Kibaki's legacy looms large in infrastructure

Former President Mwai Kibaki commissioning the port of Lamu. Right, South Sudan President Silva Kiir. [File, Standard]

In the final days of President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure, a local pollster asked Kenyans what they would remember him for.

What came top was infrastructure development, followed by free primary education and having delivered the 2010 Constitution.

In the decade that Kibaki was president, he grew the kilometres of road and the amount of money the government spent on infrastructure. He also put in huge investments in railways and ports.

Between 2003 and 2013, Kenya increased its network of classified roads from 63,000km in 2003 to 166,000km.

When Kibaki took over in 2003, Kenya was investing Sh10 billion per year in the construction and maintenance of roads.

This had, however, grown to Sh117 billion in 2012 as he was leaving office.

It was under his administration that the 50-kilometre Thika Road (Thika Super Highway) was built at a cost of Sh32 billion in 2011, which was then seen as a huge investment for a sector that had gone through years of underinvestment.

It was his regime that conceptualised the by-pass roads, which make a ring around Nairobi, easing travel for city dwellers moving from one end to another as well as travellers passing through the city without the hustle of going through the Central Business District.

The Southern by-pass is perhaps memorable as its implementation started when presidential aspirant Mr Raila Odinga was Roads minister, where he had to bring down a number of palatial homes that stood on road reserves.

“When this road is completed, vehicles destined to western parts of Kenya or Coast will have an alternative route away from the CBD,” Kibaki explained the rationale behind the road when construction started in 2012. 

A section of Thika superhighway. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The brilliance of the ring roads would be blighted by the Southern Bypass eating into the Nairobi National Park, while the Eastern Bypass was built as a two-way traffic road at a budget that many believed could have build a dual carriage. The road is currently being dualled.

Away from the eye catching roads such as the bypasses and Thika Road, Kibaki expanded others in rural Kenya, connecting isolated small towns and trading centres to other towns as well as enabling residents access essentials such as health centres and markets.

His focus on rural roads is seen in the fact that though the length of roads increased by more than 100,000km between 2003 and 2013, tarmacked roads were 2,300km over the period, meaning the bulk were the unpaved rural roads.

This illustrates his administration’s focus on boosting the country’s connectivity through a network of new roads in rural areas, many of them basic earth and gravel roads. 

It was also under Kibaki that the Roads 2000 programme was started through which thousands of kilometres of roads were repaired and the road agencies mostly contract local labour, benefiting many young and otherwise unemployed Kenyans.

“There has been continued development of rural roads under the R2000 programme, which involves gravelling roads surfaces by use of low-volume-sealed roads technology with cobblestone,” said Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in the Economic Survey 2021.

“The programme includes a contracting model that includes maintenance component in the roads construction contracts that guarantee maintenance and sustenance of motorable road surfaces.”

Other than roads, Kibaki’s regime had also embarked on the revival of the Nairobi Commuter Railway as it sought an elusive solution that would ease congestion on the city’s roads.

In November 2012, as his presidency was nearing its final days, Kibaki launched the Syokimau Railway Station, which is a key hub for Nairobi’s commuter rail, taking passengers coming to the CBD through Imara Daima and Makadara on Jogoo Road.

In 2012, Kibaki broke ground for a number of mega infrastructure projects, whose implementation was taken over by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration.

These included the second container terminal at the port of Mombasa.

Tractors at Mombasa Port's second container terminal. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The terminal was conceived at a time when there was grumbling among importers about the delays at the port and many, especially those importing to neighbouring countries, were opting to use Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port.

The first phase of the second terminal, which was built at a cost of Sh26 billion, was completed in 2016.

Kenya Ports Authority is nearing completion of the Sh32 billion second container terminal, which has been financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, with the construction undertaken by Japanese Toyo Construction Company.

Kibaki also broke ground for Konza Technopolis. The tech city was expected to be a regional innovation hub but has not moved with the speed that was anticipated at its time of inception.

The former president’s regime also set the ball rolling for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia (Lapsset) Transport Corridor project. The project was seen then, and is still seen as a catalyst for the economic improvement of northern Kenya. 

While there had been talk about the corridor, the momentum started gathering in 2010 and in March 2012, Kibaki together with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and then Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi jointly launched the project.

The corridor includes roads, railways and petroleum product pipelines that snake from Lamu through northern Kenya to the two countries neighbouring Kenya to the north.

One of the facilities on the corridor will be a crude oil pipeline that will enable Kenya to export oil that will be produced from the Turkana oil fields.

The first berth of the Lamu Port was commissioned last year.

Economists contend that investments in infrastructure are a critical catalyst for economic growth. According to the World Bank, infrastructure contributed 0.5 per cent to annual per capita growth in the past decade.

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