Road infrastructure projects in Kenya, financed and often built by China under the Belt and Road Initiative with an aim to enhance connectivity have been revolutionary and have become another feature of China-Kenya relations.
The multimillion-shillings Nairobi Expressway, for instance, has had a profound impact on the country’s economy as well as people’s livelihoods, one year since it was commissioned.
According to Moja Expressway Company Chief Executive Officer Steve Zhao, the highway’s traffic volume since its commissioning a year ago has exceeded 20 million vehicles. He believes the major highway constructed under the Public Private Partnership model has been value for money both for the Chinese investor and the Kenyan people.
“This is a sustainable project. This is the first year of operation and we believe we have had a good start. For instance, the average traffic volume has reached 65,000 per day. This is a very good performance for a PPP project in the first year.,” he said in an interview with KBC
That Kenyans have embraced the project is not a secret. And With the current trend; Zhao says he has full confidence that the company will soon hit its targets of an average of 85,000 vehicles per day.
These numbers are set to rise with the road management already constructing another exit leading to CBD. The new link to CBD will come as good news to a majority of Kenyans especially transporters with bus termini across the city who have since embraced the Expressway. Popular as Matatus, the operators, just like other motorists, find the highway the best option in terms of time and fuel used at a time when the country is experiencing a surge in fuel prices.
Pauline Komo, who has used the Expressway every day since it was commissioned says the road has made life easier for her, particularly getting to work in good time compared to the days before the expressway.
“The situation before the expressway was chaotic. You would leave home at 5 am in the morning and you would spend two to three hours on the road. I used to wake up at 3:30 am in the morning so that I could commute as early as I could,” she said
Her sentiments were corroborated by fellow Kenyan, Morgan Muganda who operates a tour company.
“We use this road when going for Safari such as to Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East. It’s shorter for us because it helps us avoid traffic jams. We enjoyed it more. It’s nice, it’s beautiful. It’s a good system that has been put in place. Our clients, the tourists, appreciate this road a lot,” he said
Tourists visiting the country too have only good words about the new highway.
“The first I came was in 2012 when we didn’t have this road. It’s comfortable and it’s very fast to travel between the destinations. It’s much faster than when I was here 12 years ago,” a tourist from Malaysia noted.
Besides easing movement, the project has opened up numerous opportunities and helped market Kenya as a favourable investment destination.
The project has radically reduced traffic congestion in the country’s capital city. Before the construction of the Nairobi Expressway, it used to take one and a half to two hours on average to travel from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, for instance, to the Central Business District. Today, the same distance only requires 15 to 20 minutes. “They can save time and fuel and they don’t have an excuse to be late for work or meeting because of the expressway. This is a huge advantage to the people,” the Expressway CEO said
The convenience provided by the road has seen more and more business people and investors coming to Nairobi. What’s more, the number of tourists visiting Kenya is on the rise courtesy of efficient transport and logistics accorded by the expressway.
Whereas Kenyans are enjoying the convenience offered by the road project, it never exerted any financial burden on the Kenyan government for the reason that it was fully financed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), making PPP a trend for the future.
“We believe this first PPP project has been successful, it’s a good start. As a foreign company, we have more confidence to conduct more PPP-modelled projects in Kenya,” said the expressway CEO
The impact of the project on the Kenyan labour market has been positive. Moja Expressway has employed 530 Kenyan employees to oversee operations at the highway. Zhao adds; “90 per cent of our employees are young people who are graduates fresh from the university.”
“Here at the expressway, we use the latest technology for management of the road. Many of them were new to the job, for instance, at the tolling and monitoring stations. We had to take our employees through training for them to understand how to operate,” disclosed Zhao
It will also be remembered that during the construction period, 6,000 locals were hired by the Chinese company. To date, the company has been carrying out technological transfers and training of employees amid the promise of more job opportunities for locals.
Brian Masengeli, a Station Manager at the Nairobi Expressway says; “As the first Kenyan station manager, I have learnt a lot from being a trainee, a toll collector and gaining the upgrade or being elevated to where I am now, it’s a milestone. The company has done great career development,”
These jobs help alleviate unemployment and improve living standards as told by those who have benefited from job opportunities in the project.
Grace Akoth, a Business Development Executive at Moja Expressway said; “It has created job opportunities. I am here because of that investment. I wake up every morning knowing that I am coming to work because of this (Nairobi Expressway),”
Her counterpart, Tabitha Kimani, a Service Centre Attendant at Moja Expressway disclosed that after her University education, she had only managed to get short-term jobs – on and off. Tabitha says the opportunity to work at the Expressway, which came last year, has been way better than her previous jobs, especially lauding “the employment structure and the system here is so good and will make you grow.”
“The expressway service centre alone has over 70 employees. And that’s youth between 20 and 30 years. The over 500 Kenyan employees of Expressway didn’t have jobs before. Chinese investing in Africa and more so in Kenya is creating more job opportunities and giving hope to people,” she says
The Nairobi Expressway is a flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and currently represents another landmark in Kenya-China ties. While the road project only turned one year, the framework that birthed it, the BRI, is turning ten years since it was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Numerous projects have been undertaken in Kenya and Africa as a result. The projects offer a tangible demonstration of China’s commitment to African development.
Eric Biegon is a Multimedia Journalist at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation