Columnists

Infrastructure projects that will have great impact on the economy

sgr

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was launched as a game changer for Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In his Madaraka Day speech President Uhuru remarked – “it is not the infrastructure that is the end objective, it is what we do with it”. It is the direct and indirect socio-economic benefits from the infrastructure that count.

However, there are some who emphasize the debt burden associated with projects, while others decry corruption associated with projects. While these two issues deserve analysis to seek corrections, they should not be used to justify avoiding essential infrastructure investments.

Specifically, the recently introduced PPP project financing model provides avenues for national debt containment while reducing opportunities for corruption.

The budget estimates announced last week were justifiably loaded with development expenditure to complete many ongoing infrastructure projects, for indeed incomplete projects reflect stranded taxpayers’ money and delayed economic value addition.

I will here analyse socio-economic impacts of a number of key Jubilee infrastructure projects, which I consider having the most socio-economic impacts now and in the future.

I rank SGR as the most transformational project with huge potential for national and regional business. SGR extension to Naivasha is the game changer which will open up a new logistics and economic hub in an otherwise empty part of the country.

This plus enhanced transportation efficiency and safety are the unspoken socio-economic paybacks for the SGR debt. SGR financial returns should always be discussed together with associated socio-economic benefits.

Ongoing MGR linkages with Kisumu and Uganda will provide immediate regional connections, awaiting future SGR investments further west. To enhance economic impacts, the SGR should be electrified to use cheaper locally produced electricity in place of imported diesel so as to conserve foreign exchange while earning green credits.

My second ranking is Dongo Kudu by-pass connecting Mombasa and Kwale counties. By-passing the Likoni ferry and Mombasa Island will enable quick and efficient linkages with Tanzania and northern parts of the coast, while significantly opening up the South Coast to major economic activities, especially tourism.

The planned Dongo Kudu economic hub will prompt development of a new industrial town with major economic benefits for the two counties.

The third placement is Lamu port, a “nucleus” project that will stimulate economic opening up of the other half of Kenya- the northern pastoral counties. The full economic value for Lamu port will be realized when feeder infrastructure to Lamu is in place. This includes a through highway all the way to Lokichar in Turkana County.

When fully completed the Lapsset projects tied to the new port, will push socio-economic equalisation of northern Kenya communities with the rest of Kenya, while significantly improving security.

Not much talked about, but economically impactful, is the new Kibwezi-Kitui highway linking the Mombasa corridor with Thika/Garissa Road. It will significantly shorten distances between Mombasa and eastern, central, and northern towns of Kenya, and indeed Ethiopia as it by-passes Nairobi. It is a key Jubilee project that will open up Kitui and Makueni counties.

The ongoing Nairobi Expressway is a major PPP experiment that is expected to transform the image of our national capital from a clogged city to one with traffic that flows.

The Expressway benefits should be evaluated together with numerous other completed and ongoing road projects in the Metropolis.

The ongoing rationalisation of metropolis transport systems will influence where residential and commercial investments are located while significantly reducing expensive traffic snarl-ups. Similarly, the ongoing Mombasa infrastructure upgrade will return the city to its past glory.

Across the country, new and upgraded inter-town and rural roads are a visible feature of infrastructure opening up remote corners of most counties - a major plus for agricultural production, trade, and tourism.

However, my greatest disappointment is that Kenyan contractors have been missing in the infrastructure development, with the Chinese undertaking nearly all jobs including those in remote villages. How did we miss the opportunity to scale up local construction capacity?

However, a plus for the Chinese are thousands of Kenyans who have acquired valuable transferable skills in various technical crafts.

Finally, let us appreciate the full socio-economic impacts of completed and ongoing infrastructure projects We should also accept that future generations have an obligation to share in servicing debt for projects undertaken now. Projects are indeed trans-generational.