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Chinese firm handled local concerns on SGR fairly, new study shows

Workers on the standard gauge railway. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Workers on the standard gauge railway. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Chinese investors in the standard gauge railway (SGR) project generally responded fairly to local concerns, a study by US-based researchers has found.
The report of the study published by the Washington-based China Africa Research Initiative on Monday says officials of the Chinese Road and Bridge Corporation, the builder of the $3.8 billion railway, “made a visible effort to set up mechanisms to help them engage with local communities and address their concerns.”

China Africa Research Initiative is affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

The SGR investors, says the report, should not be regarded as “neo-colonial predators.”

The Chinese firm hired liaison officers and established a vocational training facility.

But the report does not lavish similar praise on the Kenyan government, blaming it alongside the country’s political culture for the problems and conflicts that arose during construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway line.

“But the company has demonstrated less flexibility on the main contract provisions, explained in part by the Kenyan government’s pressure to finish construction on time and within budget,” the report says.

Government decisions on the planning, financing and contracting of the SGR “were made with little concern for economic benefits or for maintaining accountability to the public at large.”

“In most places, the ethnic and neo-patrimonial political culture is behind the controversies and the occasional violence,” the report states. “This is compounded by a deeply entrenched problem of corruption, rent-seeking and nepotism.”

The authors of the ‘African Politics Meets Chinese Engineers’ report are Uwe Wissenbach, an official with the European Union’s European External Action Service, and Yuan Wang, a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School who has worked in China and Kenya.

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