The inking of the oil pipeline deal by Uganda and Tanzania mid this week is one of the most important developments in the region and holds more potential for Uganda and Tanzania trade and infrastructure development beyond just the pipeline.
The proposed pipeline will apparently run from the Albertine Graben, wind south of Lake Victoria and end up at Tanzania's northernmost port of Tanga. The earlier plan had been to build a pipeline that runs from the Albertine region through northern Kenya to the port of Lamu.
On the balance of things - especially in terms of distance and security - the Tanzania option is superior, running only 1,100km as opposed to the Kenyan option that runs 1,500km, and is more secure. Northern Kenya has for years been plagued by insecurity and a pipeline running within easy shot of the Somalia insurgents would make it a nightmare to secure. It is, therefore, not surprising that the southern option has found more attraction at this point in time.
But beyond the oil pipeline, there are greater opportunities that could come to Uganda and Tanzania from the Tanga Port deal if the leaders of the two countries choose to look beyond the slimy black stuff once dubbed "black gold" but whose price on the world market has precariously fallen.
The foremost benefit is that Tanga could become the port of choice for Uganda imports and exports by simply fixing and extending some old infrastructure. Thus as the pipeline is being constructed, the two countries could simultaneously build a railway link and all-season road to run up to the shore of Lake Victoria.
Goods could then be transported to Port Bell, Jinja, Bukakata and Majanji on the northern shore Lake Victoria by big ferries. This would be a good alternative to Mombasa port. Mombasa currently handles 90 per cent of all goods entering and exiting Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and eastern D.R. Congo which has rendered the port very congested. Tanga route would therefore also in many ways decongest Mombasa.
The Tanga route is an old plan from the 1960s that has been on the shelves for too long and there has never been a better opportunity to take it forward than now. What needs to be done is to replace the old narrow gauge railway that runs from Tanga to Moshi with a standard gauge railway line extending from Tanga through Moshi and Arusha to Musoma, and to redevelop the inland lake ports.
Source: All Africa