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The SGR Trick: Which was all based on, if Beijing blessed Kampala!

The Standard Gauge Railway in the East African Community was all based on if the Chinese counterparts wanted to fund the infrastructure and the grand enterprise of rails in the region. Today, it was revealed, not shockingly that the SGR works in Uganda has been suspended. This after reports in the Daily Monitor revealed this:

Uganda’s first phase of SGR, the eastern line running from Malaba to Kampala, about 273km (338km rail length), is expected to cost $2.3bn. Mr Kasaija admitted that Uganda has currently taken a back seat on the SGR venture, but will resume “serious discussions once Kenya is about to reach” the Ugandan side. President Museveni, according to sources familiar with the venture, in recent months had been directly involved in discussions on the project, and had hoped to secure financing for the first section of the railway line during his visit to China last month when he attended the seventh Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit. But he returned empty-handed. However, Mr Kasaija revealed that during the discussions in Beijing, it was agreed that “Uganda and Kenya will embark on joint financing negotiations” after Kenya has completed the current Nairobi-Naivasha section” (Daily Monitor – ‘Uganda puts SGR on hold over unresolved issues with Kenya’ 30.10.2018, link: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/news/ea/uganda/Uganda-puts-SGR-over-unresolved-issues-kenya/4003148-4828902-156c5upz/index.html).

I have doubts that it will help reaching more agreements with the Kenyan counterparts at this time. As they have had plenty of agreements, joint communiques and meetings with the Northern Corridor Integrated Project (NCIP), which is going back to 2015. Where there was back in October 2015 on the 11th NCIP Communique, where the document stated: “the summit noted progress made in the finalisation of bankable proposals for some sections and directed the Ministers of Finance, Infrastructure, Attorney Generals, coordinated by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, to undertake a joint visit to EXIM Bank in China to conclude Financing Agreements” (11th NCIP Summit – Joint Communique’ Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya 17.10.2015).

If you follow it clearly, the progress of the 2015 have been stalled or rejected, but the parties still want to pursuit the goal of building the rails. Even as even the Chinese doesn’t believe in it or seeing the lack of fortunes in Kenya to maybe wishing to extend the tracks further at this given moment. What we are seeing is that the Ugandan government has persisted, but not gone through.

They even had the idea of the SGR Railway in the National Development Plan II of 3rd March 2015, which also holds the idea of the rails alive with this statement: “Joint formal agreements for plans to build a new Standard Gauge railway (SGR) have been signed by the EAC Countries. The SGR project starts in Mombasa through Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali and Juba. A cross section of the different routes of the SGR to the South Western, Northern, North Western and Eastern Uganda will aid the mining industry through transportation of equipment and raw materials. The overall objective of the SGR is to jointly develop and operate a modern, fast, reliable, efficient and high capacity regional railway transport system as a seamless single system and as a mechanism to stimulate overall economic development” (NDPII, 03.03.2015). By the way, the implementation of the NDPII is supposed to be between 2015/2016 to 2019/2020 to fulfill the Vision 2020. However, by the SGR failure, this shows the lack of progress and just the major agreements, but not the needed funding or possibility of partners to invest in the huge infrastructure projects the government has.

While on the 3rd of October, the Ministry of Works produced the 14th Joint Transport Sector Review Workshop presentation, where they by June 2018 stated: “The financing agreement for the SGR was not signed. However, negotiations to sign the financing agreement are in advanced stages” (Ministry of Works, 03.10.2018). So, you see, the government knows perfectly well, they cannot and doesn’t have finances for the building of it. It is soon November 2018 and getting closer to Vision 2020, but no sign of a working rails across the Republic. Especially not, when they are waiting for the Chinese to see it as a viable project in the first place.

What the government didn’t tell today or yesterday, is that the Chinese said no a little while ago:

For it to make business sense, the proposed line has to reach Uganda in order to take over a huge chunk of the haulage business in the landlocked country ahead of the Tanzania-Rwanda SGR line. Uganda is said to have decided to revamp its old metre-gauge railway when it became apparent that the Kenyan line could delay for up to three years. A regional weekly recently reported that the ministers for transport and finance of the two countries were supposed to have engagements with China Exim Bank on the sections of Kisumu to Kampala via Malaba” (…) “This, however, flopped and instead the executives from China Exim Bank flew to Kampala and later Nairobi last November to carry out due diligence on the Uganda project proposal and contract application” (Guguyu Otiato – ‘Worry as China puts SGR funding on hold’ 06.03.2018 link: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2001294667/alarm-as-china-puts-sgr-funding-on-hold).

So, when the government are saying it wasn’t signed, is that the Exim Chinese Bank rejected it and hasn’t accepted the infrastructure project at this point. Certainly, they don’t see it viable or even possible for profits. They have already started in Kenya, but has to finish that part, before they extend to the other Republics in the EAC. Therefore, the SGR is still a dream elsewhere in the Northern Corridor, as they seemed more ready in 2015, than the donors or the development partners ever where. Because the GoU are not ready to finance it self and not have the ability to do so. Without getting funding from the outside. They have to beg for loans and grants to get it. Peace.

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