Tuesday, April 21, 2009



Monday, 20th April, 2009

By Reuben Olita
and John Odyek

OVER 40 train wagons destined for Uganda and other countries in the Great Lakes region have been grounded in Nairobi after rioting youth in Kibera slums uprooted the railway line, protesting what they called Uganda’s continued illegal occupation of Migingo Island.

Rift Valley Railways (RVR) made the revelation on Sunday as the firm announced it had incurred losses to the tune of Ksh100m (about sh2.5b) in revenue and labour cost following the incident.

Addressing a press conference at the RVR headquarters in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the company’s general manager, James Nyambari, said train operations between Kenya and Uganda had been halted with no cargo trains leaving or arriving.

“The situation is so pathetic that shipment from the Mombasa port to Kampala and other countries in the region has been halted since containers cannot reach their destinations for off-loading,” Nyambari said.

RVR will need to spend over Ksh4m (about sh100m) on repairs to replace the stretch that was vandalised, he added.

Also affected by the uprooted line are relief food supplies and fertilisers to farmers in the Rift Valley and western Kenya.

Nyambari appealed to people living along the railway to show “good neighbourliness” and respect the tracks instead of exhibiting “total madness”.
Uganda depends on the railway line for its exports and imports to and from the port of Mombasa. The railway also serves Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi and DR Congo.

One of the Ugandan companies affected is Mukwano, which imports raw materials for its cooking oil and soap manufacturing plant in Kampala.

“We are now moving everything by road, which means our transport costs go up by between 25 and 30%,” managing director Alykhan Karmali told The New Vision yesterday.

“About 3km of railway track has been uprooted at different sections, including Kibera, yet cargo is still moving from both Kampala and Mombasa, causing congestion in Nairobi. It will take a month or two to decongest the mess.”

Hima Cement reckons moving all its cement imports by road will increase the transport cost by 10%.

“We normally import cement from our plant in Bamburi, and about 95% of this comes by road,” said general manager David Njoroge.

“If we have to move 100% by road, transport costs will go up. It is about $18 per tonne cheaper by rail than by road.”

Sources said close to 15 Shell fuel wagons are among the cargo stranded in Nairobi, representing sh500m in taxes alone.

“Our fuel is still stuck between Mombasa and Nairobi, I can confirm this,” Shell country manager Ivan Kyayonka told The New Vision.

Kenya is Uganda’s main trading partner. In 2007, it imported goods worth $500m from Kenya, up from $400m the previous year, while its exports to Kenya increased by a quarter in the same period, from $88m to $118m.

Meanwhile, both the Speaker of the East African Parliament and the son of former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi have appealed for calm as the joint technical team completes its survey and demarcates the boundaries of the disputed land. The team has up to May 14 to present its findings.

“I pray that people allow the leaders from the two partner states to resolve the matter peacefully,” Speaker Abdulrahman Konana said as he opened a three-day workshop in Kampala yesterday.

He cautioned politicians against stirring up sentiments over the disputed island.
“I implore the leaders of the two countries not to rile up people. Let us wait for the report of the committee that was set up to establish the boundaries,” he said.

He noted that the treaty, which established the East African Community, provides for a conflict resolution mechanism but regretted that it has not yet been enacted.

Earlier, on Sunday, Moi’s son, Gideon, also called for a diplomatic solution to the Migingo row.

Moi Junior cautioned politicians against issuing inflammatory statements, saying it would hurt the long-time friendship between the two countries and the trading bloc.

Kenyan politicians last week called for the forceful eviction of the Ugandan Police from the island.

The Kenyan media have been awash with hostile, anti-Ugandan propaganda with The Standard on Sunday urging its leaders to “deny Ugandans oxygen” by closing the border.