China hints at renewed funding for Kenya’s rail megaproject

The new Nairobi station on Kenya’s fledgling standard gauge railway (Macabe5387/CC BY-SA 4.0)
China has hinted that it may renew funding of Kenya’s standard gauge railway (SGR), which presently runs from the port of Mombasa to the town of Naivasha, about 120km northwest of Nairobi.

The line was to have continued to the Ugandan border, but when Kenya asked for funds to extend the line to the Lake Victoria port of Kisumu in September 2018, China said instead that a commercial viability study should be carried out on the entire line, reflecting Beijing’s more cautious approach to overseas infrastructure investment.

Now Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, has said talks may begin on renewing funding. Wang made his remarks during a tour of China-funded projects in Mombasa last week, accompanied by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He said the SGR project has been prioritised for completion as part of a masterplan for transport infrastructure in the Horn of Africa, reports The South China Morning Post.

He also defended China’s record against claims that loans were intended to lure African countries into a debt trap. “That is simply not a fact. It is speculation being played out by some people with ulterior motives,” Wang told journalists.

According to the plan, the SGR will be extended to meet a line running through Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, and eventually the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, the link between Addis Ababa and Djibouti, inaugurated in January 2018, will be extended to Eritrea, which Wang also visited on this trip.

The masterplan envisages ports on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Wang said: “This is part of our effort to help this region accelerate the building of industrial belts and economic belts to create more jobs.”

Kenya borrowed $3bn from China to build the 472km stretch from Mombasa to Nairobi and $1.5bn to continue it to Naivasha. Since the first phase was completed in 2017, freight and passenger services have not earned as much revenue as was predicted, and Kenya has sought in various ways to reduce the financial burden of its repayments (see further reading).

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