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Mass Transit in East Africa: Focus on Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda [free access]

April 1, 2021

The development of urban transport in East Africa has picked up pace in the last few years. There is an increasing focus on the deployment of new buses, especially electric buses. New metro bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are being developed in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Commuter and urban rail projects are being modernised and expanded in several countries. Cross-border lines are a key focus area for smoother passenger and freight movement in the region. Standard gauge railway (SGR) lines are being planned within and between Ethiopia, Sudan, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Funding from foreign governments and companies plays a key role in the development of these lines.


Several countries are preparing national transportation plans to accelerate the development of the transport network in the region. Box 1 provides details about the plans in some countries.


Box 1: National transport plans


Several countries are coming up with national transportation plans to strategise and develop their existing and upcoming transport systems.


  • In March 2021, the Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) invited expressions of interest (EoIs) to provide consultancy services to draft the National Transport Master Plan (NTMP). Earlier, in April 2019, EoIs were invited to appoint a consultant to provide support to RTDA in developing a strategy for public transport in the country.
  • In October 2020, the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA) in Ethiopia invited EoIs to provide consultancy services for a transit-oriented development (TOD) project funded by the World Bank for a contract duration of18 months.
  • In August 2019, the National Roads Administration (NRA) in Mozambique invited EoIs to provide consultancy services to draft the Northern Region (Niassa, Cabo Delgado, Nampula) Master Plan.


Source: Global Mass Transit Research


Bus transport


New buses are being procured and several cities are also planning to introduce electric bus fleets. In August 2020, Uganda announced plans to rollout 5,000 electric buses by 2021. To implement this electrification process, Uganda-based Kiira Motors Corporation is being supported by China-based CHTC Motor Co. India-based Ashok Leyland is also supporting Kiira Motors to develop an efficient transport system in the country.


In Ethiopia, Volvo is supplying 50 buses to ODAA Integrated Transport, a bus operator. The operator also plans to procure an additional 300 buses by 2022. Marcopolo is also supplying buses to the operator.


In Mauritius, the government is encouraging the largest operator, the National Transport Corporation (NTC), to promote a low-carbon public transportation system by replacing diesel-powered buses with electric buses. In January 2021, plans were announced to deploy electric buses on the feeder bus network.


Dedicated routes have also been planned in several countries. Metrobus and BRT systems are coming up in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.


Tondeka MetroBus Service, Uganda


The planned bus service will serve the cities of Kampala, Entebbe, Buloba, Nsangi, Ssabagabo, Mukono, Kira Town, Matugga, Wakiso, and the areas in Mukono District and Wakiso District that connect with these urban centres. As of January 2020, seven routes were planned, as depicted in Table 1.


Table 1: Metro Bus Routes in Uganda


Length (km)




Kampala – Munoko



Kampala – Wakiso



Kampala – Ggaba



Kampala – Nsangi



Kampala - Buloba



Kampala – Matugga



Kampala – Entebbe Airport




Source: Global Mass Transit Research


As a part of Phase I, it was announced that Routes 1, 2, and 3 would  be operationalised by September 2020, but were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. EXIM Bank of India announced that it would finance Phase I with guarantees from the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development. Ashok Leyland India under the Hinduja Group will supply the buses for Phase I.


Kampala BRT, Uganda


The proposed route will span 25km, linking Kampala’s Central Business District (CBD) with Bwaise, Zana, and Kireka through three BRT corridors along the routes of Bombo Road, Entebbe Road, and Jinja Road, as depicted in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Kampala BRT Corridor


Source: GLI-Kampala-Paratransit-Report-June-2020.pdf (


To minimise the need for transfer from one route to another, the plan proposes three BRT trunk lines that would pass through the centre and run from one suburban terminal to another. The pilot will be operated by a fleet of 165 articulated buses. Each bus will be 18 metres long, with a capacity to carry 150 passengers.


Five non-BRT feeder bus lines are proposed to link the terminals with the outlying districts. These lines are:


-          Zana to Kajjansi (and possibly to Entebbe)

-          Kireka to Mukono

-          Bwaise to Watugga (via Bombo Road)

-          Bwaise to Kasangati–Gayaza (via Gayaza Road)

-          Bwaise to Wakiso (via Northern Bypass and Hoima Road)


Dar es Salaam BRT extension, Tanzania


A total of five new phases are planned to be developed as a part of the system, as detailed in Table 2.


