So much has been said about the Standard Gauge Railway and how it is supposed to transform the East African region. At some point the stories were all so rosy you would think the train would also cure the deadly cancer called corruption as East Africans rode on it. We were told of how it was going to run and connect Mombasa to Kampala, Kigali, and Bujumbura and move goods at incredible speeds and make our roads clear of the slow heavy trucks.
The leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan graced several events related to the famous train that is supposed to make us forget all about the old rusty Uganda Railway that the British left us with running from Mombasa into Uganda in Pakwach and Kasese in West Nile and Western Uganda. As the time went by it eventually sank in that we were not all going to see the train at the same time. And as of now it is basically a Mombasa to Nairobi affair. The rest of us have to wait some more for it to show up.
The track from Mombasa to Nairobi is ready and the wagons have been shipped in and tested. The trains are going to join the competition which is air transport and road transport. My wish is that they do exert the necessary pressure on the existing services so that everyone can improve on what they have been offering. If indeed the trains are going to cut down on the time taken for one to travel between Nairobi and Mombasa then the buses on the route will have to up their game if there are to remain in business.
The Nairobi- Mombasa route is known to have the best buses in the region and the pressure from the trains should compel them to do even better and treat passengers like royalty. It is also the route that has the most domestic civil aviation in the region served by both large carriers and small aircraft. With a standard gauge train passing through game reserves it should be a sweet deal having to do a few hours as you watch wild animals roaming about from your window.
All said, the SGR train, especially once it gets to Uganda and Rwanda, should lead to much better services to passengers using other forms of transport as well. I also hope it can be marketed as both a commuter and tourist train. I already have a plan with some Kenyan friends to do the Nairobi - Mombasa stretch as a group, for fun.
On the side of the cargo, the trains should move more freight and faster. This should lead to reduction in the cost that goes to transportation and hopefully make life easier especially for manufacturers who have to move heavy raw materials from one end to another. Gradually the heavy trucks moving things should reduce too and our roads will last longer, that way even those with private cars will feel like royalty driving on great roads with fewer trucks.
Away from the road, rail and air, East Africa as a region really needs to fix water transport. For a region blessed with lots of amazing water bodies, it is a shame that we haven’t done enough to make transport by water more accessible and safer. Often times stories of ferry accidents, ferries breaking down or not existing at all, and small boats capsizing is what makes the news around here.
It would be amazing to see huge and safe water vessels moving people from say Kisumu to Jinja and then to Mwanza or the same arrangement on Lake Kivu for those going to the Democratic Republic of Congo from Rwanda. Lake Tanganyika and Lake Albert would have the same arrangement and this way more goods and people would be moving from one spot to another with more ease.
Writing this from Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, with the River Nile flowing gracefully just five meters away has had me thinking a lot about the transport systems that should connect us as a people. After all the mighty River Nile flows all the way to Egypt through Sudan and Ethiopia with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all claiming to have its source. Isn’t that interesting? The colonialists used many of these rivers as borders, we should use them as links by fixing transport on them and travelling like royalty.