By Godfrey Ntagungira
Transport sector represents an essential aspect of the society economic activity, organized with the object of overcoming the distances. As for the transport of goods, one may put it that it essentially shows a significant progress in the country.
It often makes sense to produce goods close to the markets where they will be sold; Rwandan buyers hope to buy at low prices and will purchase more units of a product at lower prices.
For landlocked countries like Rwanda, a strong and well-connected transport infrastructure is crucial for supporting economic development and increasing competitiveness.
Road transport sector is vital to a nation’s economy
Transport facilitates domestic, intra-regional as well as trade beyond Africa’s borders. Therefore World economies depend a lot on transport for development and it is in this context that the government of Rwanda is investing more resources in the development of Transport infrastructure both at National, Regional and International level.
Minister of Infrastructure Linda Bihire, in an exclusive interview with The New Times, said that several major developments are underway concerning the development of transport infrastructure, including the rehabilitation of a number of important roads. She said that this is done to aid the reduction in transportation costs of goods to markets as one of the key factors in economic growth.
Minister Bihire stressed that only 10% of the Northern and Central Corridors is made up by the Rwandan road network, and the remaining 90% of roads comprising these significant trade routes belong to our neighboring countries. “Thus, we have to embark on cooperation with those neighboring countries in order to develop the corridor network and thereby facilitating trade and commercial transactions” she said.
It is from this background that during the EAC business council, every partner state agreed to rehabilitate its road network along the Northern Corridor so as to facilitate trade among member countries. So far, the republic of Kenya has rehabilitated 70 percent of its part of the Corridor while in Uganda, 40 percent has been rehabilitated.
Additionally, to support regional trade and to improve transport infrastructure, Minister Bihire said: “we are also discussing with the EAC member states to harmonise procedures and policies in both the Northern and Central Corridors”.
Ideally, trucks carrying goods should drive at 60km/h but due to poor road conditions, trucks can only reach 15-20km/h along certain points of the Northern Corridor. Improving the condition of the roads will decrease transportation time and consequently costs.
While lowering transport costs is imperative for a growth strategy based on exports, Rwanda is in a difficult position because 95% of its main import-export routes lies outside of its direct policy jurisdiction.
Currently, Rwanda is chairing the Northern Corridor Board and is scheduled to hold an Inter-Ministerial Conference which will discuss on study findings on railway line project which will stretch from Tanzania to Rwanda and Burundi.
One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs)
Hon. Eng. Linda Bihire said that along with other regional partners, the idea of establishing one stop border posts at every border has been developed, which will save a lot of time in processing documents, further facilitating trade transactions across borders.
Under OSBPs. Both countries’ immigration services will take place in the same building, making travel between the two countries more efficient and cost-effective.
So far, one OSBP has been built at Nemba (Rwanda-Burundi) which is bearing fruit in time savings for travelers and trucks. Further OSBPs are planned for border posts with Uganda and the DRC which are now at the tendering process”
Another great achievement under the EAC is that member countries have agreed to introduce a cargo tracking system which will monitor on a central system the movement of trucks that are carrying goods to and from the main ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
The transport sector is working hard to lower costs and improve the quality of Rwanda’s paved road network and to generate sustained employment among its populace through road maintenance works.
There are numerous ongoing road rehabilitation projects, including:
Kigali-Ruhengeri, approximately 83 kilometers. The 64km Ruhengeri – Gisenyi road is due for completion at the beginning of 2010. Also the project for the upgrading of Rusizi-Rubavu road is currently in the procurement process
Furthermore, the rehabilitation of roads between Kigali-Nemba, Gitarama – Ngororero has been completed. Cyangungu-Butare, and Gitarama-Ngororero are all being rehabilitated.
The Minister revealed that rehabilitation of the Kigali-Gatuna road is currently in the tendering process.
She also noted that studies are underway on the improvement of Base –Byumba-Nyagatare road to upgrade it to a paved road.
The Ministry of Infrastructure recently introduced sophisticated software called HDM4, which measures the roughness and stress of roads and identifies weaknesses in the road so that the ministry intervenes before the road condition worsens.
“Rwandans have to know that maintaining infrastructure is their responsibility and should have the feeling of owning them. We have moved ahead as the Ministry established road standards, meaning the condition of every road will be monitored.
We are looking at widening them, but the quality issue is a prominent one” Minister Bihire said.
The Rwandan government, in cooperation with other EAC member states, are grappling with the need to modernize regional transport infrastructure and remove non-tariff barriers to trade which constitute the single biggest economic challenge to trade expansion and regional integration.
Rwanda relies on the whole EAC road network which presents stiff challenges due to weak physical infrastructure, compounded by high tariff and non-tariff barriers, including complex customs arrangements, incompatible regional policies, regulations and procedures.
Among others, poor transit systems and roadblocks along trade corridors create additional obstacles to business efficiency and trade.
Idle time along the corridors
Reports indicate that time spent not driving along the Northern Corridor, accounts for over 57% of the journey notably stops at borders, road blocks, weigh bridges, mechanical conditions of trucks, and personal reasons of truck drivers.
Driving along the Northern Corridor
According to a study by the Private Sector Foundation, it is evident that there are large sections of the corridor with poor infrastructure and occasionally there are many road diversions where road construction is taking place leading to congestion and speed limits.
Poor infrastructure, increased congestion at the port of Mombasa, and cumbersome customs procedures are examples of non-tariff barriers along the Northern Corridor which increase the cost of doing business in the region.
These corridors wind through multiple borders and provide an essential lifeline for landlocked countries in East and Central Africa, and improving their functionality is essential to the economies of those countries.
Corruption along the corridors
Corruption along the Corridors is a major contributor to high transport costs, particularly along the Northern Corridor and addressing this issue requires a coordinated repsonse.
The trade that flows along these corridors translates into improved livelihoods for millions of people. The EAC member states are to hold a ministerial meeting for infrastructure ministers.
On the conference agenda
• Enhance cooperation among all key stakeholders (governments, regional institutions and development partners) working to develop the transport/transit corridors in East Africa;
• Agree on a practical coordination structure for development partner support to corridor development, overseen and guided by regional institutions;
• Agree on a common approach to identifying causes of inefficiency along the Northern and Central Corridors and to defining, sequencing and packaging interventions to improve the efficiency of the corridors.
During the interview, Infrastructure Minister Linda Bihire stressed the importance of improved coordination among member states and their development partners to contribute to a collective prosperity which is dependant upon a modern regional transit system.
Railway in pipeline
Given Rwanda’s exclusive dependence upon road transport and the limitations this entails, the government of Rwanda strongly supports the development of the railway line extension from Isaka in Tanzania to Kigali and Musongati in Burundi.
“We are very optimistic that once this railway line project is put in place the cost of doing business will be lowered” the Minister said. The railway Extension to Kigali is expected to increase the volume and transit time of goods to and from Rwanda, thus lowering prices and encouraging agricultural, manufacturing and mining industries.
Rwanda is making considerable progress in improving its road network and extending its transport infrastructure. The Government of Rwanda recognizes transport as one of the 6 fundamental pillars to supporting the economic development of the country, and MININFRA is dedicated to rehabilitating roads and actively engaging with East African counterparts to work together in the spirit of regional integration.