In isolation, each country’s resource sector policy is currently informed by domestic political economy considerations and regional geo-politics. There is an emerging sense of securitisation of resources, with each country trying to ensure that the exploitation of its resources does not depend too much on its neighbours. Because of the relatively small size of the different countries’ economies, the risk of ending up with economically inefficient but expensive pipelines, roads and railways is real. South Sudan is currently deciding whether to build a pipeline through Kenya (most likely), through Ethiopia, or stick with the current export route for its oil through Sudan (least preferred due to testy relations). For national security and sovereignty reasons, Uganda is planning on a 30,000-barrel per day refinery in Hoima, despite warnings from industry players that the refinery may not be viable in the long run. Some have argued for the expansion of East Africa’s sole refinery in Mombasa to capture gains from economies of scale, an option that Uganda feels puts its energy security too much in Kenya’s hands.
In the meantime, Kenya and Tanzania are locked in competition over who will emerge as the “gateway to Eastern Africa,” with plans to construct mega-ports in Lamu and Tanga (Mwambani), respectively. While competition is healthy and therefore welcome, this is an area where there is more need for coordination than there is for competition among Eastern African governments. The costs involved are enormous, hence the need for cooperation to avoid any unnecessary redundancies and ensure that the ports realize sufficient returns to justify the investment. Kenya’s planned Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project will cost US$24.7 billion. Tanzania’s Mwambani Port and Railway Corridor (Mwaporc) project will cost $32 billion.
Chapter 15 of the EAC treaty has specific mandates for cooperation in infrastructure development. As far as transport infrastructure goes, so far cooperation has mostly been around Articles 90 (Roads), 91 (Railways) and 92 (Civil Aviation and Air Transport). There is a need to deepen cooperation in the implementation of Article 93 (Maritime Transport and Ports) that, among other things, mandates the establishment of a common regional maritime transport policy and a “harmonious traffic organisation system for the optimal use of maritime transport services”.
The contribution of inefficient ports to transportation costs in the regional cannot be ignored. Presently, the EAC’s surface transportation costs, associated with logistics, are the highest of any region in the world. According to the African Development Bank’s State of Infrastructure in East Africa report, these costs are mainly due to administrative and customs delays at ports and delays at borders and on roads. Regional cooperation can help accelerate the process of reforming EAC’s ports, a process that so far has been stifled (at least in Kenya) by domestic political constituencies opposed to the liberalisation of the management of ports. The move by the East African Legislative Assembly to pass bills establishing one-stop border posts (OSBPs) and harmonised maximum vehicle loads regulations is therefore a step in the right direction.
Going back to the issue of governance, more integrated regional cooperation in the planning and implementation of infrastructure development projects has the potential to insulate the projects from domestic politics and patronage networks that often limit transparency in the tendering process. Presently, Uganda is in the middle of a row with four different Chinese construction firms over confusion in the tendering process for a new rail link to South Sudan and port on Lake Victoria. The four firms signed different memoranda with different government departments in what appears to be at best a massive lapse in coordination of government activities or at worst a case of competition for rents by over-ambitious tenderpreneurs. This does not inspire confidence in the future of the project. A possible remedy to these kinds of problems is to have a permanent and independent committee for regional infrastructure to oversee all projects that involve cross-border infrastructure development.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Eastern Africa is lucky to have discovered oil and gas in the age of democracy, transparency and good governance. This will serve to ensure that the different states do not descend into the outright kleptocracy that defined Africa’s resource sector under the likes of Abacha and Mobutu in an earlier time. That said, a lot remains to be done to ensure that the region’s resources will be exploited to the benefit of its people. In this regard there is a lot to be gained from binding regional agreements and treaties to ensure transparency and sound economic management of public resources. Solely relying on weak domestic institutions and civil society organisations will not work.
Ken Opalo is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford and a partner at the Palo Alto-based International Policy Research and Evaluation Group. He blogs at kenopalo.com and is a columnist with the ‘Standard Newspaper’ in Kenya.