The success of trade in the East African region is hinged on the efficiency of the transport sector. This sector is vitally responsible for the movement of the various factors of production such as labour, raw materials, and the finished goods.
The sector therefore deserves due attention from policy makers and analysts to see if it is duly serving the interests of the community.
Air transport is still a reserve for the well-to-do a fact that is cemented by the exorbitant air ticket fees charged by the big players like Kenya Airways. Air transport in Africa as a whole has largely remained a paradox since the independence days.
It is still cheaper for one to fly from Kigali to Brussels than to some African capitals.
The railway was built for purposes of exploiting natural resources and not transporting goods and people within the region.
Years of dilapidation have seen the passenger services closed and the train has remained a preserve of bulky goods. Rwanda and Burundi which were considered by the colonialists to be without any resources thus have no railway line at all.
Road transport therefore remains the major mode of transport for both people and goods. Several trucks traverse the region carrying goods such as oil and other raw and finished materials from one point to another.
With goods, the traffic is usually from the border nations to the landlocked ones like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and also Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan.
The year 2009 kicked off with positive steps to address the non-tariff barriers. The numerous roadblocks and weigh bridges were reduced on the Mombasa – Kigali route at the request of our president in his capacity as the then Chairman of the East African Community.
Consequently goods now take a shorter time to make their way to Kigali which eases trade and development in many ways.
The passenger bus services have registered the biggest changes with the number of buses doing cross-border business increasing tremendously. Gone are the days when the route to Kampala was a duopoly between Jaguar and Onatracom bus companies. Even Yahoo minibuses no longer rule the Kigali – Bujumbura route.
Someone travelling to Kampala now has the option of choosing between Jaguar, Onatracom, Kampala Coach, Amahoro, Gaagaa, Horizon, and Starways bus companies. Kampala Coach and Starways have also introduced luxury coaches that operate the Kigali – Nairobi route.
Ugandan registered Muhabura Bus Company that was using the Kagitumba border post did not last a year after its management got embroiled in a huge corruption scandal involving a Rwandan government official.
Its route chart and Kigali office were quickly taken over by Horizon Bus Company which was previously doing the Kampala –Gisenyi route via Cyanika border.
The route to Bujumbura has also seen some significant changes. The long serving Gaso Bus Company lost the route after family ownership squabbles.
The Burundi government owned Otraco Bus Company also no longer plies the route as well. Despite the withdrawal of Gaso and Otraco, traffic on this route has continued to grow in 2009.
In 2009, Kampala Coach opened started its Bujumbura route. It has been joined by Kampala based Gaagaa and Horizon buses.
Amahoro continues to serve the same route a new player; Ideal Coaches (based in Kenya) has also joined the same route. Gaagaa Coaches Company for one operates two daily services from Kampala to Bujumbura via Kigali.
Kampala coach also connects its passengers to various towns in Kenya and Tanzania such as Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Mombasa.
In Tanzania one can travel to Dar, Mwanza, Arusha, Moshi and Dodoma among others. They also have a service to the business savvy Southern Sudan town of Juba.
On the Tanzanian route, a Taqwa coach operates the long and tiring Kigali – Dar es Salaam 27 hour route via the Rusumo border post. Taqwa also offers its travellers connections to Lilongwe (Malawi), Lusaka (Zambia), Lubumbashi (DRC) and Harare in Zimbabwe.
In the past, passengers to Dar only had the option of going via Kampala and then Nairobi before crossing into northern Tanzania through the Namanga border post.
This was at a time when the road from Kigali to Dar was considered so rough for commercial transport. However the road is now in good condition save for a small section of about 65 kilometres at Manyoni that is still under repair.
On the Ugandan side, the Mbarara-Ntugamo section of the road is undergoing major repairs while minor repairs are taking place on the Masaka-Mbarara part of the road.
With the improved security situation in Burundi, road transport is bound to see better days.
According to The Observer newspaper of December 21 2009, the tarmacking of the 40km Kabale-Muko Road, a section of the 98km Kabale-Kisoro-Bunagana-Kyanika highway has started and this too is bound to increase the traffic through the border post.
Apart from the accident that involved a Taqwa bus and a truck in Tanzania, the road safety record for 2009 seems to be one of the best in a long time. 2009 has seen the number of cross-border travellers going up.
These numbers are certainly destined for a major increase when the common market comes into effect in July 2010 as Rwandans will be free to use their national identity cards as travel documents.
The governments of the region should do all in their might to see to it that the road network and related infrastructure is improved to address the growing demand.
Major players in 2009
Jaguar Bus Company
Players to watch in 2010