By Raymond Baguma
At the heart of the struggle between the ‘coalition of the willing’ on one hand against Tanzania and Burundi on the other, is the competition for economic dominance between Kenya and Tanzania to control the transport artery of movement of goods into the interior.
East Africa’s largest two economies are in a simultaneous race for infrastructure development with support from China, to spur their economies.
There are ongoing works in port expansion, setting up economic processing zones, agriculture road railway networks, building satellite cities, minerals as well as oil and gas explorations.
Both countries have strategic access to the Indian Ocean and are gateways for international trade for the landlocked East African Community neighbours. Kenya controls what is known as the northern corridor route linking Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and eastern DR Congo.
Tanzania on the other hand, controls the central development corridor for Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and additionally, eastern DR Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
But the central corridor has an added advantage with access to more landlocked countries than the northern corridor. China and Tanzania signed a framework to construct a $10b port in Bagamoyo, which is set to become Africa’s largest port with a capacity to handle 20 million cargo containers a year.
This will undoubtedly overtake Mombasa port of Kenya, presently considered to be the EAC’s largest port with a capacity to handle 800,000 containers annually.
In the aftermath of the 2007 postelection violence in Kenya, there was growing discontent about the use of the northern corridor by traders from Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda, which is Kenya’s biggest regional trading partner, contemplated using the Tanzanian route via Dar-es- Salaam port.
Uganda weighed up the options of using the port of Dar. Uganda signed a protocol with Tanzania to use the Dar-es-Salaam Port to handle more Ugandan inbound and outbound cargo via Mutukula through the central corridor.
This was because of inefficiencies on the northern corridor controlled through Kenya’s Mombasa port. Over 90% of Uganda’s imports and exports transit through Mombasa. There is a forecast for increased trade as Uganda joins the league of oil producing countries.
Additionally, Tanzania shares its border with all the other four EAC member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda; while Kenya only has Uganda and South Sudan, which aspires to join EAC.
(Front L-R) EAC Presidents: Paul Kagame of Rwanda, (formerly) Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda pose for a group photograph after a past EAC summit in Arusha Tanzania. PHOTO/PPU
Kenya – East Africa’s largest economy – needed to improve efficiency at Mombasa or risk losing its position to the emergent Tanzania with the upcoming port of Bagamoyo whose construction is expected to commence in 2015 and end in 2017.
Faced with the likelihood of loss of The central corridor has an added advantage with access to more landlocked countries than the northern corridor business, Kenya has had to improve efficiency at Mombasa in terms of cargo handling, reduce procedures and arbitrary charges as well as elimination of weighbridges.
Also, Lamu port will serve the northern corridor for oil and gas including Ethiopia. Kenya has also got into an arrangement to woo its interior neighbours to implement the Common Market Protocol provision that allows free movement of labour, starting with Rwanda.
In 2011, Kenya and Rwanda were the first of EAC member states to mutually agree not to charge any fees for work or residence permits.
This placed the two countries ahead of their EAC counterparts in implementing the protocol. But the arrangement could not ignore Uganda which is the gateway to Rwanda. So, Uganda had to be brought on board.
Also, the Kenya Ports Authority commissioned a new berth at Mombasa to boost its cargo handling capacity. The berth was launched by the three presidents under the trilateral cooperation.
The planned Arusha-Musoma Highway is expected to connect Dar-es-Salaam to Uganda by ferry via the planned Bukasa port on Lake Victoria. However, the highway’s dominance in Rwanda and Burundi could also be affected by the Dar-es-Salaam-Isaka- Kigali/Keza-Musongati railway, which connects Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo.
The State of East Africa report mentions that the value of EAC’s total trade has expanded; but with imports still dominating regional trade.
In one way or another, the tussle between Kenya and Tanzania is expected to continue, which will ultimately benefit the regional landlocked neighbours in the long run.