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What next for Nyanza's Handshake projects?

Kisumu Railway Station. [ichael Mute, Standard]

A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the fate of several multi-billion projects implemented in Nyanza to shape the legacy of retiring president Uhuru Kenyatta as he exits office.

The projects which cost taxpayers a fortune came to the region courtesy of the Handshake between President Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018.

They were among the president’s development agenda to transform Nyanza into an economic powerhouse after several years of neglect by past regimes.

Although several key projects have been implemented during Uhuru's term in office, some of the projects are yet to live up to their expectations while others have not kicked off despite millions spent on feasibility studies.

There are fears, a lack of political goodwill from president-elect William Ruto’s administration may render the projects estimated to have cost tax payers nearly Sh100 billion white elephant projects and a worthless pursuit should Ruto opt not to steer them into completion.

The president-elect was one of the strongest critics of the Handshake and it remains to be seen if he will consider the projects birthed by the ideology a priority even as his allies claimed the region will be safer in his administration.

A few months to the end of his term, Uhuru’s administration had given contractors strict deadlines to complete the projects before he exits office. However, despite the efforts, several projects are yet to be completed.

Some of the projects were started in their first term in office as they sought to infiltrate the region. They have, however, stalled even as residents remain optimistic that they will be completed.

The projects include the revival of the 67 KM Kisumu-Butere railway line, the Sh3 billion renovation of the Kisumu Port, the building of key roads, expansion of the Kisumu Airport and airstrips in Migori and Kisii. 

Others are mega investments in infrastructure, tourism, trade, manufacturing, agriculture and the vast blue economy. Observers believe the projects will boost investor confidence and attract more regional investments if they are implemented successfully.

The 67 KM Butere railway line is still lying idle more than eight months after its rehabilitation was completed with its rail metals now left at the mercy of vandals and scrap metal dealers.

The project was part of the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu Meter Gauge Railway line that is already operational. It was tipped to revive the transportation of goods and passengers to Kisumu.

However, Kenya Railways officials claim lack of enough locomotives has stalled the efforts to breathe life on the Butere line. Tough questions remain whether the president-elect will continue with implementation of the project.

A new railway station built to compliment operations in the railway line is also still grossly underutilized with only a single train making a single trip to the region each week.

Should he opt to ensure the projects achieve their intentions, Ruto’s first task will be to ensure that the infrastructure lives up to its billing of interlinking Mombasa port to Kisumu Port through a robust cargo transport.

Yesterday, a senior official at the station told The Standard that the lack of enough locomotives has derailed plans to ensure the revival of the line is a success.

“There are few locomotives that is why we do not have several trips to Kisumu. Plans are also still underway to ensure that the Butere line is operational,” said the officer.

On August 1, president Uhuru commissioned the railway station and stated that it was one of the mega projects that would help transform the economy of the region. The commissioning came even as workers rushed against time to complete furnishing the station.

A few meters from the station, the construction of MV Uhuru II is also incomplete while operations at the Sh3 billion port also remain a closely-guarded secret. The heavily guarded port is also yet to benefit residents directly.

Yesterday, Eliud Owalo, one of the economic strategists for Ruto expressed optimism that some of the projects will be completed even as he stressed that only priority projects will be completed.

Owalo was the brainchild of an economic plan and charter for the region that the Ruto shared with voters during his campaign trail in the region in the build up to the polls. The plan identified areas that needed State intervention and the key sectors tipped for revival.

And yesterday, the economist claimed that there is a charter that the region signed with Ruto and will be vital in determining the key projects to be completed in the region.

“We will undertake a rapid feasibility assessment to determine the viability or otherwise of the projects and those found to be prident will be pursued to a logical conclusion,” said Owalo.

According to Owalo, Ruto’s Govt will prioritize implementation of the County Economic Charters that they signed with the people and will only consider those that are a priority.

In a separate interview with another Ruto-ally former Migori Governor Okoth Obado, the leader claimed that Ruto will serve Nyanza without discrimination. He is also optimistic that the region will benefit from other projects in Ruto's administration.

While speaking to The Standard on phone yesterday, Obado called on the Luo community to support Ruto’s presidency for them to get development projects from the national government.

"Ruto has decided to work with us without discrimination,” said Obado.

A huge task, however, awaits Ruto in ensuring that taxpayers money do not go to waste and that the projects initiated by his outgoing boss are completed.

A number of road projects that were started by the Jubilee administration in Nyanza are still incomplete including the construction of the Sh1.3 billion Ahero interchange road which was started in 2017. The construction of the much-awaited Sh25 billion Koru-Soin dam is also yet to kick off.

The completion of Kisumu-Kakamega highway is also yet to be completed more than five years since the construction began.

The planned construction of a Sh70 billion ring road that was tipped to open up the lakefront from Busia to Isibania in Migori is also yet to kick off, several years after the government completed a feasibility study. A senior Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha) official told The Standard that the road is still in the pipeline.

"There was a problem with getting funding for the project but we are optimistic that it will be implemented because it is a crucial road for the region," said the official.

Residents are also awaiting the commissioning of the Sh1.7 billion oil jetty. Although its construction was completed in 2019, the jetty is yet to start operating as Kenya waits for Uganda to complete the construction of its own receiving jetty.

While a section of residents and economists claim that the projects are yet to reach their potential, government officials have maintained that the projects are a success and have shaped the president’s legacy for the region.

Residents are upbeat that the projects Uhuru initiated has left a lasting impression and will be vital in shaping the region's economy.

Kisumu City Residents Voice chairman Audi Ogada said that Uhuru has done what has never been done since independence.

He believes the region has greatly benefited from the friendship between Raila and Uhuru and that should continue heading into the future.

Economist Israel Ogina said the projects initiated majorly during Uhuru's second term will come in handy in the near future to transform the region's economy. 

“The revival of the Kisumu Railway will also increase supply chain and movement of goods from Mombasa to the inland as compared to roads. Despite it being slower for passenger services, it will be savvier for cargo,” said Ogina who doubles up as the Chairman of Chambers of Commerce and Industries.

[Additional reporting by Washington Onyango and Caleb Kingwara].