It takes a great idea to implement a national vision, and SGR is one

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Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968, once said: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

Progress can mean many things. It can mean progress in the area of human rights and equality, a fight Chisholm was centrally involved with in the US. Progress can also mean breaking stale and moribund paradigms that do not benefit the people.

Recently, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence, began its second phase connecting Nairobi to Naivasha, in Nakuru County.

As usual, we are hearing from a bevy of critics and cynics who try and pick apart every aspect of this exciting event and make every positive into a negative.

Some point to the fact that it could harm Mombasa, while ignoring the fact that it will decongest and take the pressure off a port currently overloaded. However, these same critics ignore the recent developments like the link road from Tsavo East to Malindi, the Dongo Kundu Bypass, the Garsen-Witu road, the Bamba-Mariakani road, and other projects recently implemented that will improve the economy of the coastal region.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is highly cognisant that with all the progress, some initial pain is to be expected for much longer-term gain, and with that in mind he created the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Mombasa County, to increase job opportunities for locals and people in the coast.

Other critics talk of the number of “ghost-towns” on the new route. These critics lack the vision needed to see that the reason they are ghost-towns is because there hasn’t been the necessary infrastructure to bring jobs, commerce and vibrancy to the area. The SGR will invigorate these towns and in a few years, the SGR will no longer pass any ghost-towns but lively and progressive places to live, work and do business.

Finally, some have dubbed the new SGR line as the “train to nowhere”.

This is a disservice to the people who live along this line. It is an elitist and highly conservative attitude which basically says that what is, is what should ever be. We do not want change, progress or development.
There is no “nowhere” in Kenya, there is only potential, and Uhuru sees that. If Kenya is to meet its goals, then the whole nation needs to be engaged and invested in.

The SGR is visionary because it creates a new interconnected Kenya, a Kenya where regions and counties are brought closer to each other. This increases trade and commerce, spurs growth and the ease of doing business between Kenyans formerly too far apart to do so.

Critics have focused on the cost of the project, but it is clear to every economist that this is a vital investment in Kenyan progress and development and the line will pay for itself and turn a profit within a relatively short period of time.

Kenya is moving full steam ahead under Uhuru, a leader with vision who will not be burdened by the unsustainable status quo which privileges some Kenyans over others.

The President seems to have always seen Kenya as one indivisible constituency where his big plans like the Big Four Agenda will leave no Kenyan behind, not in Maai Mahiu and not in Nairobi or Mombasa.

When the First Transcontinental Railroad was created in the 1860s in the US, there were countless “ghost towns” and even tent cities along this ambitious project. Now, these small hamlets are called Chicago or Los Angeles, and in some areas, like modern-day Atlanta, there wasn’t even a single person living there until the railroad came through.

It took a visionary to see the potential.

However, like here, in the US at the time there were those who stood on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. Thankfully, for the American people, they were ignored, and the rest is history.

Kenya is currently undergoing tremendous transformation.

It takes vision and courage to see a brighter future, but nothing but a soapbox to criticise.

In history, it is clear that those who implement ideas are the visionaries and those who effect change for the better, those who obstruct progress, are more often than not merely consigned to the dustbin of history.


Mr Mugolla comments on topical issues. Email: [email protected]

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