US government and Bechtel line up for Kenyan super-highway

In a rare show of initiative on African infrastructure, the US government in partnership with engineering giant Bechtel has registered an interest in building a new super-highway in Kenya.

Following a strategy long pursued by China, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a government development financier, has begun talks with Kenya on financing the planned six-lane highway running from the port city of Mombasa 485km inland to the capital, Nairobi.

Andrew Patterson, Bechtel’s regional president for Africa (Bechtel)

OPIC wants San Francisco-headquartered Bechtel to be involved, and the US Export Import Bank signed a letter of intent to deliver the highway, intended to unclog the current two-lane road, on 21 September.

The news came just as Kenya’s transport minister James Macharia was announcing the ambitious road expansion plan to Kenyans.

He said the highway, crucial for speeding the flow of goods from the port inland, would be procured as a public-private partnership, newspaper Daily Nation reported.

"We commend the Kenyan Government and Bechtel for their excellent work in developing this vital project which will connect markets to greater economic possibilities and look forward to the opportunity to bolster this effort," OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth L. Littlefield said on 21 September after signing a "letter of interest" with the Kenyan government.

China was building 14% of all major projects in Africa as of June last year, according to the latest edition of the Deloitte African Construction Trends, released in February this year.

In 2013 the US Government Accountability Office warned Congress that China’s trade with Africa had far outstripped America’s thanks to China’s decades-long strategy of investing in African infrastructure.

Andrew Patterson (pictured), Bechtel’s regional president for Africa, said: "Building new infrastructure is critical for every country, especially in Africa where there is an urgent need for the next generation of ports, rail, and highways to encourage the development and diversification of the continent’s economies."

He added: "With the support of US Government agencies such as OPIC and the Export Import Bank, we can provide solutions to move this critical project forward quickly with a high standard of quality and safety."

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  1. Good move Bechtel and USS

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