Skip to main content
Life Reflections

With true integration, EAC countries can go places

By June 28, 2013June 6th, 2023No Comments

The best news coming out of Kampala last Tuesday 25th June 2013 was not that Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda met.

Nor was it that they agreed to construct a new standard gauge railway line, revamping the old one and extending it to Kigali. It was not that they agreed to build a joint oil pipeline and refinery linking the three East African countries, either. The agreements have been there, lying in limbo.

The best news was that their message carried a tone of finality about it. Every activity leading to the implementation of their resolutions was given a time frame. And each country was assigned a specific task associated with the total implementation of the agreements.

Rwanda will spearhead the establishment of East Africa identity cards, single tourism visa and single customs territory. Kenya will handle the procedure of extending the pipeline and any additions to it. Uganda will be in charge of overseeing the construction of a refinery and the revamping and extension of the railway line. And the tasks will not be assigned to vague political talking heads. Technocrats will meet every two months, starting this August.

I like the ring of “Technocrats will meet in Kenya” in August, in Rwanda in October, in Uganda in December and so on. In fact, I see these leaders agreeing to form an independent body, or a semi-autonomous agency, to take charge of this whole implementation, when finally their counterparts in Tanzania and Burundi join in. This is assuming that the one foot that President Kikwete maintains in the Southern African trading organisation, SADC, does not seduce him away. It’s telling that the progress of integration had stagnated, even as agreements gather dust, awaiting implementation.

Otherwise, the establishment of an independent body to implement resolutions, reporting to the Heads of State regularly, would appeal to everyone. The body, call it EAREA (East African Resolutions Execution Authority), would see to it that it has its own permanent supply of electricity, for instance. And now that we are in the realm of imagination, let’s take the railway. Why would it need its own electricity, independent of the national grids?

Once the new standard gauge railway line has been constructed and extended to Bujumbura, stretching all the way from the Indian Ocean coastal town of Mombasa in Kenya and back to the Indian Ocean coastal town of Dar es Salaam of Tanzania, let’s hope it will not be ridden by the same lumbering, old crates of freight trains as ply the lines that exist today.

Let’s hope that cargo trains that are modern and use electricity are purchased to replace them. If this were to be done, we wouldn’t wish to see them subjected to the intermittent power supply of our countries.

It’s said that such trains can attain a speed of up to 109 km an hour. Imagine the difference it can make in goods transfer, once the single customs territory resolution is in effect. Let’s imagine that all the goods have been cleared and put on a train in Mombasa, bound for Kigali. At all the border points on the way, it’ll sail through without pausing to explain itself. The train is protected by EAREA guards, moreover, so that if there is any kind of upheaval in a country along the route, it does not interfere with its swift journey.

Where goods have been taking upward of two weeks on the road from Mombasa to Kigali, they’ll take a single day! Look at it this way: the distance by road from Mombasa to Kigali is 1,673 and so a train with a speed of 109 km an hour will take slightly over 14 hours. From seven O’clock in the morning, if it does not make any stop on the way, it will be here by nine in the evening. The back route will be the same. The travel to and from Dar will be equally advantaged. Shorter time, lower costs, happy traders and customers.

To this happy state of affairs, throw in one high-speed passenger train, like those that ply the lines of China. It’s said these can whiz about at a blinding 486 km an hour without the slightest strain from its load but it’s not allowed to spin its passengers beyond 340km an hour. Such a train will pick a trader in Kampala and before he exhales the breath he inhaled, he’ll have delivered his ware in Kigali or Bujumbura and will be shooting his way back to Kampala for his nightcap.

And if you think this is another of a dreamer’s flights of fancy, ask the Chinese. Once given free (not exactly that!) access to bits of the bountiful resources of East Africa – minerals, oil, gas, et al – what generosity (not exactly that!) aren’t they capable of? Maybe you heard of what this dragon of the East promised DR Congo before the vultures of the West swooped down to put paid to that bilateral effort. If that served for nothing, at least it was a good lesson to East Africa.

By the way, the railway prospect I quote is only one example of what can accrue out of true integration.

Leave a Reply