Uganda plans to build an inland port on Lake Victoria near its capital Kampala to reduce its near-total dependence on Kenya's Mombasa, plagued by strikes and congestion, and vulnerable to disruption from any violence around elections next month.
Post-election violence five years ago in Kenya left Uganda largely cut off from the sea and acutely short of fuel and other goods, as well as cutting off trade routes to landlocked Rwanda and Burundi for weeks.
The port would take three years to build and cost about $180 million, said Cypriano Okello, Project Coordinator at the Ministry of Works and Transport.
A strike in November paralysed Mombasa, east Africa's main trade gateway, and the port has suffered a series of strikes by dockworkers, truckers and even management officials demanding higher pay.
Ugandan businesses have also long complained of losses caused by the congestion-plagued port.
Uganda's government says it is making strategic plans to avoid disruption from any violence around Kenya's March 4 elections, partly by using road routes through Tanzania.
When the port at Bukasa, on the outskirts of Kampala, is finished, Ugandan imports will be cleared through Tanzania's Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam and Tanga and ferried by rail to Tanzania's Musoma on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The cargo will then be shipped over the lake to Bukasa.
Tanzania also plans to extend its rail network from Arusha to Musoma port to create an alternative route to be covered by both rail and marine transport, Okello said.
"Getting an alternative to the sea is top, top priority and so we have identified a site for this inland port already and procured a contractor," Okello said.
"We estimate the entire project will take about $180 million and the contractor should be starting work by June this year ... completion will take about three years," he said.
The Ugandan government estimates the inland port will have capacity to handle eight million tonnes of cargo a year.
A reduction on cargo shipments via road on the so-called northern route from Mombasa through Kenya and Uganda, would also reduce the damage on Ugandan roads caused by the rattle of heavy trucks and save money on repairs, Okello said.