Kenya’s strategy to control East Africa’s logistics corridor put to new test after Tanzania’s decision to expand its standard gauge railway

Following Tanzania’s decision to expand its standard gauge railway (SGR) to neighboring landlocked nations, months after Kenya’s line came to an end in Naivasha, Kenya’s strategy to control East Africa’s logistics corridor has been put to a new test, reigniting rivalry between the two largest countries in the region.

The final part of the 2,102 km SGR, the longest stretch of the contemporary railway line on the continent, will be finished by 2026 according to a $2.2 billion (Sh271 billion) agreement Tanzania signed with two Chinese contractors late last month.

With the new agreement, the overall cost of the railway rises to $10.04 billion (Sh1.24 trillion), escalating competition for control of the region’s commerce routes between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

According to analysts, Tanzania’s contract signing with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and China Railway Construction Corporation gives Dar a chance to compete for control of the trade routes.

A tripartite agreement was signed in 2014 by the governments of Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda to build a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Kigali, Rwanda, via Kampala, Uganda.

The SGR, however, came to an abrupt halt in Naivasha after it was reported that China refused to fund the final section of the new railway because it was unable to reach an agreement with Uganda.

A total of Sh628 billion in loans from the Exim Bank of China were used to build the Chinese-built SGR from Mombasa to Naivasha.

Despite significant investments, the SGR, Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project, has been heavily criticized for not providing good value for money.

The construction of the 506km section of the SGR in Tanzania that runs from Tabora in the country’s midwestern region to Kigoma in the country’s western region on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika and close to the border with Burundi and the DRC will be critical in connecting the landlocked countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC to the port of Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port is a significant competitor for Kenya’s Mombasa port, with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan stating that the completion of the SGR which would eventually extend to the nickel deposits in Burundi will help.

Hassan stated that the major goal was to connect Tanzania to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that they have already found a contractor who will move the line from Mwiza, Tanzania, to Gitega, Burundi, closer to the nickel deposits.