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Daily Nation : February 24th 2014
DAILY NATION Monday February 24, 2014 Opinion 13 SET TO GO | Yussuf Loge Standard gauge railway will end freight problems and spur growth in EA region (SGR) project will go on. He invited those opposed to the project to table their evidence before the two parliamentary committees investigating it. The President’s key mes- P sage is that while those against the project have every right to air their views, they should not try to downplay the economic imperative of having such a railway, both for Kenya and the region. That even as we interrogate the deals around the project, we must not make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water. One of Kenya’s unique sell- ing propositions is its strategic location on the East African seaboard. Mombasa serves as a critical gateway to a huge and growing hinterland that stretches all the way to Lake Kivu. It is an expansive territory that includes Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, huge swathes of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, northern Tanzania and potentially Ethiopia. The infrastructure that serves this region and connects it to Mombasa, normally referred to as the Northern Corridor, is a key component of the regional economy. In Kenya alone, economic activ- resident Uhuru Kenyatta has announced that the standard gauge railway President Kenyatta during the launch of the standard gauge railway in Mombasa. ity linked to the corridor is estimated to account for 80 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. It follows then, that this rich hinterland served by Mombasa and which is crucial for the growth of our overall economy will only be as efficient as its transport infrastructure. Sadly, most of the heavy freight transport within the Northern Corridor still relies on a strained and poorly maintained road network. The well-documented underperformance of the existing railway network, which has seen no investment or expansion since the British colonialists laid the first line at the turn of the last century, is a tired story. It carries no more than one million tonnes in a year. The best it can do at full capacity is a mere 4.5 million tonnes. This is out of sync with the growing demand and expectations of the region’s business community. The result is that the cost of doing business within the corridor is astronomical. In a continent where investors’ dollars are looking for the optimal destination and where countries are putting their best foot forward, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The inefficiency of our transport system accounts for 45 per cent of the cost of goods and services in the region. This is dismal compared to an average of nine to 15 per cent for the US, China, and Russia, which rely on efficient rail networks for bulk conveyance of goods and people. An efficient transport system will spur industrial growth and make Kenya’s goods affordable in the regional market. It is easy to understand why the region has placed a huge premium on the SGR project and unanimously lined up behind it. Significantly, President Kenyatta and his counterparts, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, have signed a trilateral agreement to build a SGR from Mombasa to Kigali. Under the landmark deal, each country is to build the stretch within its territory. Kenya is thus meant to build the Mombasa-NairobiMalaba/Kisumu section and has started with the MombasaNairobi stretch. Significantly, 60 per cent of all freight handled by the port is either from or destined for the capital city. I am convinced that there is huge latent demand for the capacity that the SGR will create. In 2012, Mombasa port handled 22 million tonnes of freight for the region. With a projected annual growth of six per cent year-on-year, the traffic will top 56 million tonnes in 2030. We need to start getting ready for this growth and competition from other ports, especially the proposed Bagamoyo and revamped Dar ports in Tanzania. This will deal with congestion and give Mombasa a head-start. An inefficient railway system means that the road has become the default means for the mass transportation of goods and people within the region, exacting a heavy toll on their overall state and severely degrading our environment through the emission of harmful gases. Taking goods off the road will also reduce vandalism and accidents. The author is the proprietor of El Noor Contractors, who built the Syokimau railway station. WHAT IS THE NET WORTH? | Robert Shaw We need to look beyond new rail network T he ongoing debate about the standard gauge railway proposal and the subsequent scrutiny it is receiving is a healthy development. However, there is an equally urgent need for Kenyans to broaden their spectrum and focus. We need to examine the overall infrastructure and transport needs and challenges facing the country and the region. If and when it comes on stream what exactly will the new railway add to our overall infrastructure network? What will still need to be done with or without it? Mombasa port is one of the main gateways to the region and our existing transport infrastructure is the lifeline of a vast amount of the country’s and region’s imports and exports. As some of these countries’ economies continue to gallop ahead with growth rates of between five and 10 per cent, the demand on our port and transport infrastructure will continue