Kenya’s Disputed Rail Miracle


Kenya recorded a very astounding railways feat as the government of Uhuru Kenyatta conceived and implemented a railway modernization programme that connect Port of Mombasa to Nairobi and by extension to other part of East Africa. Very few gave Uhuru government that likelihood of achieving that ambitious goal. Surprisingly, instead of four years, the project was comp0leted under two and half years.
Death of Lunatic Express


On May 14, 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State House signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a Standard Gauge Railways. The railway he announced 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.


“Where the colonial power was committed to in equality of treatment, division and distrust, the relationship between ourselves and China is founded, 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.


“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”, Kenyatta gladly declared then.

Rise of Uhuru Miracle

It was a century and 22 years ago today when a white colonial master stood under the skies of the picturesque island of Mombasa to launch what was called the lunatic express, the railway line that linked the Kenyan coast to the shores of Lake Victoria. Kenya gained independence from the colonial regime 68 years after that date and despite the growth of population as well as economy, the country has been stuck with the old railway line, which the lunatic express train rolled on into the interior of the country. The inadequacy of the old railway system resulted in pressure on the highway from Mombasa to Nairobi, leading to delays and exorbitant costs of commuting and movement of cargo.


When President Uhuru Kenyatta came into office, three President’s and 50 years after Kenya became independent, he pledged to replace the colonial railway. He promised to construct a Standard Gauge Railway line to replace the inadequate one. For a country previously known for unfulfilled Government promises and grand Government pledges that were mismanaged, many Kenyans assumed President Kenyatta’s promise, given in the early days of his Presidency, could be of a similar ilk. But President Kenyatta’s promise was one he intended to fulfill by all means necessary.


The groundbreaking ceremony for the SGR project was held on November 28, 2013 and as per the initial project plan, its completion was set for five years afterwards. President Kenyatta however had a different plan all together and he put this into effect by adopting a hands-on approach to ensure he influenced the progress of the project. He held a management conference with the project implementers – China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and relevant Government agencies every three months and the location of the meeting was most often at the field offices of CCCC.


Additionally, President Kenyatta opened direct communication lines for the Chinese company to access him or any other Government official to address any challenges they faced in terms of funding, cooperation with Government or even issues arising from communities. Financing was never a challenge from the beginning since President Kenyatta had secured full financing for the project from the China Exim Bank when he paid a State visit to China in 2013, his first State Visit outside Africa. Most of the challenges concerned obstacles in the form of compensation or access for land and most of the issues were dealt with promptly. This resulted in the project being completed in the short period of two and a half years instead of the five years initially planned for.


As he launched the passenger service of the modern rail service , President Kenyatta beamed with the smile of a man who had accomplished a once in a lifetime challenge. He told Kenyans to be proud of the country’s achievement, which will be a cornerstone for future development. “This is a historic day and it is a day that everyone of us should feel proud to be a Kenyan,” said the President.


He said the SGR is a milestone marking Kenya’s transformation to an industrialized, prosperous and middle-income country. He said the SGR replaces the lunatic train, which despite criticisms at the time of its construction, became the foundation for Kenya in its early years.


“Today, despite criticism and opposition, we have launched the Madaraka Express to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years,” said the President when he spoke at the Mombasa Terminus in Miritini.


Deputy President William Ruto said the SGR is one of Kenya’s biggest milestones and is as a result of the commitment of the Government. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a high level delegation led by a special envoy, State Councillor Wang Yong, to deliver his message of congratulations to President Kenyatta. Mr Wong said President Jinping was proud of the completion of the project, which is a result of China’s cooperation with Kenya for mutual gain.


The passenger train reduces the travelling time between Mombasa and Nairobi to between 4 to 5 hours. It takes travellers an average of 9 to 10 hours to travel by bus between the two cities. The SGR also reduces the cost of moving goods as the cargo train takes only five hours to move between the two towns. President Kenyatta launched the cargo services at a colourful ceremony at Port Ritz, Mombasa last evening. The SGR is expected to transform the economy and landscape of Kenya in a similar fashion as the lunatic express changed the face of Kenya.


Speaking before getting into the inaugural SGR passenger train for the historic ride from Mombasa to Nairobi, President Kenyatta said he felt proud of his administration’s achievement. “I am proud to be associated with this achievement. We have started the journey,” said the President.

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