Editor's Note: This is a four-part series on the development of transport infrastructure in East Africa. The region is looking to expand its economy and increase international trade as it becomes a seemingly attractive destination for low-end manufacturing. Part 2 examines how such economic growth will necessitate the expansion and improvement of the Northern Corridor transport route.
East African countries naturally compete for foreign investment and economic development. Transport capabilities attract such investments, but cooperation to further develop capabilities and guarantee a certain degree of efficiency has proved necessary to continue to entice critical investments. The region's Northern Corridor continues to draw greater development financing than its Central Corridor because of its heavier traffic. Moreover, the Northern Corridor has always been the most active and reliable corridor in the region, even if it is not terribly efficient. This competition has generated frictions between Tanzania and East African countries along the Northern Corridor as Tanzania works to catch up and position itself as a credible alternative to Kenya while Kenya scrambles for the financing to further develop its infrastructure and secure its regional position.
Among transport routes in the East African Community, the largest share of goods pass through the Northern Corridor, which connects the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The route is a remnant of the colonial era, when the British sought to link the Great Lakes region to the Kenyan coast. Today, the transport artery is constrained in its efficiency and capacity, though not as much as the Central Corridor, which runs primarily through Tanzania. The Northern Corridor is particularly important as it passes through the most economically active area of East Africa -- especially the area north of Lake Victoria, which is home to the main concentration of East African agriculture, still the biggest sector in the region by far. Recently, such factors have helped attract complementary investments along the route, further increasing its importance.
As with the Central Corridor, most transport on the Northern Corridor is road-based. The main rail connection, which runs east to west through Kenya and into Uganda, would need to be refurbished or replaced to relieve some of the traffic burden on Northern Corridor roads. While transport by rail is cheaper and -- theoretically, at least -- faster than by road, the line is unreliable and beset with frequent delays.