11 May 2014

Kenya Signs Standard Gauge Railway Agreement With China

Photo: Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
A railway track used to transport Vale’s shipments of coal from their mine in Moatize to the port in Beira.

Nairobi — Kenya and China today signed an agreement on the financing of the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway project.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was joined by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and three Heads of State from the East African region to witness the signing ceremony at State House, Nairobi.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Salva Kiir of South Sudan jetted into the country last night to participate in the signing ceremony of the first phase of the railway project which is expected to change the region's economic landscape. Burundi was represented by a cabinet minister.

The ceremony was the climax of the Chinese Premier's three-day State Visit to Kenya, which ends today.

The first phase of the project will cover 609.3 kilometers from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi and will cost $3.6 billion (Sh314.2 billion at todays exchange rate). 90 per cent of the financing will come from China Exim Bank while the remaining 10 per cent will be from the Government of Kenya.

The Standard Gauge Railway is aimed at providing efficient and cost effective rail transport for both freight and passengers. It is intended to reduce the cost of doing business by reducing the cost of transport, a move that will see Kenya become a competitive business hub for the East African region and beyond.

Passenger trains will have a speed of 120 kilometers per hour while those for freight will be designed to move at 80 kilometers an hour.

It will take passengers four hours and 30 minutes to travel from Mombasa to Nairobi while freight will take eight hours. The project is slated to kick off on October 1st and take 42 months to complete.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, President Kenyatta said Kenya "has found an honourable partner in China".

The President said the new railway will be built by consent and partnership unlike the old railway line which was built by colonialists by force.

He thanked the Chinese government and leaders of the East African region for partnering with Kenya in developing infrastructure.

President Kenyatta said Kenya would continue making development strides in partnership with dependable friends.

"We have shown our ambition. We have rejected the mediocrity of simply sticking with what we have. We have found partners of equal determination. It now falls to us to complete the project as rapidly as we know we can" he said.

The Chinese Premier emphasized that China's engagement with Kenya and Africa as a whole was based on a concept of mutual benefit.

He said closer partnership between Africa and China with a combined population of more than 2.4 billion people "can change the landscape of global development".

Mr Li said China's partnership with Africa was more than cooperation on single projects but was "a communication linking the hearts and minds of people".

He called on all Chinese companies involved in the project to ensure they supply the best equipments and adhere to all local laws.

The Premier said the Chinese firms will be required to transfer skills to local workers and be meticulous in their roles.

President Museveni who spoke on behalf of the visiting Heads of State retraced China's friendship with the people of Africa.

"China has stood with the people of Africa since 1949 in the anti-colonial struggle. It was only the Soviet and China who supported Africa when it was colonized," he said.

The Ugandan leader sent everyone roaring with laughter when he compared China's engagement with Africa to the continent's relations with western countries.

"China is concentrating on real issues. They don't give lectures on how to run local governments and other issues I don't want to mention," he said.

Museveni praised President Kenyatta, who is the chairman of East African Community, for spearheading the integration process of the region.

"Uhuru is a real East African" he said, and paraphrasing the bible, he added, "you will know them by their fruits and not by their words"

The agreements for the construction and financing of the project were signed by Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich and the president of China Exim Bank Li Ruogu.

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