CONSULTANTS are to be briefed shortly on the requirements for a feasibility study into a new railway linking Kasese in Uganda with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and eventually Zambia (RG 9.04 p507). The scheme, which would introduce the benefits of rail transport to Rwanda and Burundi, enjoys official backing at local level from the newly-formed Northern Corridor Transit Co-ordination Authority.

As always with tentative projects of this nature, funding will be problematical - to say nothing of political hurdles. To make any serious progress, the scheme will need to be championed by a powerful international organisation. Conceivably, such a body exists in the Union of African Railways (UAC), which is being revived with Adama Diagne returning to the post of Secretary General. It was Diagne who brought the UAC to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s when several international conferences focused attention on the development needs of railways across Africa.

The UAC exists under the umbrella of the African Union, and at a meeting in Pointe-Noire in June it established a new regional group for railways in Central Africa. This is in line with restructuring of the UAC last November, which saw five regional groupings set up so that initiatives could be followed through at a local level.

The UAC is meanwhile stepping up co-operation with the International Union of Railways, which has already agreed to a number of joint initiatives. Two concrete proposals were approved in Pointe Noire, one being to establish a group of railway medical officers to focus on measures to combat AIDS and malaria, the other being to organise a seminar on security on African railways.

These are small steps, but the railways of Africa badly need support, funding and technical expertise. We hope that the interest in African infrastructure sparked by statements made at the G8 summit in July will find an echo among planners and politicians whose vision includes revival and development of Africa’s railways.