LAPSSET is key in deepening regional integration

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Addis Ababa, 11 August 2014 (WIC) - Before they flew out to attend the US-Africa summit in Washington DC, East African presidents Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta, Salva Kiir and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a consultative meeting in Nairobi.
They specifically discussed the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) project. These regional leaders, including Rwanda's Paul Kagame, are exploring joint financing options for this project, whose seven components require an estimated budget of $24bn (about Shs 63 trillion). The leaders engaged American investors at the US-Africa summit to finance the project which is expected to deepen the regional integration process.
The regional governments will also seek funding (development loans) from the African Development Bank, the European Union, and through locally-generated sources, to finance the ambitious venture. On completion, this project will change the face of East Africa (which will soon include South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia) and the entire African region through increased competitiveness in global business.
More employment opportunities for the region's youthful populations, increased inter-state trade volume and revenue, accelerated foreign direct investments, movement of labour and capital are also expected.
The project components are: Lamu Port at Manda Bay (32 berths, including associated infrastructure); a standard gauge railway line from Lamu-Isiolo-Juba-Addis Ababa; highways from Lamu-Isiolo-South Sudan-Addis Ababa; a crude oil pipeline from Lamu-Isiolo-Nakodok/Nadapal in South Sudan; and a product oil pipeline from Isiolo-Moyale-Addis Ababa. It also involves international airports at Lamu, Isiolo, and Lokichokio; resort cities at Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana, and a merchant oil refinery at Isiolo.
On closer scrutiny, however, one will notice that Kenya is the biggest beneficiary of the Lapsset project, as most of the schemes are concentrated in East Africa's largest economy. Little wonder, the Kenyan government is the most upbeat and overly ambitious on the expeditious execution and completion of the projects, which are to be jointly financed by all the participating countries.
Towards the end of his reign in 2013, former Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki established the Lapsset Corridor Development Authority as the policy, implementation, operational coordination and technical oversight organ for this development.
For Uganda's case, we are only linked to the project through the oil pipeline, which will snake from the oil-producing region (Albertine graben) all the way to Lamu, through South Sudan. Rwanda is also linked to the same project through the East African standard-gauge railway which will run from Mombasa, through Uganda, to Kigali.
Despite the envisaged unbalanced benefits, jointly investing in infrastructure is a catalyst for accelerated regional integration. According to the joint communiqué that was signed by the participating heads of state in Nairobi, the Lapsset project is the latest chapter in a deepening integration agenda.
The Lapsset is an integrated and transformative infrastructure project that will provide regional economic integration and interconnectivity. This will eventually generate investment and trade flows that are so crucial to ensuring that the region is able to deliver a shared prosperity.
Early last year, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda launched the single customs territory, which principally aims at increased trade volumes and revenue across the region. This development promised to reduce the time of clearing goods at Mombasa from 18 to three days. Here again, the regional governments are jointly investing in a modern Mombasa port in terms of the latest IT infrastructure, high-tech handling equipment, synchronized customs services, etc.
With efficient and reliable infrastructure, not forgetting investments in energy, tourism through a single tourism visa, security and defence, etc, it all looks well for the region. There has not been a time other than now when the engagement for a single East Africa has gained stronger momentum. (The Observer - Uganda)