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PHIONA RWANDARUGALI: Investment in infrastructure will boost regional integration

Phiona Rwandarugali is a managing partner with Ssewagudde Kalema & Co. Advocates Kampala –Uganda (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Phiona Rwandarugali is a managing partner with Ssewagudde Kalema & Co. Advocates Kampala –Uganda (PHOTO/Courtesy)

KAMPALA — Uganda is a proud member of the East African Community (EAC). As a regional trade block with five other countries (and with DR Congo aspiring to join), the EAC has a total membership of about 195.28 million citizens making up 2.5% of the world’s population and a GDP of USD193.7 billion.

The EAC is one of the fastest growing regional economic blocks in the world, with the partner states committed to widening and deepening co-operation in various key aspects for their mutual benefit.

Recent efforts to further ease movement of goods within the region for example implementing the operation of the One Stop border post for customs clearance and more recently opening of the Rwanda—Uganda Border have been mostly welcomed.

The economic outlook for the region and particularly for Ugandans also looks promising.

With the discovery of oil, and most recent signing of the Final Investment Decision that will push over USD 9 billion of investment into the economy, Ugandans and the region as a whole have an opportunity to greatly improve trade and boost economic activity across the board.

I have however observed that efforts within member states still require more resources and political will aimed at addressing issues of poor physical infrastructure to reduce the cost of transportation as well as to facilitate the free flow of trade within the region.

This primary barrier of poor physical infrastructure development in terms of quality maintenance and connectivity within the region is a big hindrance to enhancing trade within the region. Roads and railway networks linking Uganda to its regional partner states require much improvement.

It is therefore essential that more efforts be channeled towards improving regional infrastructure as a means of improving connectivity between the member states. Kenya has moved much faster on this front and Uganda must not be left behind.

Suffice to note that Uganda lacks railway connectivity to Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and South Sudan. It would therefore serve us well to fast-track the development of the standard gauge railway that has been in the government plan for the last few years.

Investment in major regional road networks will also reduce the cost of movement of goods within the region and inevitably boost trade.
Equally, member states need to coordinate and harmonize enforcement and compliance efforts for goods moving across the EAC borders.

A harmonized regional effort will reduce the risk of smuggling and corruption which in turn will improve revenue collection for each of the member states.

In order to bridge the investment gap in infrastructure, particularly focusing on roads, railways, ICT and energy, we need to apply the public- private partnership framework that is already in place in Uganda and the partner states at a regional level. My vision is to see the national governments of the member states working closely with the private sector on cross border infrastructure projects.

Regional Joint venture projects of this nature are likely to be ultimately cheaper for the partner states that participate, more efficient, and more cost effective. This proposal could also work through forming a trust infrastructure fund that could be established and managed as one basket under the management of the East African Community secretariat or other organ jointly set up by the member states.

The faster we develop our physical infrastructure as a region, the faster we will achieve full integration!

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The Author, Phiona Rwandarugali (Advocate) is an aspiring MP EALA 2022 – 2027

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