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SGR cements Sino-Kenya trade and infrastructure relations

OPINION
By Li Jiuping | August 30th 2020
Li Jiuping, General Manager of the SGR Operatorr, Afristar.

The global infrastructure landscape has changed tremendously since the advent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), billed the single most significant undertaking by the country on the international stage.

The initiative — a long-term policy and investment programme aimed at boosting infrastructure development, trade and accelerating economic integration to connect Asia with Africa and Europe — was unveiled in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

BRI consists of a Silk Road Economic Belt, a trans-continental passage that links China with south East Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land.

A Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connects the China’s coastal regions with South Asia and south east, the South Pacific, the Eastern Africa and the Middle East.

The BRI’s infrastructure development goals complement the African Union’s agenda 2063, which mainly focuses on the continent’s interconnectivity.

They both focus on the need to encompass people-centred development. They are both centred on sustainable industrialisation and industrial diversification to generate high-value addition and decent employment for all.

With Africa having a huge infrastructure deficit hindering its economic development, trade and industrialisation, as pointed in the African Development Bank report (2014) report, the BRI provides an opportunity that the continent could strategically take advantage of.

In Africa, Kenya is a core part of both the Maritime Silk Road and the Belt, with the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) being the flagship project of this initiative.

The project is key in saving valued natural resources and protecting the environment, especially from the challenge of global warming. It reduces carbon emission by introducing a modern and more efficient railway system.

 It is one of Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship projects and complies with the Kenya National Transport Policy — ‘Moving a Working Nation’ (2009), whose vision for the railway sector is to provide efficient, reliable, safe and secure railway transport services.

As part of BRI, SGR is the “road of friendship” and “road of prosperity and development” for win-win cooperation between China and Kenya. It is a key outcome of Sino-Africa cooperation on infrastructure development.

China and Kenya have adhered to the principle of mutually beneficial cooperation and development, as well environmental protection.

As the General Manager of Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of SGR, Kenya is a great place to work because of its excellent business climate. Kenyans too have a good work ethic.

For the two and half years I have been working here, all the parties I have interacted with, including the Government, business partners and our local staff, have all treated me well.

It is noteworthy that there are similarities between Chinese and Kenyan cultures. For instance, they are both collectivist societies where people value each other and form strong interpersonal relationships with their families, friends and communities.

People from collectivist societies are good team players, which is very important for SGR operations and maintenance.

To create high performing Sino-Kenyan teams, the company fosters cross-cultural working relationships and promotes mutual understanding, respect and trust.

 We are building a strong cross-cultural team through promoting the idea, ‘We are a family’.

The methods used to integrate the Kenyan and Chinese workforce include but are not limited to ensuring that communication channels are open and two-way. This creates harmonious working environment and regular team-building and recreational activities such as sports competitions and outdoor cultural exchange activities like“Open Day” activities with the Chinese Embassy in Kenya.

To achieve the company’s goals, all employees should adhere to our core values of safety, efficiency, respect and integrity. Employees should be dedicated to the railway transportation industry, focus on their career development by embracing the learning and apprenticeship opportunities.

They should also be passionate about their jobs and work towards the company objective of providing quality public transportation services.

Afristar’s mission is to provide safe, efficient, customer-focused railway services. For instance, we strictly implement the train timetable as directed by Kenya Railways Corporation and the punctuality of passenger service is 100 per cent.

 Train punctuality is important during the Covid-19 period to ensure passengers arrive at their final destination before the curfew.  It’s worth noting that the schedule is tailored to the travel and business needs of local passengers.

 We also cater for the needs of the elderly, young, sick, disabled, and pregnant passengers. In terms of freight efficiency, our goal is to satisfy the needs of cargo owners and end backlog of SGR cargo at the Mombasa port by working in with KRC, Kenya Ports Authority and logistics companies.

 I strive to build quality SGR operations brand by providing world-class passenger and freight railway services. The scalability of SGR operations and maintenance is dependent on the localisation of the project. We are currently at nearly 80 per cent localisation and have over 290 Kenyans in management positions.

 The localisation rate has been achieved through technical skills training, which includes Railway Training Institute’s (RTI) pre-job training, on-the-job vocational training, apprenticeship programmes, and professional development opportunities such as training opportunities for high-performing staff at leading Chinese rail-oriented institutions.

So far, over 70 employees have gained skills from educational opportunities in China. We have also achieved localisation through promotion of employees in railway specialties through annual skills competitions.

So far, 150 employees have been promoted after outperforming their colleagues at the 2018 and 2019 annual skills competitions. We continue to afford Kenyans new development opportunities, jobs and nurture railway transportation professionals.

The SGR has shortened the space-time distance between Nairobi and Mombasa, changed the way people travel and increased business activities along the line.

-The writer is the General Manager of the SGR Operator, Afristar.

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