Why US is yet to break ground for Sh300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway

US Ambassador Kyle McCarter at Malaria Diagnosis Centre in Kisumu on Thursday. [Collins Oduor, Standard]
The US Government has temporarily shelved funding for the proposed Sh300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway over cost implications.

The dualing of the 485-kilometre road to ease perennial traffic snarl-ups was to be done by American engineering firm Bechtel after Kenya and US struck a deal during last year’s meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House.

Speaking during an interview with a Kisumu-based vernacular radio station yesterday, US ambassador Kyle McCarter, who is on a projects tour of the region, said the US was scrutinising the proposal to establish whether Kenyans would get value for their money.

He said the cost was in question at a time when the country is struggling with piling debt.

Responding to queries whether Bechtel had lost the contract to China, McCarter said: “Bechtel did not lose the deal, we are still working on the finance. Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans”.

Actual costs

“We did not want to sign onto a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual. We want to ensure there is an honest return on investment for Kenyans before we break ground.”

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) -- in a feasibility report -- indicated that the costly project was viable.

McCarter said US zero tolerance for corruption forced them back to the drawing board and would only embark on the project once they are satisfied it guarantees value for money for Kenyans and will not sink the country deeper into debt.

The envoy affirmed US support for the war against corruption and termed the plunder of public coffers an act of outright thievery. 

“Calling it corruption makes it mystical, like those behind it share the proceeds with the nation. But the truth is that it is simply taking what is not yours and that is thievery,” he said.

The proposed road will be a dual-carriage motorway with four lanes to ease congestion and cut travel time between the two cities from the current 10 to about four hours.

It will run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway and will help promote trade and movement in Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan.

Working documents on the project show that it is expected to start any time after the June budget release.

Bechtel estimates that construction of the expressway will create 500 jobs and involve local businesses supplying up to 100,000 tonnes of cement and 40,000 tonnes of steel.

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