In Summary
  • Uganda’s SGR is very ambitious, 39 stations and 962 km of track. The only missing component is mass transit in the major towns, Mbarara, Kampala, Jinja, Mukono and the towns on the northern route. The main track should be integrated with the mass transit to improve the economics of the project.
  • Mr. Magufuli being detail oriented should have remembered to whisper these in the ear of President or student Yoweri Museveni after all he went to Dar es Salaam University.

Half a year into the Magufuli presidency, it’s our President Museveni who has been commuting to visit his Tanzanian counterpart rather than the reverse. In the early stages of the latest infrastructure round, oil pipeline and SGR, it was Uhuru Kenyatta being shuttled around like a foreign investor. That’s very telling. President Museveni is very image conscious. If a major problem breaks out, he will take a long time before pronouncing himself preferring to let his enemies feast on him before pouncing back.
It seems that he too has decided that there is wisdom down south in the land of Magufuli and the coalition of the willing (Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda) may have been the coalition of the inflated. Tanzania’s economy has been growing much faster than Uganda and Kenya. In a decade or so, Tanzania’s economy may catch up and overtake Kenya. Unlike modern textbook cases, Tanzania has been in a “Brexit mode” from bad practices, runaway corruption and simply mismanagement. For all his sunny disposition, President Jakaya Kikwete did very little about these vices. John Magufuli, once a loyal lieutenant, has put his foot on all the crazy practices that were slowing down the economy. He has also done so by reinventing a very isolationist posture that saw Tanzania stick with the Tanganyika name for failure to modernise and a very suspicious attitude towards foreigners.
This change of heart is possibly welcome on a few fronts. For the first time in years, Uganda is waking up to the embarrassment of being the region’s laggard. The fierce competition between Tanzania and Kenya has left Uganda as a bystander. Even Rwanda’s glossy PR and ambition has overshadowed Uganda at times. Kenya’s SGR was inflated but the first train from Nairobi to Mombasa has already completed its trial run. Nairobi already has the first stages of mass transit in place. Uganda is still running old carriages from the post- independence days to ferry commuters just 20 km outside town.
Magufuli has challenged the notion that big must be expensive. Economists have warned that Uganda may be tipping on borrowing itself into bankruptcy. Magufuli has become a useful watering can on the President’s pride. How is he running a much bigger economy implementing more evenly balanced infrastructure developments? How is Magufuli achieving another first, buying cheaper than the Chinese dollop of concessional loans, inflated bills of quantities?
Kenyatta arrived in office after serving as minister of Finance. He like the Museveni of 1986 was blessed with youth and energy. He probably has the deepest business pedigree growing up in Kenyatta Inc., a collection of family fortune and extensive economic interests in Kenya. Magufuli is a different flavour, a chemist whose background was in the Ministry of Works. Scientists are more deliberate. He is actually a teacher. In a classroom, Magufuli may be better able to bring subtle points across that the younger Kenyatta and Ruto may not.
Infrastructure is a big thing in the world today. The British have just concluded more than a decade of rebuilding. They have announced a new version of standard gauge High speed rail to increase train speeds in the Midlands and the southwest. The Americans after a number of false starts are implementing high speed rail in the east and the southwest. There have been some not so successful examples. Pakistan after a decade of big infrastructure improvements finds the infrastructure underutilised. Terror attacks have reduced the utility of major highways.
Uganda’s SGR is very ambitious, 39 stations and 962 km of track. The only missing component is mass transit in the major towns, Mbarara, Kampala, Jinja, Mukono and the towns on the northern route. The main track should be integrated with the mass transit to improve the economics of the project. Mr. Magufuli being detail oriented should have remembered to whisper these in the ear of President or student Yoweri Museveni after all he went to Dar es Salaam University.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com