Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta Wednesday closed ranks on the need to extend the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Kampala via Malaba.
The two countries have been differing over financing of the cross border SGR, with China Exim Bank insisting that Kampala has to get Kenya’s commitment to build the rail from Kisumu to Malaba, before Uganda can secure funding for the line running from Kampala to the common boundary.
Kenya’s priority seemed to take the line to Kisumu port as part of the plan to have Uganda and Rwanda evacuate their goods via Lake Victoria, dimming the prospects for a seamless SGR line between Mombasa port and Kampala.
On Wednesday, the two heads of State appeared to be reading from the same script.
“The SGR train had evidently improved transport of cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi and I am now keen on the joint development of the SGR line to Kampala in Uganda,” Mr Kenyatta said, adding that this will cut down travel time to one day.
Mr Museveni echoed similar sentiments: “We have had great progress on these discussions. It will be a game-changer, especially for movement of cargo from Mombasa to Kampala.”
The joint meeting in Mombasa was especially important for Kampala given that two attempts, in June and October in 2017 to have a joint delegation from both Nairobi and Kampala head to Beijing flopped.
The two countries have been struggling to find a common ground in the financing deal for the last phase of Kenya’s SGR between Kisumu and Malaba, which would then unlock the funding for Uganda’s Malaba to Kampala line.
This prompted Uganda last year to announce it was putting on ice plans to build an SGR line connecting the capital Kampala with Malaba town.
Ugandan officials have more recently blamed Kenya for failing to commit to financing the remaining two — Naivasha-Kisumu, and Kisumu-Malaba sections of the line — building up to its decision to revamp the old metre-gauge railway.
Kenya secured a Sh150 billion loan from China to extend the railway line from Nairobi to Naivasha after last year’s completion of the Mombasa — Nairobi section.
The country is also upgrading the Kisumu harbour at Sh14bn to allow movement of goods via Lake Victoria to Uganda and Rwanda.
“While we are still waiting for the railway (in Uganda), the Kenyan Government has already moved and is now constructing modern jetties and petroleum pipelines," President Museveni said.
“That means that in the coming years, a lot of cargo will move from the roads to the railway and fuel will move from the roads to the pipeline and across the lake through tugboats which can carry the fuel across the lake cheaper, faster and safer,” he added.