East Africa’s biggest ever project rolled out

Cabinet Secretary for The National Treasury, Henry Rotich (right) and President of the China Exim Bank, Li Ruogu sign the fi nancing agreement for the Standard Gauge Railway at State House, Nairobi yesterday. Standing from left, President Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), and Salva Kiir (South Sudan) witness the signing.
 Cabinet Secretary for The National Treasury, Henry Rotich (right) and President of the China Exim Bank, Li Ruogu sign the fi nancing agreement for the Standard Gauge Railway at State House, Nairobi yesterday. Standing from left, President Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), and Salva Kiir (South Sudan) witness the signing.
By GEOFFREY MOSOKU

Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta Sunday rallied three of his colleagues from the East African region to witness the historic signing of the Standard Gauge Railway deal with the Chinese Government.

Fellow presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Salva Kiir (South Sudan) joined Uhuru at the signing of the financing agreement for the project with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Work on the project begins on October 1 and will take 42 months. Deputy President William Ruto also witnessed the signing for what will be the Jubilee government’s and East Africa’s biggest infrastructure project to date, designed to modernise the region’s rail transport.

The $3.8 billion (Sh331 billion under current exchange rates) project has been mired in controversy about allegations of irregularities in the procurement process but two parliamentary committees, Transport and Public Investment Committees- cleared the project on time for the ceremony to put pen to paper.

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Kenya will foot 10 per cent (Sh33 billion) of the cost with Exim Bank of China paying the remaining 90 per cent (Sh298 billion).

Phase One of the project from Mombasa to Nairobi will be 609km.  The next phase will stretch to Kigali in Rwanda and Juba in South Sudan.

Yesterday, Sudan’s Transport, Roads and Bridges Minister Koug Danhier Gatluak, Uganda’s Minister of State for Works and Transport John Byabagambi, Rwanda’s Infrastructure Minister Prof. Silas Lwakakamba and Kenya’s Transport Minister Michael Kamau appended their signatures to the deal.

The project will see construction of a modern high-speed, high capacity standard gauge railway for passengers and freight. The project is aimed at providing efficient and cost effective rail transport for both freight and passengers to reduce the cost of doing business and make Kenya a competitive business hub for the East African region and beyond.

Lagged behind

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Passenger trains will have a speed of 120km per hour while those for freight will be designed to move at 80 kilometers an hour.

It will take passengers four hours and 30 minutes to travel from Mombasa to Nairobi at a projected speed of 120km per hour, while freight will take eight hours. President Uhuru described the signing of the deal as a milestone in improving infrastructural development in the region, which has lagged behind for centuries.

“The relationship between ourselves and China is based on mutual trust, because we are pursuing inclusive development and promoting inventive practical cooperation,” he said.

Under the deal signed yesterday, the four countries agreed on a harmonised policy, legal and institutional framework for SGR. They also agreed to co-operate and co-ordinate human resource capacity building, joint mobilisation of financial resources and ensuring sufficient budgetary allocation and funding mechanisms.

The decision-making organs of the protocol are the Joint Ministerial Committee, the SGR Commission and the Joint Technical Committee.

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The Joint Ministerial Committee comprises Transport Ministers of the four countries and its functions include promoting, monitoring, reviewing and implementing all programmes and projects for the development and operation of SGR.

The SGR Commission is made up of Permanent/Principal Secretaries responsible for Transport/Infrastructure, the Secretaries to the Treasury and the Solicitors General or their equivalent.

Political undertones characterised the signing of the protocol as Presidents Uhuru and Museveni hinted at the debate about West-East relations with the continent. 

“It is enough to say that we are deeply grateful for the help that we have received, both from China and from our neighbours. But it is not enough to rest content with what we will achieve. The People’s Republic of China will soon be the world’s largest economy. Its return, after two centuries, to that position has lessons to teach us, not least that infrastructure matters,” Uhuru said.

Inequality

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President Uhuru said that whereas former colonial powers were committed to inequality of treatment, division and distrust, the relationship between Africa and China is founded, on four basic principles: treating each other sincerely and equally; consolidating solidarity and mutual trust; jointly pursuing inclusive development; and promoting inventive practical cooperation between our countries.

Keqiang said the signing of the financing agreement of the deal is a major milestone in enhancing the partnership between Africa and China.

“This project demonstrates that there is equal cooperation and mutual benefit between China and the East African countries, and the railway is a very important part of transport infrastructure development,” Li said.

Uganda’s President Museveni who spoke on behalf of the East African leaders lauded China for supporting the project, with no conditions imposed by other development partners. 

He said that after the Chinese Communist Party took over power in 1949, China has remained a true friend to Africa helping African countries to fight off colonialism and remained its partner unlike the western countries that give is with conditions.

“China is concentrating on real issues. They don’t give lectures on how to run local governments and other issues I don’t want to mention,” he said.

DP Ruto later led the Chinese premier to tour the National Youth Service to which the Chinese Government has pledged to donate equipment. Li Keqiang said it was important for Kenya to have many of such institutes to train the youth to serve their country.

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Uhuru Kenyatta Standard Gauge Railway Chinese Government