Kenya’s ambitious Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project has been making headlines since its inception. The initial phase connecting Mombasa and Nairobi has already proved to be a significant milestone in the country’s infrastructure development.
However, the government’s determination to extend the SGR line to Kisumu, Malaba, and Isiolo at a cost of Sh2.1 trillion has captured the attention of both domestic and international observers. With the project expected to be ready by June 2027 and proposing the adoption of the Kisumu–Malaba option as earlier envisaged, it also introduces new lines including to Lamu, Isiolo and Moyale.
The proposed lines create a link between the SGR and the Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport Corridor. This opens a route to the Port of Lamu for Ethiopia and South Sudan thus enlarging the Northern Corridor. It presents opportunities for increased intra-country trade between northern Kenya and the rest of the country.
But why is Kenya keen on this project?
One of the primary motivations behind Kenya’s push to extend the SGR line is to enhance regional connectivity. By connecting Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo, the government aims to strengthen trade links, not only within the country but also with neighbouring States such as Uganda and South Sudan.
These extensions will facilitate seamless movement of goods, people and services, resulting in increased trade volumes, economic growth and regional integration. The SGR will provide a faster and more efficient mode of transportation, reducing transit times and cutting costs for businesses and individuals alike.
Extending the SGR to Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo will unlock vast economic opportunities in these regions. Kisumu, as a major port city on Lake Victoria, holds significant potential for trade and tourism.
Connecting Kisumu to the SGR network will open up new avenues for economic growth, attract investment, and spur job creation.
Malaba, a busy border town, serves as a crucial gateway to neighbouring countries, and the SGR extension will enhance cross-border trade, stimulate commerce, and contribute to regional stability.
Isiolo, located at the heart of Kenya’s northern frontier, has immense potential for agriculture, tourism and energy production. The SGR extension will provide the infrastructure needed to harness and develop these sectors, thereby boosting economic prosperity.
The extension also aligns with Kenya’s devolution agenda, which aims to distribute resources and development opportunities equitably across the country. By connecting major cities and towns, the SGR will reduce regional disparities, promote inclusive growth, and empower local economies.
Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo will become major transport and logistics hubs, attracting investment, creating employment, and spurring socio-economic progress in previously underserved areas.
The improved connectivity will encourage businesses and industries to set up operations outside major urban centres, leading to a more balanced and sustainable development pattern across the country. Beyond economic considerations, extending the SGR line to Kisumu, Malaba and Isiolo has significant implications for national security and sovereignty.
These regions are strategically important, and the SGR will enhance the government’s ability to monitor and safeguard key transportation corridors.
The improved infrastructure will facilitate the rapid deployment of security forces, ensuring stability along the borders and within. Additionally, the SGR extensions will reduce Kenya’s dependence on neighbouring countries’ infrastructure, enhancing the nation’s self-reliance and strengthening its position as a regional leader.
The decision to extend the SGR line to represents a transformative step in Kenya’s infrastructure development journey. The project’s real motivations extend beyond mere connectivity. They encompass regional integration, economic growth, inclusive development, national security, and sovereignty.
By embracing these goals, Kenya demonstrates its commitment to driving progress and seizing opportunities for the betterment of its citizens and the broader East African region. The SGR extensions will not only transform transportation and logistics but also pave the way for a more stable region.
- The writer, Kiendi Ndambuki, is a commentator on railway transport infrastructure and development