A week or two ago graphics comparing the cost of constructing the standard gauge railway in Uganda to Kenya and Rwanda made rounds on social media. The argument was Uganda’s cost is way too high compared to that of Kenya and Rwanda an insinuation that for some reason Uganda has unnecessarily inflated costs, which is misleading.
Uganda is in the process of constructing a Standard Gauge Railway network of 1,700Km connecting to strategic border points. The eastern route will start from Malaba to Kampala, the northern route will start from Tororo to Gulu to Nimule with a spur to Pakwach and the western route will start from Kampala to Mpondwe at the DRC border through Mityana, Kamwenge and Kasese, and a line from Bihanga southwards to Mirama Hills at the Uganda- Rwanda border through Mbarara and Ntungamo with a spur to the Muko iron ore deposits through Kabale.
It is only the eastern route with confirmed cost at USD2.3b as the rest of the routes haven’t yet been assessed for cost. Uganda started with the eastern route because over 90% of Uganda’s goods come through Malaba and Busia. On this route feasibility studies have been completed and a construction contractor has been assigned. When negotiations for the loan are completed well, work is expected to start right away and the railway line is expected to be ready for use 42 months after commencement of construction.
The other argument going on again on social media is Uganda is lagging behind while Kenya’s SGR is in final stages. All the four Northern Corridor Partner States; Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan signed a regional SGR protocol to guide the implementation of the Standard Gauge Railway line so that there is seamless connection between countries. Meaning Uganda had to wait for Kenya to reach Malaba to start, same way Rwanda will wait for Uganda to reach Mirama hills and South Sudan Nimule for them to start.
Last week I had an opportunity to take a familiarization trip along the eastern route of the SGR and visited some of the communities that are affected by the SGR project. While we may only be interested in seeing construction going on or trains moving, the work that comes before that is as important. The soils have to be right and the route properly marked for costs to be arrived at. Communities have to be sensitized, compensated and moved which isn’t as easy given their diversity. Issues of culture aren’t easy to compromise on.
We learnt that some communities found it hard to move graves while others opposed relocation of their shrines. To learn that compensation has been done to 60% in just a year given the challenges involved in the process means there is good progress. The project has compensated 2500 affected persons in Tororo, Butaleja, Namutumba, Luuka and Iganga. The project affects homes, schools including the Senior Staff College – Kimaka, factories, hotels, shrines, churches and large plantations.
The project will be careful to minimize disruption of aquatic life and human activities by constructing bridges and viaducts over water bodies and roads. Of the 276km of the eastern route railway line, 53km is in wetlands. This means a lot of money has to be used to ensure that the railway safely passes over the wetland without destroying it.
A bridge of I km has to be constructed over the River Nile and other small rivers and in some places underground paths have to be constructed so that activities of communities aren’t disrupted. It should be noted that the two countries compared to Uganda don’t have similar features.
It is easy to tell a homestead that has been compensated because they have new and bigger houses with old and broken structures in the background. For cultural reasons people don’t move so far from their old homes, they just move as far away from the proposed railway line site as required by law. People are actually supportive of the project and they look forward to seeing electric trains.
Politicians should engage the people in these areas and educate them about possible economic activities that will come with the presence of the railway line. People should be prepared for the new development instead of just looking for what may go wrong.
What we are sure of is towns are going to come up where railway stations will be. The stations on the Eastern route will include Kampala New City, New Station Kampala East, Jinja, Tororo and the substations will include Nagongera, Budumba, Busembatia, Iganga, Magamaga, Bulamagi and Lugazi. Travelers will need food to eat, places to spend nights as they wait to travel, transport to and out of the trains stations, airtime and other amenities.
People in these areas should be helped to see these opportunities and prepare for them. We can’t all be formerly employed by the SGR but we can directly or indirectly gain from the project by providing necessary goods and services.