After much speculation, official agreements have been signed in the Kenya to have the Chinese build a new railway line in East Africa. The reason there has been so much speculation not enough substantial reports on the matter is because of the ‘dark cloud’ that surrounds the railway in the first place. Although all the East African governments have embraced the project, the civil society and NGO’s are raising red flags. Their concerns stem from the fact that the tendering process was expensive and closed; there has been no mention of maintaining the infrastructure and lastly ‘the Chinese plague.’
The railway is aimed to improve transport in the region and as a result development, as most of the time farmers lose their crops even before they have the chance to get them to the market. It is part of the bigger picture that is the LAPSET project. Looking it at from this perspective it is easy to see why anyone would be enthusiastic about the railway, it could do big things for the region. “The cost of moving our people and our goods across our borders will fall sharply,” said the Kenyan President about the railway at the signing ceremony. He went on to say the new link should cut the cost of sending a tonne of freight one kilometre from 20 US cents to eight. This of course will have an effect on the price of these goods being transported as the high cost of living is spreading across the region.
However the issue of the Chinese plague cannot be ignored, or brushed off. Chinese companies have already been awarded to complete the roads that will link the region as part of the LAPSET project and now they have been awarded the railway tender as well. “No country in the world lends with no strings attached,” said Naidu – an opinion maker in the Kenyan capital. And he is absolutely right! The Chinese are putting up 90% of the funding needed for this project with the East Africans having to put up 10%. Secondly, there is the issue if this railway is even necessary to begin with. Roads are being constructed which are easier to maintain, airports are being renovated, is a railway which would be expensive to maintain really essential in the first place?
Photo Credits: Associated Press