Kenya has become the third African nation to launch a railway system built with Chinese technology.
The 480-kilometer standard gauge railway is billed as a game changer, linking the port of Mombasa to the capital of Nairobi, and later to more farflung areas and remote nations.
Ethiopia and Nigeria earlier launched their rail systems, also built with Chinese technology.
Color and pomp characterized the ceremony that saw hundreds of Kenyans join President Uhuru Kenyatta, who inaugurated the train service in Mombasa on May 31.
In his speech, Uhuru said the $3.8 billion project is bound to drive the Kenyan economy into an industrialized, middle-income status as envisioned in the nation’s development blueprint, Vision 2030.
“It is the cornerstone that will unite Kenyans and our neighbors by creating opportunities and shared prosperity,” he said. “I express my sincere gratitude to President Xi Jinping and the people of China for the collaborative support between our two countries.”
He emphasized the new system－which he named Madaraka Express, a reference to the commemoration of Kenya gaining its sovereignty in 1964－will spearhead socio-economic transformation by lowering the cost of transportation of both freight and passengers between the two cities, halve the time it takes from eight to four hours, generate jobs and open up remote areas.
Moreover, he said the introductory prices are affordable to ensure more people and businesses have easy access. “Passengers will pay a minimum of $7 while containers that have previously been charged an average $1,000 will now pay 50 percent less,” he said.
In his speech, State Councilor Wang Yong, a special envoy of President Xi, said, “This railway is an important early harvest outcome of the Belt and Road Initiative.
It is also a landmark project in China-Africa cooperation on regional networks of high-speed rail, expressway and aviation, African industrialization and industrial capacity”.
It was built by China Road and Bridge Corp.
In 2015, President Xi and Kenya’s President Kenyatta jointly witnessed the signing of the agreement to finance the project. China financed 90 percent, with the remainder funded by the Kenyan government.
“The infrastructure, once in use, is expected to improve speed and capacity of railway transport in Kenya, greatly improving trade between Mombasa and areas such as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and eastern parts of Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Robert Kagiri, the head of Nairobi think tank.
Kagiri, director of the Center for Strategic Policy Management at Africa Policy Institute, acknowledged the wisdom of awarding the management and operation of the infrastructure to a CRBC subsidiary, Australia-based John Holland.
“Having a foreign country run the railway is a ‘pathway’ to injecting professionalism from an experienced player and in the long run facilitating knowledge (skills) transfer to the local people,” he said.