• The standard gauge railway is part of the Northern Corridor infrastructure project designed to connect Mombasa to Malaba on the border with Uganda, and onward to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city and eventually Kigali in Rwanda.
  • However, the ambitious project has since fallen behind schedule largely due to financing constraints and indecisiveness on the part of some partner states to build their respective sections.
  • The planned 1,500km-long railway from Mombasa to Kigali for instance was expected to be completed by 2018, but so far Kenya has only completed the initial phase of the project from Mombasa to Nairobi.

East Africa’s most ambitious project, the multi-billion Standard Gauge Railway project, is at crossroads as member states continue to read from different scripts putting the entire project in jeopardy.

The standard gauge railway is part of the Northern Corridor infrastructure project designed to connect Mombasa to Malaba on the border with Uganda, and onward to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city and eventually Kigali in Rwanda, with a branch line to Kisumu, and a northern line to Juba in South Sudan through Kasese and Pakwach.

The standard gauge railway
The standard gauge railway

However, the ambitious project has since fallen behind schedule largely due to financing constraints, doubts over its economic viability, the cost of construction and indecisiveness on the part of some partner states to build their respective sections.

It is understood that China had offered to finance the entire joint railway project connecting Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, but the idea was dropped after Kampala changed her mind, and decided to focus on developing a railway link to South Sudan instead.

Uganda’s Finance Minister Matia Kasaija
Uganda’s Finance Minister Matia Kasaija

The Ugandan section of the standard gauge railway, estimated to cost $2.3 billion, was launched in October 2014 and although the country has completed the feasibility and designs for the 273km-long line between Malaba in Kenya and Kampala, the construction is yet to begin, with Kampala attributing the delay to lack of financing and Kenya’s failure to complete its part of the project by extending the line to Malaba.

“It is apparent the SGR is going to take us a lot of time to complete. First, we have to wait for Kenya to reach the Malaba border point then we can start,” Uganda’s Finance Minister Matia Kasaija told Daily Monitor in 2018 while announcing that the government had suspended the standard gauge railway project and instead opted to revamping its old metre-gauge railway network.

Kenya's Standard Gauge Railway
Kenya's Standard Gauge Railway

The Mombasa to Kigali route hasn’t been smooth sailing either and proved quite a headache.

The planned 1,500km-long railway from Mombasa to Kigali for instance was expected to be completed by 2018, but so far Kenya has only completed the initial phase of the project from Mombasa to Nairobi.

It seems Rwanda has since developed cold shoulders and is now focused more on the Isaka-Kigali railway project seeking to link the capital Kigali with Tanzania.

Rwanda is now focused more on the Isaka-Kigali railway project seeking to link the capital Kigali with Tanzania.
Rwanda is now focused more on the Isaka-Kigali railway project seeking to link the capital Kigali with Tanzania.

The project which costs $2.5 billion — of which Tanzania will pay $1.3 billion and Rwanda $1.2 billion — is estimated to be cheaper by close to $200 million compared with if Rwanda had opted for the Kenyan route, connecting through Uganda.

Construction of the 571-kilometre railway, which was expected to start last year in December following completion of the design and feasibility study, is expected to improve trade between the two countries.

Tanzania has already started work in two phases on a railway line from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro spanning 330 kilometres, and from Morogoro to Makutupora in Dodoma covering 426 kilometres, using locally sourced funds totalling about Sh315 billion ($3.15 billion).

kenya's Transport secretary James Macharia
kenya's Transport secretary James Macharia

Kenya’s standard gauge railway line has also come with its fare share of challenges.

While the country has secured Chinese funding to extend the line from Nairobi to Naivasha in the Central Rift, at an estimated cost of Ksh150 billion ($1.5 billion) and the work on the project is on-going, Kenya is yet to secure financing for the last two segments of the project from Naivasha to Kisumu and then to Malaba.

In 2018, Transport secretary James Macharia said that Kenya would build its railway up to Kisumu or Naivasha as extension of the line to Malaba would no longer be necessary if landlocked states pulled out.