Uhuru dismisses negative media report on SGR

A section of the Standard Gauge Railway running through Makueni County.  FILE PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
A section of the Standard Gauge Railway running through Makueni County. FILE PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said Kenya will ignore negative reports from Western institutions on its decision to go big on infrastructure investment.

This comes after an article in London-based weekly magazine, The Economist, in June criticised Kenya’s construction of the Sh327 billion standard gauge railway (SGR) between Mombasa port and capital Nairobi, saying the railroad is third-rate with “mediocre” speeds.

“We know what we need,” President Kenyatta said Monday in response to the article during an infrastructure summit at State House.

“Don’t tell us what The Economist says based on the West. We must do our things based on the interests of the people,” he added.

He cited the example of the Asian Tigers, saying they received similar negative advice and reports from World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) but opted to forge ahead -saying it led to their transformative growth and improved welfare to the people.

The Economist quoted consultants from the World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, who felt it would have been more cost-effective to rehabilitate the existing ageing railway.

The magazine also questioned how Kenya would repay the loan from China for the railroad, saying Kenyan officials were skipping events ostensibly not to answer questions.

“Could this be because the new railway is a dud investment? Its fastest trains will do a fairly mediocre 80kph. Much as with the old railway, parts of the new line will be single-track, forcing trains to stop, often for hours, to let others pass. Most absurdly, it is built to a lower standard of load-bearing than most other new freight railways,” the weekly publication had said in its scathing appraisal of the SGR.

Local experts have also been divided on the issue of Kenya's megaprojects, with some urging the country’s policy makers to instead pursue pro-poor polices