New African accord brings benefits to landlocked states
New potential has just been given to the Northern Corridor
Transit Agreement (NCTA), thanks to which three landlocked low-income countries
of East Africa - Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi - will gain access to the Port of
Mombasa, Kenya, through a 2 000 km corridor linking the heart of Africa with the
Signed in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 19 February 1985 and ratified
in November 1986, the Agreement did not become effective immediately: a number
of problems, not least logistic difficulties, could not be completely resolved
owing to both the lack of funds and the absence of an appropriate regional
organization, namely the Permanent Secretariat originally envisaged in the
Agreement and now soon to be set up in Nairobi.
The Coordination Authority, composed of the transport ministers
of the signatory countries, has examined the priority investment proposal for
the "northern corridor" and approved the transport improvement projects to be
submitted to the Directorate-General for Development of the EEC.
NCTA, which is the outcome of five years of negotiations, is
part of a UNDP-UNCTAD technical assistance programme for developing landlocked
countries of Africa. It includes projects for the following nine protocols:
harbour and maritime facilities, route and transit facilities, customs control,
documentation and procedures, freight transport by rail, freight transport by
road, handling of dangerous goods, facilities for forwarding agencies and their
employees, and compulsory third-party insurance for motorists.
East Africa is the poorest region of the African continent, and
its lack of mineral resources - unlike the southern African regions - means that
nearly half its GDP comes from the agricultural sector. Uganda is particularly
dependent on agriculture (82%); Burundi is too, but to a much lesser degree
(56%). Foreign currency revenues in these countries come almost exclusively from
agricultural exports: coffee accounts for 90 per cent of the total export value
(see Table), the other major exports being tea and cotton fibre.
The improvement of transport facilities via the "northern
corridor" is vital for the landlocked countries. The situation of Uganda is
especially delicate: 95 per cent of its trade passes through the "corridor",
against 80 per cent for Rwanda and 60 per cent for Burundi.
Uganda's coffee exports increased only slightly from 1983 to
1985: in 1984, they dropped by 8 per cent to 133 200 metric tons against 144 274
tons in 1983, and in 1985 they barely exceeded the 1983 level, reaching only 152
300 tons. Rwanda exported 34 259 tons of coffee in 1985, compared with 31 554
tons in 1984 (+8.5 per cent). Burundi, some of whose exports are transported
through the port of Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), exported 33 918 tons of coffee in
1985 against 29 000 tons in 1984 (+16.9 per cent).
Between 1970 and 1982 the picture was even gloomier for the
landlocked countries of East Africa: Rwanda's total exports increased at a rate
of only 2.4 per cent a year while imports grew by 11.5 per cent a year. During
the same period Uganda's total exports and imports dropped by 9.2 per cent and
7.9 per cent a year respectively.
The Northern Corridor Transit Agreement is assumed to be capable
of overcoming the numerous obstacles that hinder communication in the subregion.
The main problems are caused by: the variety of languages used by the different
governments in their foreign trade relations; the lack of transport
infrastructures and insufficient or outdated transport equipment; high customs
and other duties; the complicated paper work required for authorization to cross
state boundaries and the incompetence of some customs officers.
Today, freight transport via the "northern corridor" is carried
out mainly by truck, as the railways are on me whole unsatisfactory and lake
transport is only just getting under way. Thanks to NCTA measures reducing the
obstacles to transport development, and with the improvement of Kenya's road
network, it now takes 11 days to travel by road from Mombasa to Uganda, 17 days
from Mombasa to Rwanda, and 22 days from Mombasa to Burundi. Before these
measures were implemented those trips took 13, 24, and 30 days respectively.
It is estimated that about 500 000 deadweight tons are
transported via the "northern corridor". In 1985, however, the volume of goods
passing through the port of Mombasa dropped by 20 per cent with respect to 1984
(to 381 000 tons from 478 000 tons). This can be explained mainly by me fact
that there was a 43 per cent decline in imports to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and
Zaire. The sharpest drop is recorded for products exported to Rwanda and Uganda.
An acute economic crisis continues to prevail in Uganda, as may be seen by the
recent devaluation of its currency imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
In Kenya, the road transport system has developed more than the
rail system, as demonstrated by the fact that in 1984, road transport receipts
amounted to $12.4 million against $3.9 million for rail transport, according to
the 1986 Annual Statistics Bulletin for Kenya. In 1985, the gap widened to $14.3
million for road transport and $3.7 million for rail transport, i.e., almost
four times for road transport.
A Kenyan source explains that "users prefer road transport
because the same truck makes the trip from start to finish, whereas train
freight must be transferred at the Tororo-Malaba frontier post, between Kenya
and Uganda." Furthermore, trucks have to pass through Uganda to reach Rwanda and
Burundi from Kenya and vice versa.
All things considered, recent highlevel talks in Kigali, the
fact that Zaire has joined the "northern corridor", and me creation of a
free-trade zone at Eldoret are all tangible signs of the region's awareness of
the need for closer collaboration aimed at relaunching traffic along a
"corridor" that one African diplomat called a "lifeline" for the region's