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In an effort to boost regional trade, the East African Community (EAC) has moved to improve road network from the Tanzania border through Kenya and Uganda to Ethiopia and Sudan.
Recently, Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Jakaya Kikwete, of Kenya and Tanzania respectively, jointly launched the construction of the long-awaited 240km Arusha-Namanga-Athi River road that is crucial for economic development in the region. The road forms part of the priority Corridor 5 of the EAC Regional Roads Network, which spans from Tunduma in southern Tanzania to Moyale in northern Kenya, and onward to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is expected to cost an estimated US$156.3mn.
Preparatory work on the Athi River-Namanga section in Kenya commenced in November 2007. On the Arusha-Namanga Section on the Tanzanian side, work started in September 2008. The project is co-funded by the African Development Bank for the Kenyan component and the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) for the Tanzanian component providing jointly a loan totalling US$156.3mn.
Financing the way
AfDB gave Kenya a US$93.1mn loan for the 135km stretch from Athi River, on the outskirts of Nairobi, to Namanga on the Tanzanian border. From JICA, Tanzania received US$62.5mn for the rest of the road stretching from Namanga to Arusha, totalling 105km. The two governments have provided counterpart funding in the tune of US$7.5mn to augment the loans. The Arusha- Namanga section in Tanzania transverses flat to rolling terrain, including the Loliondo game control area. Constructed 32 years ago, it is narrow-about 5.5m- and deformed allowing speed of just 70kms per hour. Traffic on the Arusha side is about 2,800 vehicles per day decreasing to 450 vehicles towards Namanga border point. Observers say the road has outlived its design life and is need of reconstruction. On the Kenyan side, the 135km road moves through rolling terrain. It is in a better condition but still has deformations and potholes.
Working to plan
According to the construction plan, the road is to be widened and strengthened to a modern highway constructed as practicable as possible following the existing alignment with some realignment to improve visibility and speed, but without compromising on safety. The new road is to be constructed to stronger pavement with surface dressed bituminous concrete covering a 7m carriageway and double surfaced 2m wide shoulders to enhance safety. All township and settlements along the road would be provided with the road safety facilities including service roads, pedestrian and cyclist lanes and crossings, clearly visible signs and parking bays.
"The road is strategic to the region and forms part of the priority Corridor No. 5 of the EAC regional roads network from Tunduma in southern Tanzania to Moyale in northern Kenya, and onward to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia," said a statement released by EAC Sectoral Council on Transport Communication and Meteorology meeting in Arusha, the EAC’s headquarters. Rwandan Infrastructure minister Ms Linda Bihire, who chaired the meeting, said that a contract has been signed for the study of the EAC Transport Strategy and Regional Road Development programmes. EAC estimates that transport costs in the region constitute 30 per cent of the value of exports and imports. This has led to the region becoming uncompetitive, calling for policy makers to seek solutions.
"The objective of the transport strategy is to identify regional priorities and resources for the transport sector development and operational needs for the medium term in line with the EAC development goals," said Ms Bihire. The Arusha-Athi River road is expected to spur trade and investment along the 240km stretch.
The Athi River/Kitengela region in Kenya where the Arusha-Namanga-Athi River road passes is a rapidly expanding commercial centre with numerous industries including two cement factories, which provide a considerable amount of employment and are major contributors to the local economy.
"We are bound to have increased business once the road opens. We also expect an influx of non-Kenyans seeking business opportunities once the road becomes fully operational," said Dominic Kimani, who runs a hardware shop in Kitengela, along the highway. Housing development also expects to get a slice of the action with the completion of the roads. Already, prime plots along the road- especially on the Kenyan side-have become pricey with the launching of the road construction.
"Hotel and accommodation facilities will be in much demand with the completion of the road. With increased vehicle and human traffic, money will be made by those with finished facilities in the next three years," said Opundo Charles, a Kitengela resident and an investor. Tourism is also bound to benefit with the new road as it is part of the circuit that serves Amboseli and Tsavo national parks in Kenya, and Manyala, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
To benefit from the improved regional communication with the completion of the Arusha- Athi River highway, major road projects are underway to open up the central parts of Tanzania especially Manyara region for trade and business. Roads earmarked for upgrading are the Minjingu-Babati-Singida road and the Babati-Dodoma-Iringa section of the Great North Road. Speaking at the launch, President Jakaya Kikwete noted that paving of the road linking Arusha and Singida road had already started. The Minjingu-Singida road stretch, which cuts through Manyara region, covers 240kms. Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) the road rehabilitation would be implemented in three phases.
The Babati-Dodoma-Iringa road, which once served as a major link between the northern region and the southern highlands, has been in deplorable state for many years. President Kikwete observed that his government was seeking funds to rehabilitate and upgrade it to tarmac level. Northern Tanzania is also expected to reap from the road development.
"The road would also boost import and export traffic from Mombasa port, which was the more convenient port for northern Tanzania on account of proximity compared to Dar es Salaam," said Tanzania’s Infrastructure Development minister Dr Shukuru Kawambwa. During the launch, President Kibaki noted that in tandem with modernisation of the Arusha-Namanga-Athi River road, AfDB is also supporting feasibility studies for Arusha-Moshi-Holili-Taveta-Mwatate-Voi road and Mombasa-Lunga Lunga-Horohoro-Tanga roads.