strategic access to the Indian Ocean and are gateways for international trade for the landlocked East African Community neighbours. Kenya controls what is known as the northern corridor route linking Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and eastern DR Congo. Tanzania on the other hand, controls the central development corridor for Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and additionally, eastern DR Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
But the central corridor has an added advantage with access to more landlocked countries than the northern corridor. China and Tanzania signed a framework to construct $11bn port in Bagamoyo, which is set to become Africa’s largest port with a capacity to handle 20 million cargo containers a year.
This will undoubtedly overtake Mombasa port of Kenya, presently considered to be the EAC’s largest port with a capacity to handle 800,000 containers annually, The New Vision reported.
According to the paper, Kenya alarmed by the growing Tanzania’s economic muscles, decided to consolidate potential clients in the region by also embarking on massive infrastructureprojects.
Though The Citizen couldn’t independently verify the claims by Uganda’s government paper, the circumstantial evidence surrounding the sudden emergence of coalition of the willing mid this year, confirm these claims.
In the aftermath of the 2007 post election violence in Kenya, there was growing discontent about the use of the northern corridor by traders from Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda, which is Kenya’s biggest regional trading partner, contemplated using the Tanzanian route via Dar es Salaam port.
Few years ago, Uganda weighed up the options of using the port of Dar es Salaam whereby it signed a protocol with Tanzania to use the Dar es Salaam Port to handle more Ugandan inbound and outbound cargo via Mutukula through the central corridor.
This was because of inefficiencies on the northern corridor controlled through Kenya’s Mombasa port.
Currently, over 90 percent of Uganda’s imports and exports transit through Mombasa with analysts predicting an increased trade as Uganda joins the league of oil producing countries.
Strategically, Tanzania shares its border with all the other four EAC member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda; while Kenya only has Uganda and South Sudan, which aspires to join EAC. Kenya – East Africa’s largest economy – needed to improve efficiency at Mombasa or risk losing its position to the emergent Tanzania with the upcoming port of Bagamoyo whose construction is expected to commence in 2015 and end in 2017.
Faced with the likelihood loss of the central corridor has an added advantage with access to more landlocked countries than the northern corridor business, Kenya has had to improve efficiency at Mombasa in terms of cargo handling, reduce procedures and arbitrary charges as well as elimination of weighbridges.
Also, Lamu port will serve the northern corridor for oil and gas including Ethiopia. Kenya has also got into an arrangement to woo its interior neighbours to implement the Common Market Protocol provision that allows free movement of labour, starting with Rwanda.
In 2011, Kenya and Rwanda were the first of EAC member states to mutually agree not to charge any fees for work or residence permits.
This placed the two countries ahead of their EAC counterparts in implementing the protocol. But the arrangement could not ignore Uganda which is the gateway to Rwanda. So, Uganda had to be brought on board.
Also, the Kenya Ports Authority commissioned a new berth at Mombasa to boost its cargo handling capacity. The berth was launched by the three presidents under the trilateral cooperation.
The planned Arusha-Musoma Highway is expected to connect Dar es Salaam to Uganda by ferry via the planned Bukasa port on Lake Victoria. However, the highway’s dominance in Rwanda and Burundi could also be affected by the Dar-es-Salaam-Isaka- Kigali/Keza-Musongati railway, which connects Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo. The State of East Africa report mentions that the value of EAC’s total trade has expanded; but with imports still dominating regional trade.
In another development, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have initiated agreements on economic cooperation.
This follows isolation by their East African Community (EAC) partners Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in the so- called “coalition of the willing.”
Representatives of the three countries met in Bujumbura, Burundi as a follow-through to an earlier promise made by a Tanzanian minister on the country’s intention to cooperate with Burundi and DR Congo.
Addressing journalists on the cooperation, the Tanzanian minister for East African Cooperation Samuel Sitta said Tanzania, Burundi and Congo have agreed to jointly develop road, rail, air and water transportation infrastructure. He said the meeting focused on improving transport infrastructure on Lake Tanganyika, which joins Tanzania, Burundi, DRC and Zambia.
“We also plan to develop Uvinza railway line from the area to Msongati Tanzania, Burundi and also connecting roads Manyoni - Tabora - Kigoma via Bujumbura to South Kivu, DRC,” said Sitta.
The meeting in Burundi was attended by minister Sitta, Burundi’s minister for East African Cooperation Leontine Nzeyimana and the DRC minister of Transport, Jack Lukeba.
“We also visited the Port of Kalindo on Lake Tanganyika on the Burundi side because we want to improve the ports of the lake,” said Mr Sitta.
Regarding air transport, Mr Sitta said Tanzania is addressing the possibility of starting flights from Dar es Salaam to Bujumbura.
Yesterday President Kenyatta launched what analysts dubbed historic project, which is about the construction of 1250km at the cost of $5.2 billion that would extend across East Africa to reach South Sudan, DR Congo and Burundi.
It is also hoped that the railway will reduce congestion in Mombasa, one of Africa’s busiest ports.
The current railway network dates back to the colonial era.
After the Nairobi section is finished, with completion due in 2017, it will be extended through Uganda, with branch lines west to Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, south through Rwanda to Burundi and north to South Sudan. Passenger trains will travel at a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph), while freight trains will have a maximum speed of 80 km/h.
“What we are doing here today will most definitely transform... not only Kenya but the whole of eastern African region,” President Kenyatta told crowds at the ceremony, calling it an “historic milestone”, the AFP news agency reports.
Additional report by Boniface Meena in Nairobi