Kenya Railways launches independent probe on racism claims at SGR

Kenya Railways MD Atanas Maina when he appeared before the National Assembly Public Investment Committee on audit queries at Parliament. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]



KR has instructed operator to submit a report on mistreatment claims within 72 hours for review.

Kenya Railways has launched investigations into racism and mistreatment claims by Kenyans working at the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) following an exposé by The Standard.

The agency said it had instructed the SGR operator – China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) – to submit a report on the mistreatment claims within 72 hours for a critical review.

“The said reports have elicited emotions from the public. The outrage and disappointment expressed is understandable, and we share the same sentiments,” Kenya Railways Managing Director Atanas Main said in a statement yesterday.

“This unethical conduct, if found to be authentic, is completely unacceptable,” Mr Maina said.

He said KR has also deployed its human resource department to engage with the local staff employed by the operator to independently establish the authenticity of the clams to inform further actions.

“We have taken the matters very seriously and should culpability be established against any person or persons, action will be taken in accordance with the laws of Kenya,” Maina said, adding that Kenya Railways was committed to observing highest ethical standard possible in execution of its mandate.

The response comes a day after Deputy President William Ruto confirmed that the CRBC was earning Sh1 billion a month to run the train, saying ‘running the SGR is not the same as a matatu'.

The DP, while speaking to NTV in an interview on Sunday night, said the new railway line would break even by the time the loan repayments are due in 2020.

Kenya Railways is the agency mandated to supervise the Chinese operator running the train.

Yesterday, staff at SGR, who spoke in confidence, said their Chinese bosses had asked them to appoint representatives who would collect their views as a group and present them for action to deal with fears of victimisation.

The Transport ministry is also understood to be planning an impromptu visit to the site as part of a fact-finding mission to ensure CRBC operates within the law.

Some of the complaints raised by employees include racial discrimination and harassment by the Chinese staff.

Huge contrast

Investigations by The Standard, which broke the story on Sunday, revealed a huge contrast between what happens when in public glare and what really goes on beneath the surface.

For instance, the story exposed, Kenyan employees were not allowed to share tables with their Chinese counterparts in the restaurant. 

Though it is not printed in black and white, Chinese staff would never sit on the same table with Kenyans and the latter were not expected to join their tables either.

“Racism is so real here. There is an unwritten rule of where you need to sit. You cannot just join the Chinese table,” an assistant locomotive driver said.

He said the divide ran to the staff vans as well, where even if only one Chinese was on board, Kenyans would not use the vehicles when it was time for drop-offs. “You cannot board a van that drops us in the evening even if it only has one Chinese on board. You will have to wait,” he said.

More excesses are allowed on the freight trains where there is little visibility. Chinese staff are allowed excesses such as smoking, while in the locomotive and use of mobile phones, crimes that would get their Kenyan counterparts fired.

“They are chain smokers and they do it inside the driver's cab. We do not have washrooms in the driver’s cab, so some relieve themselves on the track lines,” he said.

The other matter that will be looked at is the skills transfer. Kenyan drivers have never again been left to drive the trains, save for the launch day where Alice Gitau and Concilia Owire were paraded for the cameras to show that Kenyans drove President Uhuru Kenyatta on the inaugural trip.

But immediately the train took off and the cameras were gone, the Chinese drivers took back control and no Kenyan has been allowed to drive the locomotive again.