By David Himbara
General Paul Kagame’s government has announced grand plans to build the capacity of Rwanda’s railway sector workers with Zimbabwe’s expertise. Rwanda does not have a railroad. Kagame’s plans to build a railway road have failed since 2008. Kagame first teamed with Tanzania, and later with Kenya and Uganda. He then closed the border with Uganda.
On September 9, 2021, General Paul Kagame’s government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Railways of Zimbabwe for building the capacity of Rwanda’s railway transport sector. According to the signed agreement, the Kagame government and its Zimbabwean counterpart will collaborate in the areas of “capacity building, the exchange of staff and expertise in railway transport development sector and the secondment programmes.” Somebody help me understand this. How will capacity building, the exchange of staff and expertise, and the secondment programmes in the railway transport sector help Rwanda? The country does not have a railroad. The 2019/2020 annual report of Rwanda’s ministry of infrastructure describes the country’s future railway sector as follows:
“The railway transport infrastructure is shaping up as the design review and updating of feasibility study for Isaka-Kigali Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was completed…The overall project progress is estimated to be 5%.”
The Rwanda-Zimbabwe agreement is bizarre. You can’t build the capacity of something you don’t have. If the overall progress of the railway project is 5 percent, the arrival of trains in Rwanda is in the distant future. The story of Kagame’s railways goes back to 13 years ago.
On January 26, 2008, Kagame announced that an American company, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, was ready to build a rail link from Rwanda’s capital Kigali to Tanzania’s rail network in Isaka Tanzania. By 2013, when the railway was supposed to be up and running, Kagame promised ”to hit” Jakaya Kikwete, the then President of Tanzania.
When the Kigali-Dar Es Salaam railway fell apart in 2013, Kagame joined Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta into the “coalition of the willing.” Together they would build a railway from Kigali, through Kampala, and Nairobi to Mombasa at a cost of US$13 billion. The ambitious infrastructure would be completed by March 2018. Kenya’s component was partially completed in June 2017, when the US$3.2 billion rail line from Mombasa to Nairobi was launched.
Nothing was ever heard of from Kagame and his railway – until recently. He dropped out of the coalition of the willing. And on February 28, 2019, Kagame closed the Rwanda-Uganda border. Now, the Kagame government is ready to train railway workers with Zimbabwean help. Stay tuned.