Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Kenya to boost infrastructure to become a regional economic hub

Vehicles drive along the new Nairobi-Thika Super Highway  constructed by  Chinese companies in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Sept. 20, 2012. (Xinhua/Ding Haitao)
 Kenya plans to leverage its investment in infrastructure to become a regional economic hub of east and central Africa, a government official said on Monday

Kenya National Highway Authority (KENHA) Director General Meshack Kidenda told journalists in Nairobi that through enhancing its road transport network, Kenya will be able to serve land locked countries in the region. "Through investments in road infrastructure, Kenya will use its strategic location to become the economic hub of the east and central Africa," Kidenda said during a media tour of the super highway that links Nairobi with Thika town located on the outskirts of the capital.The 51 km Nairobi-Thika highway was financed by Kenya, African Development Bank and the Chinese government to the tune of 362 million U.S. dollars.Later this week, the President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki is expected to officially open the 8-lane highway which originates from Nairobi and has links to Moyale at the Kenya-Ethiopia border."The highway is the first of its kind in the region and its sets the pace for development in Kenya," he said. Kidenda noted that other road improvements will help Kenya serve the East African Community bloc's 130 million residents more efficiently.

The director general added that the road transport is the predominant mode of transport and carries about 93 percent of all cargo and passenger traffic in the country.  "The highway will also improve the efficiency in doing business especially those traveling between Thika and Nairobi," Kidenda. The highway is supported by 2 by-passes, the Eastern Bypass that connects it to another highway known as Mombasa Road, and the Northern Bypass also connecting it to another highway known as Waiyaki Way.    All the three form the trio of arteries that service large motor traffic to, from and through the heart of the Nairobi Business District.

The ongoing final works of the highway that has been expanded from the previous 4 lanes to 10 lanes in some sections include road marking, putting up pedestrian bridges and land scaping. The contractors are also waiting for power connection from the Kenya Power company to power the highways lighting system.While commuters have been the biggest gainers in having their travel time lessened, another category of big winners has been the property developers who have had the value of their property rise by up to 5 times or more as a result of better infrastructure along the 50.4 kilometre highway.

Savvy property investors are now cashing on this value by selling their property at much higher price than they bought. Owners of rental properties like apartments have also increased rent.  But public service vehicles have been forced to freeze rise in bus fares as the time taken to travel from one point to the other along the road is now shorter although some of them have used the excuse of volatility in petrol and diesel prices to revise the bus fares upwards. Winners also include local engineers who got a chance to be attached to the project and the engineering profession in general as the project forms one of the best case studies in the construction of roads. The highway is the biggest single such project in Kenya by value and size. Other beneficiaries also include the 3,500 Kenyans who got a chance to work on the project throughout its span period.

According to data from the Treasury in the current financial year, the ministry of roads has been allocated over 1.43 billion dollars in expanding and upgrading its existing road network. "The country's economic blue print Vision 2030 aspires for a country firmly interconnected through a network of roads, railways, ports, airports, water ways and telecommunications," he said.Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) Chair of Roads Sector Johnson Matu said that the road is an important link on the Great North Road from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt. He noted that the project corridor also links destinations in Somali and Ethiopia with Nairobi.  "The cost of transport is a major input for businesses and so better highways will improve the investment climate in the region," Matu said.He added that the port of Mombasa is the major port for the east African region. "However for the port to have maximum impact, it will have to be supported by advanced road and railway networks, " he said.

The KEPSA official said that the investments in roads networks will cement Kenya as the gateway to the region. "Already the region is one of the fastest growing areas in the world, and so roads will help open up hinterland markets," he said.Kenha Manager of Construction Engineer George Kiiru said that the highway is part of the international trunk road system which links major cities of Africa. "The highway is part of plans to reduce the cost of cross border trade among African nations," Kiiru said."It is also one of the highest priorities in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) short term action plan," he said.The Kenha official also said that his organization is also rehabilitating other sections of the northern Transport corridor that links Kenya with Uganda.

Project Director for Thika Super Highway Engineer Prasad Datta said that the road is a revolutionary piece of infrastructure that is expected to enhance transport services both in Kenya and the rest of the region. He added that the highway project has seen the highway upgraded from a dual a carriage way to an eight lane with traffic dispersal systems that include overpasses, underpasses and interchanges.  (Xinhua)

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