Connecting Kenya and Uganda through SGR will boost regional trade

An SGR line above two lane Nairobi -Mombasa road. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The recent announcement by Uganda that it would start the construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR) in August is welcome news as it revives hopes for the extension of Kenya’s $2.39 billion project whose viability was dependent on the Ugandan section. Uganda’s announcement to commence construction of its section of the Malaba-Kampala railway, under the northern corridor project that required all the member states to put up a modern railway line in their respective states, couldn’t have come at a better time. It reaffirms the commitment made in 2014, when leaders from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan and Rwanda broke the ground for the construction of SGR to link the states with the view of boosting trade.

According to the World Bank, these countries have a combined market of over 300 million people, and it is envisaged that the regional rail and road transport infrastructure will stir socio-economic developments in the region. For starters, the SGR has emerged as a transformative infrastructure project in East Africa, revolutionising transportation and trade dynamics. The potential benefits of extending the SGR line from Kenya to Uganda are vast, offering significant economic gains for both nations.

Connecting Kenya and Uganda through the SGR line would provide a seamless and efficient mode of transportation for goods, promoting increased trade and regional integration. The SGR's superior capacity and faster transit times would reduce logistical bottlenecks and lower transport costs, encouraging cross-border commerce. It would facilitate the movement of goods, enhancing access to markets and expanding business opportunities for industries in both countries.

Notably, Uganda is banking on the railway to boost speed and lower the cost of transporting exports such as coffee and tobacco. It currently relies on costly and slow road links and a century-old narrow meter gauge rail line built by former colonial power Britain.

The SGR connection between Kenya and Uganda would also act as a catalyst for economic growth in both countries. Improved transport infrastructure stimulates investment, attracts foreign direct investment, and enhances competitiveness. It would unlock the potential of various sectors, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, creating employment opportunities and generating revenue. The SGR connection would drive economic diversification and contribute to the overall prosperity of Kenya and Uganda.

The SGR connection represents a significant stride towards strengthening East African integration. It aligns with the broader vision of the East African Community (EAC) to promote regional cooperation, connectivity, and economic development. The integration of Kenya and Uganda through the SGR  would facilitate smoother movement of people, goods, and services, fostering closer ties and enhancing collaboration between the two nations. This integration would create a foundation for deeper regional integration within the EAC, fostering a unified East African market.

The SGR connection would also serve as a crucial component of cross-border infrastructure development. It opens avenues for further connectivity and regional linkages, extending beyond the immediate borders of the two nations. The SGR line could potentially be expanded to connect with other countries in the region such as Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This interconnected network would amplify trade, investment, and cooperation, creating a web of economic prosperity across East Africa.

The SGR connection aligns with the principles of sustainable development and environmental conservation. By offering an efficient mode of transport, it would reduce reliance on road transport, which is more environmentally taxing.

Mr Gichuru is a communications specialist on SGR operations