- Mention the Mombasa highway, the Thika Super Highway, the Isiolo-Moyale Road and the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (LAPSET), Konza City and Isiolo Airport and you have a complete picture on how far the dreams have metamorphosed.
- Ever since the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway in early 1900s, projects with regional focus have been rare. But the dream envisaged by Cecil Rhodes has somehow never faded.
- The completion of the Thika Super Highway sparked a real estate boom and several housing projects got underway. These include Tatu City, Migaa, Fourways Junction, Thika Greens Golf Estate, Flame Tree, Oakfield Valley and Jacaranda Gardens.
- While it is estimated that Konza will take 20 years to build, it is seen as one of the government’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative to improve much-neglected infrastructure over the next 18 years.
What started as an imperial dream of building a Pan African Highway from Cape to Cairo – the fantasy of Cecil Rhodes – has continued to inform some of the most ambitious infrastructure development in the last 50 years.
Mention the Mombasa highway, the Thika Super Highway, the Isiolo-Moyale Road and the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (LAPSET), Konza City and Isiolo Airport and you have a complete picture on how far the dreams have metamorphosed.
It is not in doubt that Kenya is now (and in the future) taking advantage of its geographical location through investment in infrastructure to spur economic development in the country – and beyond.
At the Kenyan Coast two projects whose ramifications will go beyond the Kenyan borders are underway and include the expansion of the Mombasa port and the building of the new Lamu Port, a multi-billion dollar investment that will link the port to Ethiopia and Sudan.
Also, the proposed Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Kampala will showcase infrastructural development of the region and open up commerce routes.
Ever since the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway in early 1900s, projects with regional focus have been rare. But the dream envisaged by Cecil Rhodes has somehow never faded.
Rhodes, a mining magnate who became the face of imperial rule in Southern Africa, had thought of the Great North Road, akin to the Pan American Highway, connecting all the British colonies in Africa (The only gap was Tanganyika which was under the Germans).
It would also link some of the emerging cities – from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Harare (then Salisbury), Lusaka, Nairobi, Khartoum and finally Cairo. While the dream almost vanished as African nations fought for independence, countries struggled to improve parts of the Great North Road.
The collapse of the East African Community in 1977, which could have given the dream some impetus saw the project delayed. The closure of the Kenya-Tanzania border at Namanga, where the Great North Road entered Kenya, meant that its importance was diminished.
In Kenya, the full tarmac Nairobi-Mombasa Highway was opened on the morning of August 8, 1968 by President Kenyatta with the intention of linking the port of Mombasa to the Great North Road.
However, it was not until 1980s that the Great North Road idea was finally revived and given a new fillip by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union.
The missing gaps in the 10,228-km highway were not only identified but nations were enticed with new funding to turn the dream into a reality.
Real estate boom
And it is in line with that plan that the AfDB came to fund the Nairobi-Thika Superhighway (see separate story on page 4) by contributing the largest share of the US $360 million total cost.
The work involved the construction of additional lanes and replacing roundabouts at several locations with interchanges.
The highway is part of the international trunk road connecting Nairobi city with Ethiopia to the north, starting on Uhuru Highway in Nairobi at three points – namely Haile Selassie Avenue, University Way and Museum Hill interchanges, which converge at Pangani.
The construction was divided into three lots with the section between Nairobi and Kenyatta University financed by the AfDB and the Kenya Government to the tune of $260 million. Of these, the government contributed $80 million, while the Exim Bank of China financed the next two upgrades from Kenyatta University to Thika at a cost of $100 million.
The completion of the Thika Super Highway sparked a real estate boom and several housing projects got underway. These include Tatu City, Migaa, Fourways Junction, Thika Greens Golf Estate, Flame Tree, Oakfield Valley and Jacaranda Gardens.
Also the once lush green coffee and sisal ranches have started to give way for the construction of residential houses. Businesses are also thriving and commuters are taking less time to reach their destination.
The Northern Corridor Transport Improvement Project – part of the Cape-Cairo dream – has registered significant success in Kenya with major sections now nearly complete.
The completed sections of the road include: Miritini to Maji ya Chumvi (35km), Machakos turnoff to Athi River (33km), Maai Mahiu-Naivasha-Lanet (94km), Lanet-Nakuru-Njoro turnoff (15km), and Njoro turnoff-Mau Summit-Timboroa (83km).
It has also seen the rehabilitation of Sultan Hamud to Machakos turnoff (55km) and Machakos turnoff-JKIA Road (59.5km). It also saw the reconstruction works on Timboroa-Eldoret (73km), Eldoret-Webuye (60km) and Webuye-Malaba (62km).
Under Vision 2030, Kenya plans to grow the economy by 10 per cent annually by achieving development goals, including infrastructure projects such as roads and airports. In the arid zones of Isiolo, an alternative economic corridor in northern Kenya has started to take shape with the construction of the new Sh900 million Isiolo Airport.
