The leaders of five East African countries went on a charm offensive on Thursday to lure investors for a massive plan to upgrade infrastructure in the region that has made big hydrocarbon discoveries.
Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, whose combined economies are worth a total $110.3 billion, are working to package joint infrastructure plans aimed at boosting trade and speeding up economic integration in the region.
Oil and gas discoveries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have turned the region into an exploration hotspot.
"East Africa is a good bet for investors ... this is about mutually beneficial and profitable investments, for all stakeholders involved whether public or private," Rwandan President Paul Kagame told an investor conference in Dar es Salaam on Thursday.
The East African Community (EAC), which groups the five countries, said in a 2015-2025 strategy document it needs between $68 billion and $100 billion over the next decade to build roads, ports, railways, transmission lines and oil and gas infrastructure.
Tanzania plans to upgrade its railway and connect land-locked Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to its Dar es Salaam port through a 1,300 km (780 miles) central corridor.
Tanzanian transport officials said the government was in talks with CANARAIL, a Canadian rail consulting and engineering firm, for the construction of a 1,464km standard gauge railway between Tanzania and Rwanda. They did not say how much the project was likely to cost.
Kenya is pushing for the development of a 1,700 km northern corridor to link Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo to its port at Mombasa. Tanzania and Kenya also plan to invest in new port projects, at Bagamoyo and Lamu respectively.
"The projects that make up the central corridor are ambitious, but they are also economically sound," Kagame said.
EAC secretary general Richard Sezibera said on Wednesday the central and northern corridor projects would be coordinated to achieve a common regional development goal.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is hosting the regional conference, said the two infrastructure corridors could complement each other.
"It is my wish to see the northern and central corridors infrastructure to be one in the future," Kikwete, the current chairman of the EAC, told the conference on Wednesday.
Kikwete said the DRC and Zambia had also expressed interest in joining the central corridor infrastructure projects.
He said Tanzania was tackling non-tariff barriers to trade in the region, like reducing the number of police and customs checkpoints on its road networks.
Kenya ready to start work
Kenya is ready to begin work on the first three berths at a long-delayed port on its northern coast, next to the historic trading town of Lamu, President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday.
The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project, first proposed in the 1970s, will give landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia access to the Indian Ocean and bolster the economy of northern Kenya.
"The administrative infrastructure for this project is complete, and I will in the next few days break ground on the construction of the initial three berths of Lamu port," Kenyatta told a gathering of Parliament.
In 2013, officials said a consortium led by China Communications Construction Co Ltd had won a 41 billion shilling ($445.65 million) contract to build the first three berths, but there has been little sign of activity since then.
Regional integration was a central theme of Kenyatta's speech, as he hailed the country's robust economic growth.
The president highlighted his government's efforts to improve transit times to Kampala and Kigali and streamlining customs procedures between the region's major hubs.
It now takes three days for goods to transit from Mombasa, Kenya's biggest port, to Kampala and four days to Kigali, down from 18 and 20 days respectively, he said.
($1 = 92.0000 Kenyan shillings)