How pioneer road almost led the country to bankruptcy

Famous MacKinnon road in Mombasa. [Courtesy Sygic]

Roads and scandals are like Siamese twins in Kenya. Apparently, Kenya's original scandal emanated from its oldest road which still serves as the country's main artery from where all Kenya's major towns have streamed from.

Every administration it also seems has been dogged with controversies over compensation of land where main highways and roads are located. When Britain bought the land mass now called Kenya from the broke Imperial British East African Company for PS200,000, (Sh38.9 million) the bureaucrats made a fatal mistake.

The sale agreement omitted one major infrastructure, MacKinnon Road. This was the longest road from Mombasa extending for about 100 kilometres past Taru to a station that would later be used as a depot for the rail line. This road had been constructed by a tycoon, William MacKinnon who then rented it to IBEA.

It later emerged Britain had not paid for the road which was privately owned, sparking a huge debate in Britain where MPs thought the government had been swindled.

They could not understand why the government had to pay more money for a road it already owned.

Reginald McKenna, in a debate on February 12, 1896, queried an expenditure that included the supplementary budget to purchase the road.

"In acquiring the property of the British East Africa Company, the original view of this Government was that the Mackinnon Road formed part of the assets which should be taken over by this country for the payment of PS200,000," He argued.

After purchasing Kenya, the government later added PS50,000((Sh8.9 million) but parliament was shocked to learn that the road was now owned by the executors of the estate of Mackinnon who had died on June 22, 1893, in London, leaving an estate worth PS500,000(about Sh89.5 million).

The government explained that it was realized that the road would be crisscrossed by the rail line at numerous points and the idea of claiming it was abandoned.

"It was found that the Uganda Railway would cross and recross the road at quite a number of places for the first 90 miles of its course, and it was feared that difficulties might arise in connection with plots of land adjoining the road," a state-issued in parliament read.

The Railway Committee that was managing the Uganda Railway decided to abandon the idea of leasing the road from Mackinnon's family and purchase it.

Based on the actual expenditure Mackinnon had incurred, it was decided that a fair price for the acquisition of the road would be a sum of 61,000 rupees, or PS34000 (Sh68, million) as provided for in the budgetary estimate to complete the purchase.