Prospects and pitfalls of Kigali-Isaka railway

By Esther Muhozi
On 22 November 2023 at 09:49

The initiative to construct a railway linking Kigali to Dar es Salaam has gained widespread support and continuous attention, as it is seen as a potential solution to alleviate the high transportation costs faced by landlocked countries within the East African Community.

In Rwanda, the route of this railway is outlined by strategically placed posts indicating its path, with an additional stretch of 18 kilometers required to reach Bugesera International Airport. This long-awaited project, envisioned for over two decades, aims to enhance connectivity among East African countries.

The agreement to construct this extensive 532-kilometer railway was formalized on March 9, 2018. However, progress has primarily materialized on the Tanzanian side, marking advancements as of November 14, 2023.

In a discussion with members of the senatorial committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, and Security, Patricia Uwase, the State Minister in the Ministry of Infrastructure, highlighted the significant role of political considerations hindering the extension of the railway to Rwanda.

Uwase emphasized the necessity of political will for the successful realization of the railway project connecting Rwanda to Dar es Salaam port via Isaka. While progress seemed promising until 2019, discussions encountered a standstill, notably due to the considerable financial resources required.

The route from Dar es Salaam to Makutupora spans 400 kilometers, with subsequent segments from Makutupora to Morogoro and Morogoro to Mwanza showing substantial progress. Uwase disclosed that Rwanda sought more than $1.5 billion, while Tanzania, responsible for a significant portion of the railway, required over $2.5 billion.

Efforts were made to establish a Public-Private Partnership, but an agreement between the involved parties remained elusive. Uwase expressed that talks, initially progressing positively, eventually halted, with political rather than technical reasons cited as the primary cause.

Despite previous optimism, negotiations have yet to regain momentum. President Kagame’s discussions with Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu Hassan earlier in 2023 encompassed efforts to boost trade, with the railway project remaining on the agenda.

Rwanda asserts that the railway’s completion will reduce transportation costs by 40%, particularly benefiting traders and facilitating the movement of 70% of Rwanda’s cargo through the Dar es Salaam port.

In addition to collaboration with Tanzania, Rwanda is engaged in joint projects with Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan in the Northern Corridor. The initiative, launched in October 2013, aims to accelerate the development of various commitments, including railways and oil refineries.

The project connecting Rwanda to the port of Mombasa through Uganda faced setbacks in 2018 due to strained relations between Rwanda and Uganda.

Uwase revealed that discussions on the railway project connecting Rwanda and Mombasa through Uganda have resumed, involving multiple countries.

Emphasizing the importance of ongoing dialogue, Uwase remains optimistic that sustained conversations will lead to practical actions, fostering swift progress.

The agreement to construct this extensive 532-kilometer railway was formalized on March 9, 2018.