East African transport corridors to adopt the Japanese Michi-no-Eki (Road Side Stations) concept

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Philip Wambugu, Director of Infrastructure at the EAC Secretariat, and Rukia Shamte, Executive Director of the Central Corridor, at the Road Side Stations Investor Forum, held in Nairobi, Kenya, on April 28.

The Northern Transport Corridor in East Africa, extending from the port of Mombasa in Kenya and serving the hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, is the busiest trade and transport corridor in East Africa handling the bulk of the region’s regional and international trade. While there have been major improvements in transport infrastructure for the corridor, it still faces challenges of road accidents due to long driving distances. Being a busy transit corridor, it is also prone to externalities and risks such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and other illicit activities. The other major transit corridor in East Africa, the Central Corridor, faces similar challenges.

To address these challenges, among others, the countries of the region have adopted the Japanese Michi-no-Eki (Road Side Stations) concept. The Road Side Stations (RSS) will provide four clusters of services: rest space for drivers and passengers alike (hotels, restaurants, recreation); information space (ICT services, banking, money transfer, etc.); specialized services (medical, wellness, counselling, training, safety education, etc.); and linkages into local economies (to support small business development).

The study carried out by the Spanish Consulting firm, TYPSA, identified 144 potential RSS sites along the Northern Corridor out of which 67 are deemed viable. The key Northern Corridor road route covers a distance of about 2,000 kilometres from Kenya through Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. But the Corridor also has extensions to Eastern DRC and South Sudan. Of the 67 RSS’s, 22 are in Kenya, 27 in Uganda, seven in Rwanda, seven in DRC and two each in Burundi and South Sudan (www.roadsidestations.org).

Donat Bagula, the Executive Secretary of the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA), commended Northern Corridor countries for embracing the concept and also thanked Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA), who funded the study for their support. He informed the gathering that the objective of the Forum, organized by the NCTTCA, was to introduce the concept to potential investors in the region who could invest directly or through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Speaking at the RSS Investor Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya, on April 28, 2015, the Vice-President of Kenya, William Ruto, informed the RSS Investor Forum that Kenya has the necessary PPP framework and laws in place to support the RSS and challenged the private sector to contribute to the improvement and safety of the Northern Corridor by investing in the RSS infrastructure. In response, Hideo Eguchi, the Chief Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) based in Kenya, said, “The Michi-no-Eki’s have been very successful in Japan in improving road safety and driver and passenger welfare and Japan is ready to share experiences with East Africa”. 

Gabriel Negatu, the Regional Director of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Eastern Africa Regional Office based in Nairobi, informed the Forum that the AfDB was a key player in investing in infrastructure in the region and that the Bank has a number of financing instruments such as the Private Sector Window; Africa50; Africa Growing Together Fund (AGTF), a joint fund with China; as well as risk mitigation instruments such as Partial Risk Guarantees (PRGs), which the private sector could tap into to make the RSS’s a reality.

Philip Wambugu, Director of Infrastructure at the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, said, “The EAC fully embraces the RSS as it is aligned to the goal of having efficient but safe transport services in the region”. This is certainly a welcome addition to Africa’s transport infrastructure development, which is certain to have the much-needed economic linkages into local economies traversed by the major transport corridors.