Table 2: Phases of Dar es Salaam BRT 




BRT terminals

BRT depots
































Note: *- provisional values

Source: DART


In March 2021, the World Bank allocated USD249 million (TZS570.6 billion) funding for Phases 3 and 4. Phase 3 will receive USD148.1 million, while Phase 4 will receive USD99.9 million.


Addis Ababa BRT, Ethiopia


The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development of Ethiopia (MOFED) plans to develop a BRT system in Addis Ababa by 2025. The system will span 12 km and deploy a fleet of 157 low-floor buses of length 12 metres and 18 metres. In September 2019, the Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) signed a USD63 million loan agreement with Ethiopia for the project, with a 15-year grace period and an interest rate of 0.01 per cent. The loan is expected to be repaid within 40 years. In April 2020, the project received the USD63 million funding from KEXIM.


In August 2020, EoIs were invited to provide consultancy services to draft a development strategy for the system. The procurement is also a part of the project being financed by the World Bank.


Kigali BRT, Rwanda


A BRT system is planned in Kigali city. Italy-based Spea Engineering was awarded the contract for the development of a feasibility study and for the preliminary design for the BRT system. The scope of work included an analytical review of the existing land use and transport models; data collection for the development of an integrated transport and land use model; development of an integrated land use and transport model for Kigali city; development of parking strategies; and preparation of action plans for the development of an integrated public transport system.


Urban rail projects


New systems and extensions are planned in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Mauritius, as described in Table 3, and modernisation works are currently underway in Tanzania and Uganda.


Table 3: Upcoming rail projects






Current status



Mauritius LRT



The line will link Ebene Cybercity and the University of Mauritius. Larsen & Toubro (L&T) secured a contract in February 2021 to develop the mainline corridor. This extension will involve the construction of three new stations, viaducts and bridges; installation of track works, DC electric traction systems, ticketing and passenger information systems; and integration with road traffic through advanced signalling systems. The contract value ranges between USD137 million and USD342 million.


The existing system, which currently spans 13 km, will be extended to 26 km, covering 19 stations. Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) will supply 18Urbos 100 trains.



Dodoma commuter rail



In June 2019, a consortium of Spain-based Ardanuy Ingenieria, India-based Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats, and South Korea-based Soosung Engineering secured a EUR2.5 million contract from Tanzania Railways Corporation to conduct a feasibility study and to undertake preliminary design works for the line. The duration of the contract was nine months.


The scope of work included analysing the technical, economic, financial, environmental, and social feasibility of the project; evaluating routes and alignments; preparing preliminary designs; estimating cost; and drafting tender documents.


Harare and Bulawayo

Harare and Bulawayo Modern Intra-City Railway network



In January 2021, National Railways of Zimbabwe invited

EoIs to provide consultancy services for the network.

Source: Global Mass Transit Research


Modernisation works are also underway on the following major lines in the region:


-          The Government of Tanzania is rehabilitating the Dar es Salaam commuter rail line. In May 2019, Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) invited EoIs to enter into a joint venture (JV) to develop and rehabilitate railway stations as well as to supply, operate, and maintain the rolling stock. The project is being financed by the Government of Tanzania.


-          The Government of Uganda announced that it needed USD1 billion to upgrade the metre gauge railway network in the country. The approved sections include Tororo–Gulu(EUR47million), Kampala–Malaba (USD360million), Kampala–Kasese (USD500million), and Gulu–Pakwach (USD100million). The Uganda Railways Corporation is looking for financiers to finance the rehabilitation project.


Inter-country rail projects


Ethiopia–Sudan standard gauge line


The line will span 1,522 km from Addis Ababa to Khartoum. The African Development Bank (AfDB) awarded a USD1.2 million grant to the Government of Ethiopia in July 2020 to fund a two-year comprehensive feasibility study of the project. The total cost of the study is USD3.4 million. The remaining cost will be funded by Agencé France de Development (AFD), NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (Nepad-IPPF), and the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.


Egypt–Sudan railway line


The governments of Egypt and Sudan signed a joint cooperation agreement in November 2020 to carry out economic, social, and environmental feasibility studies for the construction of a railway line connecting Egypt to Sudan. The construction of the line will take place in accordance with Egyptian rail specifications.


-          The initial section of the proposed line will connect Aswan in Egypt to Wadi Halfa in Sudan.

