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KENYA’S NEW RAILWAY LINE: ARE WE ON THE RIGHT TRACK?

The "Lunatic Express" as it was in 1903 just outside Mombasa

The “Lunatic Express” as it was in 1903 just outside Mombasa

110 years after the ‘The Ugandan Railway’ first ran a train service from Mombasa, President Uhuru Kenyatta returned to the coastal port yesterday to ‘launch’ (that is the word all of today’s newspapers are using but the Kenya Forum questions whether you can ‘launch’ a railway) the start of construction on the new Mombasa to Nairobi standard gauge railway.

The 500 kilometers from Mombasa to Kenya’s capital city follows the same route as the old ‘Lunatic Express’ line, built by the British colonialists, or rather by 32,000 labourers brought in from India and overseen by the British, which began construction in 1896, 117 years ago.

CHINESE CONSTRUCTION

The new line will be built by the Chinese, specifically the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Phase 1 to Nairobi is due to be completed in 2018 at a cost of Sh223.6 billion and President Kenyatta hailed the development, claiming that it would cut the cost of transport between the two cities by 60 percent and dramatically cut the time taken to do it (trains will be able to run at up to 120 kph on the new track).

ONWARD TO SOUTH SUDAN

Eventually the rail line will be extended on through Uganda and Rwanda to South Sudan, the total cost of construction having by then reached an estimated Sh1.2 trillion.

The Kenya Forum welcomes the building of a vital modern railway link between the coast and Nairobi, and its later extension into East Africa. Hopefully it will increase trade, take slow-moving heavy lorries off the roads, and provide jobs for Kenyans.

It will also, of course, provide transport for the better movement of minerals from East Africa to waiting cargo ships on the coast…

PROGRESS OF SORTS

One sobering thought passed this correspondent’s mind however.

It is 110 years since the British colonialists started construction of the ‘Lunatic line’. It is all but 50 years since Kenya’s independence from those colonialists. The new railway is to be built by the Chinese. Is that progress? Or is it some form of new imperialism? Are we on the right tracks?

Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration

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