After years of false starts and a series of dead negotiations, the Uganda-Kenya railway is finally beginning to creak following plans by the East African Community to raise capital to upgrade and expand the existing railway network to boost the region’s competitiveness in the world.
But the icing on the cake came last Tuesday as Rift Valley Railways (RVR), the company operating the Uganda-Kenya railway, wired about $3 million (about Shs6b) in outstanding fees owed to the government of the two nations for giving it exclusive rights to operate the ailing transport facility.
“Uganda received about $1 million (appx Shs1.9b) while Kenya was given $2 million (Shs4 billion),” a well placed source in the Uganda government told Business Power last week, but declined to be named as a condition to provide the information.
Privatisation Unit spokesperson confirmed the transaction had taken place. “It is true that some fees have been paid to the government of Uganda,” Mr Jim Mugunga said in a phone interview. However, he preferred not to reveal any outstanding fees because of on-going negotiations between the governments and RVR. “The money that has been paid, has been in fulfilment of the obligations under the concession agreement,” he said.
A concession is a business operated under a contract or license associated with a degree of exclusivity in business within a certain geographical area. Kenya and Uganda handed the RVR a 25-year concession in 2005 to revamp the railway transport system in the two countries but there have been no signs of improvements in the service.
Mr Mugunga said the recent payment was a result of ongoing restructuring efforts by the two governments “to move hand-in-hand with the concession.”
The Kenya and Uganda governments through a Joint Railway Commission (JRC) were set to meet RVR officials in Nairobi to discuss the future of the railway concession yesterday. The meeting will follow the January 27 meeting, where shareholders of RVR failed to provide information to merit the transfer of some of RVR shares to Egyptian investment company Citadel Capital.
According to well-placed sources that asked not to be named because of their interest in the deal, RVR has only been able to pay up after receiving financial help from Sheltam Rail of South Africa – the majority shareholder (35 per cent) in RVR. The source said Citadel Capital, an Egyptian private equity firm, bought 49 percent into Sheltam’s mother company hence enabling the later to refinance its debt obligations to RVR.
Last month, Daily Monitor reported that Uganda would be a beneficiary of a Citadel planned Shs764 billion fund investments in Africa.
The $8.3 billion firm last November listed on Egypt’s stock exchange to raise funds for its planned expansion into Algeria, Sudan, East Africa and the Middle East.
According to Dr Ahmed Heikal, Citadel Capital’s chairman and founder said the firm’s plan for East Africa follows its successful investment activities in Sudan where it has invested in sectors such as oil and gas, transportation, logistics, financial services, cement, mining, and agriculture.
Investment fund experts however believe that with the all the capital in its control, Citadel is unlikely to sit back as an observer rather it might move for a major stake in RVR from its current shareholders who have proved, since winning the concession in 2005, to have no financial muscle for the business.
Payment of outstanding fees owed to Uganda and Kenya by RVR now allows the railway body to negotiate possible transfer of shareholding to other interested parties.
Shareholders in RVR include; Sheltam Rail of South Africa with a majority stake in the venture (35 per cent), Trans Century (20 per cent) Prime Fuels of Kenya (15 per cent), Centum Investments Kenya (10 per cent), Mirambo holdings of Tanzania (10 per cent) and Australia’s Babcock and Brown (10 per cent).
Daily Monitor reported last week that shareholders of Rift Valley Railway Investments said they had not yet finalised internal negotiations among themselves and were, therefore, not in a position to provide the required documents to meet all conditions for the transfer of shareholding to Citadel. However, it is apparent that the Egyptian company has paid the $150 million asking price into Sheltam. Sheltam is the majority shareholder of RVR and acquiring such a stake enables Citadel to appoint its representatives to the RVR board, to give it an upper hand to push for its interests.
Even as Citadel positions for a possible takeover, delegates from the East African Community states are meeting next month to discuss the creation of a fund for the implementation of the East African Railway master plan.