Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tanzania-Rwanda SGR envisaged strengthening EAC member countries

The E decision by Tanzania and Rwanda to construct a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) connecting the two countries is billed to strengthen the East African Community (EAC) infrastructure strategy and its integration process. The agreement by Presidents John Magufuli and Paul Kagame to put in place a network for connecting Isaka in Shinyanga to Kigali, which will also haul cargo to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), would hugely boost the regional business and infrastructure strategy. This comes ahead of the Fourth EAC Heads of State Retreat on Infrastructure Development and Financing scheduled for next month in Kampala, Uganda. A professor of economics at Mzumbe University, Mr Prosper Honest Ngowi, told the ‘Daily News’ yesterday that the decision of the duo would unlock business opportunities in the short and long term, from which landlocked countries in the bloc would benefit immensely. The don noted that in the short term, the construction activities of the SGR would stimulate economic activities directly and indirectly along the railway line, saying the quick wins would depend on local content – if local companies would supply materials and locals would be hired in the project. Prof Ngowi said that in the long run, EAC member states would take advantage of the railway line and emerging business opportunities in different countries, Tanzania becoming the hub for those landlocked countries within the community, thereby fast-tracking the integration agenda. The EAC Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Department at the EAC Secretariat Headquarters here, Mr Owora Othieno, explained that the retreat, starting on February 22, seeks to support infrastructure development to facilitate regional integration and socio-economic development in the bloc. Three retreats have been held so far; in 2008, 2012 and 2014. During the second retreat, the leaders institutionalized the retreat on infrastructure development and financing at two-yearly intervals. Infrastructure being one of the most critical enablers of a successful regional integration and taking into account its importance in facilitating activities such as trade, agriculture, tourism and the movement of labour and other resources, the EAC Treaty states that the partner states’ provision of basic infrastructure shall be one of the operational principles of the community under Article 7 (b). In different environs in the recent past, the East African Business Council (EABC), in its communiqué, spoke out on the current poor state of railway systems in EAC that are antiquated and are over 100 years old. EABC Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lilian Awinja, talked of non-availability of much wanted urban rail and that there was no significant new or efficient interurban rail. However, she hailed efforts being made to improve the railway systems in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. She said there was a need for consistently and speedily addressing infrastructure constraints given their contribution to business competitiveness. EABC has been vocal in lobbying for a timetable of implementing the planned developments for both medium and long term plans with measurable deliverables along the process.

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