11 May 2014

Kenya: Speech By His Excellency Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces of the Republic of Kenya On the Signing of the Standard Gauge Railway Agreements At State House, Nairobi On 11th May, 2014


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Kenya. Your presence today, as we celebrate the agreements on the Standard Gauge Railway, is a reminder of the power and promise of solidarity - both within East Africa, and between Africa and Asia.

We gather today to observe the signing of agreements for the new standard gauge railway whose construction will connect one end of Kenya to another, and eventually unify all of East Africa, from the ocean to the mountains of the interior. The costs of moving our people and our goods within across our borders will fall sharply; the better to hasten the East African integration to which we are all committed.

No project of this magnitude could have been completed without the help of our friends. We will best appreciate the scale of the help we have received from our partners in the People's Republic of China if we remember our history.

The Kenya-Uganda Railway was built by a colonial power that sought to dominate East Africa's coast and interior. This is not mere conjecture, but the admission of the builders themselves: they had seized a colony, they had to hold it and make it pay for its own domination. And so the Lunatic Express, as it was later to become known, took shape.

The old line has shaped our history: this very city in which we meet today would not be here, were it not for the old railway. But that line is now obsolete: our populations have grown so fast, our trade has grown so quickly, and our integration has become so tight, that it simply will not do. The old line was built by a colonial power for colonial ends, and it has never escaped the marks of its birth.

Some time ago, Kenya, together with our regional partners, conceived a plan to build an entire new transport corridor, the key element of which would a new standard gauge railway, replacing the old line.

Today, we celebrate the signing of the agreements for that new line. After setbacks, and heated disagreements, we found a honourable partner in the People's Republic of China.

Where the colonial power was committed to inequality of treatment, division and distrust, the relationship between ourselves and China is founded, as the Prime Minister reminded us recently, on four basic principles: treating each other sincerely and equally; consolidating solidarity and mutual trust; jointly pursuing inclusive development; and promoting inventive practical cooperation between our countries.

The Standard Gauge Railway is an especially clear application of these principles. Where the old railway was built by force and violence, against the wishes of those whose land it divided, the new railway is built by consent and partnership, both between ourselves and China, and between the governments which will prosper and profit by it.

It is enough to say that we are deeply grateful for the help that we have received, both from China and from our neighbours. But it is not enough to rest content with what we will achieve. The People's Republic of China will soon be the world's largest economy. Its return, after two centuries, to that position has lessons to teach us, not least that infrastructure matters.

It also reminds us of the priority of tightening our ties, both as a nation, and as a region, with China. Premier Li identified five areas in which China and Africa could enhance their cooperation - in industry, in finance, in poverty reduction, in ecological protection, in people to people exchanges - and crucially, he also identified peace and security as a core concern for relations between Africa and China in years to come.

Both as President of Kenya, and as Chair of the EAC, I am pleased to agree with him that those are areas in which we look to cooperate ever more closely. The partnership that has been made firm by this project is one that will only strengthen.

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.

I thank you, and now let me invite the Premier to make a few remarks.

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