Kenya has been commended for completing phase one of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that runs from Mombasa to Nairobi on schedule and on budget.
Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said completion of the first phase of SGR has drastically lowered the costs of transporting goods within the region.
“It is three times more costly to transport anything on the road even with the old line,” said President Museveni, adding: “With SGR reaching Nairobi, it costs eight cents dollars per metric a tonne compared to 21 cents dollars by road.”
President Museveni was speaking on Thursday at the opening of the Joint Retreat of East Africa Community Heads of State in Entebbe.
He said it was now three times cheaper to transport goods by railway than by road.
The first commercial train ferrying cargo on the SGR from Mombasa arrived in Nairobi’s ultra-modern inland container depot on January 1 this year.
The cargo train carried 104 containers, which is almost equivalent to the trucks operating daily on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.
At Thursday’s retreat attended by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), John Pombe Magufuli (Tanzania) and Salva Kiiri (South Sudan), President Museveni said the on-going infrastructural projects are a clear demonstration of a region making progress.
Burundi’s First Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo and Rwandan Infrastructural Minister James Musoni represented their leaders at the retreat.
The retreat under the theme “Deepening and widening regional integration through infrastructure and health sector development in the EAC Partner States’’ is aimed at accelerating attainment of the objectives of the EAC Development Strategy, African Union Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals in infrastructure and health sectors in the region.
President Museveni emphasized that electricity, railway as well as Information and Communication Technology projects must be given priority in the Public-Private Partnership arrangements if the goal of lowering the cost of doing business in the region is to be achieved.
“As a region we deal with multi-dimensional issues instead of uni-dimesional. Everybody is now talking of Public-Private Partnership without considering the costs of the end product,” he said.
On health financing, President Museveni said the region is spending $ 77 billion on medical referral to India which would otherwise been used to improve the economy.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said the achievements of EAC integration goals can only be realised through political goodwill.
“See yourselves as champions of EAC integration. Political goodwill is the greatest resource that can help in achieving these goals,” Dr. Kituyi told EAC leaders.
He said it was through the political goodwill of former presidents who championed for revival of the East Africa Community that enabled it to take off.
“These leaders identified the private sector as a stabilizer and protector of the integration thereby encouraging trade and free movement of goods and services,” he said.
The joint retreat comes at a time when the EAC member states are expanding their delivery of high quality health services, through training and research. For instance the African Development Bank-EAC partnership has financed regional centers of excellence (RCoE) for kidney diseases (Kenya), heart diseases (Tanzania), cancer (Uganda), e-Health, biomedical engineering and health rehabilitation sciences (Rwanda) and vaccines, immunization and health supply chain management (Rwanda).