Isiolo is the epicentre of the multi-billion-shilling effort to open up northern Kenya, landlocked Ethiopia and South Sudan with the building of a separate Standard Gauge Railway line, a highway and an oil pipeline that runs from the Lamu port to South Sudan.
Another infrastructural development that will change the air transport is the expansion of the Kenyatta International Airport. The construction of JKIA has remained one of the most significant developments in the last 50 years. Opened in 1979 by President Moi, the JKIA was funded by the World Bank and the Government and has been on the drawing board since 1972.
It was designed to cater for the increasing number of people who were coming to Kenya and stretching the facilities at Wilson and age-old Embakasi airports. This month, the government announced that Kenya Airport Authority had secured full funding offers worth Sh57 billion ($653 million) from three banks to build a new terminal and second runway at its main airport.
When completed, the expanded airport will give the facility a capacity to handle more passengers and cargo. The airport was built to handle 2.5 million passengers annually and has been facing challenges handling the six million passengers who go through it annually.
Another dream that will spur the regional economic growth is the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (LAPSSET) whose ground-breaking ceremony was officiated by President Kibaki, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in March, 2012.
The massive infrastructure project is expected to cost a whopping $24.5 billion and is the single largest such project since independence. The LAPSSET project will see the construction of an oil refinery transportation centres for rail, road and air, pipelines from South Sudan and a mega port for oil tankers.
With the discovery of oil in Kenya, it is envisaged that the pipelines will also connect to the Turkana oil fields. An Economic Outlook Report released last week by PineBridge Investments East Africa says oil and minerals could contribute more than five per cent of the country’s gross domestic product once production and export commences in the next four years.
The share of revenues earned from these sectors is expected to expand further in the medium to long term. “Oil production has the potential to radically change the structure of the Kenyan economy.
Oil will allow Kenya to diversify export earnings, slow down the import bill and act as a catalyst for infrastructural spending especially on the transport network,” said Nicholas Ithondeka, investment manager at PineBridge.
The infrastructure projects will help Kenya exploit this potential. It is expected that each of the three countries under LAPSSET will contribute money towards the $24.5 billion project based on their proportionate perceived benefits.
The new Lamu Port will supplement the Mombasa port which is regarded as the gateway to East Africa and serves the landlocked nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Once completed, the Lamu Port will have 32 berths and provide economic opportunities to thousands of Kenyans with the first three becoming operational by 2015. Another development has been at the port of Mombasa which this year saw the opening of a new berth that allows the world’s largest ships to dock at the port.
While commissioning the facility, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the new berth expanded the port’s capacity to handle an additional 250,000 20-foot-equivalent container units (TEUs) annually. The Sh5.6 billion berth number 19 was reclaimed from the sea, is 13.5 metres deep – meaning it can handle the 250 metre-long Panamax vessels – the world’s largest ships.
The event was attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda again showing how Kenya was strategically developing its infrastructure to exploit regional trade by reducing the pile up of cargo at the port and subsequent spillover into private container terminals.
Cargo pressure at port
For years, the cargo pressure on the port of Mombasa had considerably raised the cost of imports and exports and investors were forced to spend more in demurrage costs and leasing space for excess cargo at the privately-owned cargo freight stations.
The previous Mombasa port was designed to handle 250,000 TEUs per year, but in recent years cargo volumes have grown exponentially to reach 903,463 TEUs.
In the last 10 years, the construction of new roads was accelerated and 928.7km was upgraded, while a further 1,656km of road network was rehabilitated.
The road construction has been one of the biggest projects undertaken recently with the opening of new sections.
Another mega project in the works is the proposed construction of a double-track standard-gauge railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Kampala and then to Kigali. Kenya has announced that it has secured funding from China to replace the over 100-year-old line constructed by the British as part of their East African empire.
The construction is expected to start in November, 2013 and to be completed in early 2018. It is expected that the Kenyan portion of approximately 1,300km will cost about Sh445 billion.
President Kenyatta signed agreements worth sh425 billion ($4.8 billion) with China during his recent tour. He said that the standard gauge railway would provide better access to markets to goods from Kenya as well as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Once complete, the SGR will allow freight trains to go up to speeds of 120kph while passenger trains will attain 180kph. Elsewhere, the construction of $14.5-billion Konza City, an IT business hub known as “Africa’s Silicon Savannah,” is already underway.
While it is estimated that Konza will take 20 years to build, it is seen as one of the government’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative to improve much-neglected infrastructure over the next 18 years. While the dream of Cecil Rhodes was for a Cape-Cairo route, the current dreams have gone further.
It includes building of bigger ports, new cities, modern railway and an expansive road network. In the next 50 years, the dreams will have become a reality, perhaps.