Express development: Why Mombasa road will be a gamechanger

A park-like beautified roundabout at Lebanoni area in Mombasa County on April 28, 2021. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Greetings, good people! It’s almost Christmas so in the spirit of generosity, I will not revisit Prezzo Bill Ruto’s media interview last weekend.

I don’t know who advised it, but I suppose when things are going wrong, some may feel it’s better to say something instead of keeping mum.

We also know silence can be golden, especially when certain utterances aggravate the situation, as did Prezzo Ruto’s declaration that he doesn’t control the cost of living.

This time last year, he shouted from the rooftops—and the top of his vehicles—that he knew how to bring down the cost of living. Obviously, there is a connection between the two summations.

But we shall not delve into that presidential interview, a veritable train-wreck that left no doubt that his administration is on autopilot mode, adrift to an unknown destination.

Perhaps that’s a harsh assessment, so I’ll retract. In the spirit of generosity, I will let the past lie in the past and focus on the future. And the future that I have in mind happened only yesterday, when a major policy decision was announced: a new road, connecting Mombasa to Nairobi, is on the way. Yes, the same port city that’s connected by air, tarmac, and two rail services.

Now they say Mombasa needs an expressway. The project was first mooted in 2018, while the Nairobi-Mombasa Special Gauge Rail was in the offing, and it sounded like an absurdity to be building a new road while a rail going in the same direction was under way. And we still had the old rail.

In any case, a major donor had trust issues with one of the contractors assigned to undertake the task, so the project was suspended. But since Kenya is Kenya, an idea that seemed to make no sense five years ago has been resurrected because, perhaps, it has accumulated in value. And so have the costs.

The latter element is vital. The money must be adequate to share out.

The initial quoted price has grown exponentially, perhaps because of foreign currency differential, or it could be that a few zeroes have been added to the fee, and Kenyans should stay calm because the price has not increased by adding a zero or two.

In the same breath, one might work backwards and say what the new road seeks to cure is congestion on our roads, so it’s safe to say adding more wagons could do the trick. By adding value to one infrastructural project, say the rail, you diminish the prospects of fresh business, the sort that stimulates the economy by creating opportunities.

Start with purchase of land. Oooh, how Kenyans just love land. It will be so exorbitantly priced, it will necessitate a commission of inquiry to sort real prices from the inflated ones, and that alone is an avenue to recruit those who failed at the polls to public offices. These commissioners will have aides running their offices. Rent for premises go to private individuals.

Then there is the economy of building a road: shanty towns will emerge along the way, paving the way for slum lords and protectors; night guards and washmen; food vendors and hawkers; prostitutes and conmen. And we haven’t even looked at the supplies in the road construction, or even the kickbacks from the contractors and allied workers.

But we could accelerate our economic recovery even faster if we create superhighways for boda boda and tuktuk and donkey-pulled mkokoteni. That might sound like an absurdity, but only time will tell… As Bob Marley sings, things are not the way they used to be. Don’t ask me why.