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'Mwai Kibaki was best roads builder president'

By Wainaina Ndung’u | Apr 29th 2022 | 3 min read
Former President Mwai Kibaki (L, Front) attends the opening ceremony of the Nairobi-Thika Super Highway in Kenya, on November 9, 2012. [Xinhua, Ding Haitao]

Many Kenyans will agree that Mwai Kibaki was Kenya’s best road building president but they may be surprised about the particular project he was most proud of.

According to engineer Michael Kamau, a long-serving technocrat who was Permanent Secretary for Roads during Kibaki’s presidency, Kibaki was most proud of international corridors that linked Kenya to the East African community and the rest of Africa.

“Contrary to what many would expect to be the Sh30 billion Thika Superhighway, it was actually the shaping up of the 526-kilometre Isiolo - Marsabit - Moyale road that gave the former president immense joy,” recalled Kamau.

The Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale road was built in four phases two delivered under the Kibaki government.

The 136-kilometre Isiolo - Merille bridge section and the Marsabit - Turbi section were completed just before Kibaki left power and the remaining phases under the Uhuru Ruto government.

Kibaki officially opened the Isiolo - Merille section in June 2011 and Kamau says that was an immensely happy moment for him.

He added that completion of projects spurring regional connectivity such as Athi River - Namanga - Arusha highway and the Mwatate -Taveta - Holili highway always made Kibaki happy and he would always agree to grace the launches.

Fertile hinterland

Kamau admits the Kibaki government was helped greatly by the growth of national revenues boosted by confidence of Kenyans which lead to high levels of tax compliance.

He said the initial focus of the Kibaki government was rehabilitation of the dilapidated national infrastructure backbone and completion of stalled projects.

“This was based on the Economic Recovery Strategy Paper,” said Kamau.

It was a planned effort and not ad hoc and you will remember he had inherited a country littered with eyesore of stalled projects.”

He cited Kagumo Teachers College’s uncompleted auditorium, the National Youth Service (NYS) Ruaraka and the General Service Unit (GSU) Reece Squad Headquarters as some of the stalled projects they gave priority in the first years.

“The Kisii-Chemosit road which served a fertile hinterland had been uncompleted for over 15 years and was one of the projects we gave priority,” recalled Kamau.

Infrastructure development

It was after they were through with the ERSP that they went on to the Vision 2030 blueprint projects such as Lapsset, the Konza Technopolis, Nairobi bypasses and Isiolo International Airport.

Kamau said the late president was proud when they started delivering road projects throughout the country.

“He approved that we set up the road agencies and supervision under the Boards run by the private sector,” said Kamau.

But he attributes the success of infrastructure development under Kibaki to the confidence boost that his government cultivated.

“That enabled partners including the European Union (EU), the World Bank, African Development Bank (ADB), Japan to come in and finance our projects easily,” added Kamau.

He said while previously the Chief Engineer - Roads supervised all road projects and was overwhelmed, the confidence boost and availability of funds enabled the government to hire consultants to design and supervise projects.

After the Kibaki government had set up a Pending Bills Verification Committee and cleared all genuine contractors, builders completed their projects in time and stopped cutting corners.

“We also for the first time started paying 10 percent of project cost in advance against bank guarantees enabling the contractors to roll out the projects fast and deliver in time to get the rest of their fees,” said Kamau.

Kamau said many Kenyans wrongly perceived the Kibaki government to have given contracts to big foreign firms when in the reality is that they worked hard to bring local contractors to the table.

“There was actually a lot of industrial strengthening. We encouraged the contractors to form the Roads and Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Raceca) which for the first brought women into the construction sector,” said Kamau.

Kamau said, like Kibaki, he was immensely proud of what they achieved and credit that many give the regime for reviving a dying sector.

“Very proud. Anytime even when I am asleep,” said Kamau.

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