-          The subsequent phases will integrate the line with the existing networks in both countries to create a 900-km direct connection between Sidi Gaber, Alexandria, and Khartoum.


The project will be funded by the Sudanese and Egyptian governments and by a loan from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED).


Zambia–Botswana railway line


In July 2019, Zambia and Botswana signed a USD259 million agreement to build a 430-km railway line connecting the two countries. It will connect the Botswanan railway network at Mosetsewith the Zambian railway network at Livingstone. The project, also known as the Mosetse–Kazungula–Livingstone railway project, will be financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the governments of Botswana and Zambia. In February 2020, bids were invited to provide consultancy services to conduct a feasibility study for the project. No further updates about the contract award are available.


Kenya–Uganda–Rwanda–South Sudan SGR line


Construction works on the SGR line connecting the four countries are currently under progress. The completion of the railway line is expected to provide huge benefits and to ease trade within the East Africa Community (EAC).


Technological developments


New fare and transport-related technologies have emerged in the region.


-          In Zambia, Wi-Fi- and QR code-based mobile ticketing services were launched by Zamtel, the government-owned telecommunications operator in Zambia, as a part of the agreement signed with Mazhandu Family Bus Services, the operator of public transport buses, in 2019.

-          In Tanzania, Dar Rapid Transit (DART), with the support of the World Bank, announced plans to deploy intelligent transportation system (ITS) on its buses by end-2020.

-          In Rwanda, Tap and Go has transformed the way people pay for fares. By eliminating the need to pay for transit in cash, the company has made inter-city bus commuting easier for its passengers. In partnership with MaraPhones, the company has also announced plans to launch the Intelligent Moto metering system. Further, Rwanda-based start-up Binary Earth has launched a system called‘GERAYO’ that counts the number of passengers at every bus stop and then provides this information to bus operators, thereby improving the management and deployment of buses on various routes.

-          In Ethiopia, Anbessa City Bus Service Enterprise is deploying ITS at an estimated investment of USD10 million. The deployment is being funded by the World Bank.

-          In Mauritius, PIS has been launched on specific bus routes and bus schedules along the Curepipe–Floreal corridor to Port Louis. The PIS consists of a GPS tracking system in buses and a main server housed at the National Land Transport Authority (NLTA) which provides interconnectivity with buses equipped with the GPS tracking system and with digital boards installed at specific modern bus shelters and embedded in mobile/web applications.


Increasing foreign aid


Establishing joint initiatives and collaborations for infrastructural development is considered an effective way of strengthening partnerships with countries outside the region. China, India, South Korea, and France have emerged as some of the major countries extending aid in developing transit networks in the East African countries.


In Ethiopia, China has helped in the successful completion of two major railway projects, that is, the Ethiopia–Djibouti SGR and the Addis Ababa LRT projects, which have, in turn, helped the railways increase its revenue (it increased 45 percent in 2019 as compared to 2018, while income rose by 51.38 percent in the first half of 2020 as compared with the same period in 2019). Also in Ethiopia, KEXIM and Agencé France de Development (AFD) have provided loans for the development of the BRT system in Addis Ababa.


Further, Metro Express Limited (MEL) in Mauritius has received a grant worth USD275 million from the Government of India for the development of Metro Express LRT.


Foreign companies, especially those based in India and China, are playing a crucial role in bus procurements and in BRT development in the region.


The way forward


The region faces several problems related to congestion, corruption, and underdeveloped public transport, all of which point to  the need for a well-organised public transport system in the region. Countries are taking steps to make public transport more attractive to commuters by improving services, extending coverage, and easing access. For instance, in Sudan, a flat fare has been implemented and 390 buses were deployed for easier commuting in 2020. But the initiatives have faced increasing objections and many have been rejected. In Tanzania, Latra, the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), and the National Internet Data Centre (NIDC) are struggling to resolve disputes with bus owners-cum-operators, represented by the Tanzania Bus Owners Association (TABOA), over the deployment of the new e-ticketing system.


Though the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered the pace of development of transport projects, the implementation of urban rail projects has made some progress in the last three months. With increasing funding and assistance, several projects are expected to be completed successfully in the near future.


(This is Part 2 of a two-part feature. Part 1 focused on Kenya’s transit expansion and modernisation plans. It was released in March 2021.)