BEIJING, China, May 14 – Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia is in visibly high spirits as he looks out at the Beijing skyline and says, “in five years this will be us.”
The ‘this’ in reference to the high-rise buildings in front of us and the winding roads down below.
The reason for his good mood, he says, is the Standard Gauge Railway. “In the next 20 days we shall be launching the largest ever infrastructure project in Africa of the last 100 years and 18 months ahead of schedule at that.”
A badge of honour, he said, that had earned Kenya a seat at the table – one of only two African seats – of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China; a coming together intended to improve trade and relations through infrastructure development, the rebuilding of a modern day ‘silk road’.
And a visit from which Kenya, Macharia said, intended to walk away with a partnership agreement for the dualing of the Northern and Eastern bypasses.
“After we did the Eastern bypass, those of you who have used it are aware that it’s already clogged up. There are jams day in, day out. We shall be requesting for the dualing of that bypass from Embakassi to Ruiru as part of the asks in our visit here. We shall also be requesting for the dualing of the Northern bypass which comes from Ruiru to Ruaka.”
A bargain from which Kenya, Macharia said, would emerge the greater beneficiary given decades of, “misery,” arising from the absence of a proper road network. “China Exim bank will of course make a small profit from the loan as will the Chinese companies contracted to do the work but Kenyans will reap the most.”
Local contractors, Macharia said, lack the capacity to solely undertake projects of such a massive scale but who could benefit from partnering and learning from their more experienced Chinese counterparts. “You have to walk before you can run,” he said.
As the General Election draws near, Macharia made the case that no administration could rival what President Kenyatta’s had managed to achieve in the last four years in terms of pushing Kenya’s infrastructural development forward. “No county will be left behind,” he said in reference to 10,000km ‘mashinani’ (countryside) road project intended to improve access to markets.
A cable car connecting the North and South Coast, Macharia said, would also be commissioned in a few weeks time and ready 14 months after that with the aim of easing the strain on the ferry crossing system by carrying 300,000 passengers across daily.
The Opposition has however raised concern that that Kenya risks buckling under the pressure of a debt burden borne of the pursuit of the Beijing dream.