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State House says SGR financing was not on Kenyatta’s Beijing agenda

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 28 – State House has assertively refuted reports that Kenya unsuccessfully lobbied for a concessional financing arrangement for the extension of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Naivasha to Kisumu during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to China which ended on Saturday.

Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, in a statement issued Saturday evening, said the extension of the modern rail beyond Naivasha was not on President Kenyatta’s agenda, terming news reports that the Head of State had failed to secure funding for the Naivasha-Kisumu segment as incorrect and misleading.

“It is important to note that the question of funding for the extension of the Standard Gauge Railway from Naivasha to Kisumu was not on the agenda of the meeting between the two Presidents. It therefore follows that the President cannot be said to be returning home empty handed for something he did not request,” he said.

Waita however said Kenyatta and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, discussed the planned construction of an Industrial Park at the Naivasha Special Economic Zone with a groundbreaking ceremony set for June ahead of the completion of the Sh150 billion Nairobi-Naivasha SGR segment in August.

“The President extended a welcome to Chinese companies interested in establishing industries in Kenya’s Special Economic Zones to come and visit the site,” he noted.

Waita termed the onward development of SGR to Kisumu as a complex process given its regional significance saying the completion of negotiations for funding will involve several countries and could therefore “take several years of intricate negotiations.”

African Union Envoy on Infrastructure who accompanied President Kenyatta to China had indicated that SGR financing was part of the agenda of the Beijing visit, Raila Odinga telling a public gartering construction of the Naivasha- Kisumu segment would commence next year.

“We’re going to China with President Kenyatta to negotiate SGR construction deals so that next year the railway can continue from Naivasha, Narok, Nyamira, Sondu, and finally to the Lakeport in Kisumu,” the Orange Democratic Movement leader had said.

Although no clear timeline had been set by the government for the commencement of work on the Naivasha-Kisumu rail, it emerged on Friday that the government was putting on hold the construction of the line linking Naivasha to the lakeside city of Kisumu.

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The government instead opted to rehabilitate the aging Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) line linking Naivasha to Kisumu at the cost of Sh40 billion.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the State broadcaster KBC, at the end of a three-day visit by President Kenyatta to China, that the ministry will model Naivasha as a trans-shipment centre from where cargo arriving on the SGR from Mombasa will be transferred to the existing metre gauge rail to Malaba for further hauling to neighboring Uganda.

“What we’ve prioritized is making sure that when goods get to Naivasha, they’re not marooned. What is important is to make sure we have connectivity by ensuring that we have a transshipment point in Naivasha from SGR to MGR,” Macharia who is part of Kenyatta’s three-minister delegation said on Friday.

He said the move will save on time and ensure seamless transportation of cargo from the port of Mombasa to Kampala.

“What is urgent right now is the connectivity in Naivasha because we’ve the MGR going all the way to Malaba and Kampala. We want to make the MGR line more viable by connecting it to SGR,” the CS pointed out.

Kenya had last year proposed the splitting of a $3.8 billion funding for the Naivasha-Kisumu SGR with half the sum being loaned with the other half given as a grant owing to its significant to the region.

Uganda last year halted the construction of its SGR, casting doubt on Uganda’s commitment to the project.

Yoweri Museveni’s government has instead embarked on the rehabilitation of its metre-gauge railway after receiving a €21.5 million funding from the European Union in 2018 to repair an aging 375 km railway line between Tororo and Gulu.

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