African Railways: ‘Why Africa Turns to China’

Jul 08, 2020

This is a flashback. Just about a year ago, the tough speaking Ugandan President, Yuweri Museveni blamed the World Bank and the West as a whole for driving Africa into Chinese arms by their refusal to fund railways projects across Africa.

Hosting some Chinese officials then, President Museveni lashed at the World Bank for refusing to lend Uganda money to build a railway network,noting that the World Bank told off Uganda when it sought for funds, that countries that “build railways use own money.”

He said that such a statement from an economist purports to support Africa’s transformation through private-sector led growth shows that some actors are not serious. Museveni, who was in China for a four-day visit, told a meeting in Beijing that Uganda Railways tried to get money to fund railway construction from the World Bank but in vain.

“One of our engineers recently told me that the Uganda Railways tried in vain to get support from the World Bank until one official told them that countries that build railways do so with “their own money,” Museveni said. 

“How will the private-sector grow if it is bedevilled with expensive transport costs, expensive electricity costs or no electricity at all, expensive cost of money, etc.? It is against that negativity, that China’s solidarity should be measured.”

“As we gather here, therefore, we cannot forget to salute the Communist parties of China, the USSR, Cuba and the other socialist countries that constituted the third factor in our emancipation,” he said. 

Reality a Year After

A year after , Uganda appears to have fallen out with Beijing on railway financing. China was unwilling to commit such fund after the faltering experience of Kenya.

Kampala has eventually resorted to a mixture of private public sector funding of her railway revival. It has slowed down the SGR agenda and in turn opted for rehabilitation of the old guage lines.

Interestingly, the Ugandan government has engaged a western led consortium in the rehabilitation efforts. Just two or so weeks ago, the national government of the Republic of Uganda approved US$ 376M for the 215km Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment project.

An additional investment of over US$ 12M has also been approved to purchase eight locomotives for the line and more than US$ 2.5M for routine repairs across the network.

This was revealed by Charles Kateeba, the managing director of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) in a letter addressed to the parliamentary committee on matters of national economy.

According to Mr. Kateeba, the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment would not only bring to life cheaper means of transport but also help reduce the number of trucks on the roads which would consequently lead to the reduction of wear and tear effect on the East African country highway roads.

Furthermore, the government hopes that the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment will reduce cross-border road traffic and help to limit the transmission of any future pandemics such as COVID-19.

The ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project

The above-mentioned investment is part of the ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project which aims to improve freight connections particularly between the capital city of Uganda and the country’s eastern border with Kenya.

The project includes the redevelopment and reconstruction of the East African country’s dilapidated 1,266km, 1000mm-gauge network to standard gauge and extension of the network to approximately 1,724km.

All this will be done in four sections: Malaba – Kampala, Kampala – Mpondwe, Tororo – Gulu, and Bihanga – Mirama Hills.

The construction of the Tororo – Gulu section has already been contracted to Vinci Group subsidiaries namely Sogea Satom and the ETF.

The two companies will replace the entire section 375km meter-gauge railway with a standard gauge railway.

They will also be responsible for the production and installation of 200,000m3 of ballast and the replacement and repair of sleepers, rails, and fastenings.

 

Credit: Rail-Bus

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