Kisumu residents and those living along the proposed Naivasha–Kisumu Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line have reason to celebrate. This follows Transport and Infrastructure CS James Macharia’s assurance that rail construction was on course.
Other Kenyans can also join the celebrations because the benefits will be enjoyed by the entire country. These benefits will be particularly when the railway line is extended to Malaba where it is expected to link up with the one Ugandans plan to build.
The SGR line is expected to join the four East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan whose presidents signed a SGR protocol. The plan is that the line would later be extended to West Africa but with Mombasa-Lamu serving as the entry ports.
A cursory calculation of the benefits that Kenya will reap as gateway to such a vast area is what has attracted the attention of global players whose business interests will be disrupted once the project is completed.
This is what has attracted criticisms of the Kenyan portion of the SGR project. To be fair to the critics, some of their criticism may be justified. The cost, for example, appears to have been exaggerated when compared to similar projects elsewhere.
The cost of land compensation for the affected individuals is suspect. The finer details of the contracts signed between the lending banks, the contractors and the government may also not pass close scrutiny.
These areas will, hopefully, be addressed. The set up of industries that produce export goods meant to boost revenues for the SGR project to pay off huge debts require urgent attention.
The fact that the Chinese lending bank, Exim Bank saw it fit to raise the issue of starting industries that would help SGR pay for itself should awaken the Kenyan leadership to its urgency.
The leadership should also climb down from its ivory tower where it issues policy documents.
The reality is that private sector players are already earning a decent living from their firms and businesses and are reluctant to venture into uncharted waters.
This requires the State to take the bull by the horns and start the industries required to move the country forward.