to surge. Another way to look at it is that even if another port or transport network was to come up and compete with what already exists, there would still be a time lag between now and when this happened. To be brutally realistic, the rump of our existing infrastructure, be it Mombasa port or our road and rail network, will have to manage this increase in volumes for the next five to 10 years. Let us go back briefly to the proposed Six hours have been shaved off the time it takes from Nairobi to Mombasa and four hours off the Malaba to Kampala leg. There are new locomotives. standard gauge railway. The first phase is from Mombasa to Nairobi only, so even if it was up and running by the end of this decade we would have to rely on the existing infrastructure until then for that portion. Furthermore, we would have to depend on the existing infrastructure from Nairobi to the border for whatever time afterwards it took for the next phase to be completed. Also, one must not rule out the possibility that the second phase could face obstacles and delays due to financing, logistical and engineering challenges, and so on. That brings us to the question of what alternative we have in the intervening period. One choice is to overload our road infrastructure more and more, but this is likely to face some major constraints both in terms of capacity and finance. The other is to take a long hard look at Times Tower, headquarters of Kenya Revenue Authority. SLEEPING ON THE JOB. Writing from Ukunda our existing railway to see what rehabilitation is taking place and what needs to be done. The upgrading of the existing railway has been ongoing for the past few years and tangible results are being felt. Just over half of the $287 million set aside for the rehabilitation of the track and the locomotive and wagon fleets has been spent. Six hours has been shaved off the time it takes from Nairobi to Mombasa and four hours off the Malaba to Kampala leg. Rehabilitated locomotives are being introduced every month. The day-to-day operation is now man- aged by the Brazilian company, América Latina Logistica, which has considerable experience in managing railway operations. Satellite navigation technology has been introduced. Whereas a few years ago one would groan at the thought of sending any freight by rail, to do so now is becoming a more realistic proposition. Further, RVR’s operation extends to Kampala, which in regional trade terms makes any improvement an added bonus. Of course this does not mean we do not need an additional railway line; the rehabilitation gives welcome breathing space and also an opportunity to reassess the proposed new single gauge railway. Mr Shaw is a Nairobi-based businessman. (email@example.com) on the South Coast, local resident Theodor Wolfgang asks: “Does the Postmaster-General know that a letter sent from Mombasa to Nairobi takes at least eight days?” The posts boss, he adds, should realise that thanks to SMS and email, not many people write letters these days. But empathising with those who must still send letters, Theodor concludes that “somebody is sleeping on the job”. Still clinging to his snail post, his contact is P. O. Box 855 – 80400, Ukunda. UNHAPPY FLIER. Njeri Gachathi, who flew Etihad Airways for the first time on Sunday, February 16 (EY 0642), did not like the experience. Says she: “Not only was I forced to buy a return ticket I didn’t need, one of the staffers was rude and unhelpful. And when I posted my complaint on the Etihad Kenya Facebook page, it was deleted and I was blocked from the page.” At the check-in, she claims, she was kept waiting so long that she did not have time to repack her luggage and was surcharged $200. Her reservation code is NOQRBG and her contact, firstname.lastname@example.org. BEYOND RENT. Nairobi resident S. Dayaa has been stunned to note that every time he is late by a few days with his rent, his landlord promptly disconnects his power and water supply. Ideally, the landlord should have nothing to do with his electricity as he pays Kenya Power for the service. Similarly, only the city water company has a right to interfere with his water supply. “The last time this happened, I was out of town and the food in the fridge went bad. Where can I seek help?” asks Dayaa, whose contact is email@example.com. Have a logical day, won’t you! E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Watchman, POB 49010, Nairobi 00100. Fax 2213946. THE CUTTING EDGE BY THE WATCHMAN UNACCEPTABLE DICTATORSHIP. Some politi- cal leaders seem overly obsessed with the notion that whatever they say, want, or propose must be readily accepted by their followers and others as the final position, notes Wambua Musembi. “They think the Judiciary is an irritating irrelevance that ought to be scrapped altogether.” To Wambua, this smacks of dictatorship, which has no place in today’s society. “The Judiciary enforces the rule of law and checks excesses.” His contact is email@example.com. RAMPANT CARJACKING. Carjackings are ram- pant on Nairobi’s northwestern outskirts, especially in the fast-growing Ruaka township, says an alarmed Jefferson Muriithi. “Almost every week, we hear of two or three cases in Ruaka and its environs, and this has been going on for the past five years and yet no culprit has been arrested. The gangsters often pounce as motorists wait for their gates to be opened for them to enter their compounds. Police boss David Kimaiyo should intervene as this has reached crisis levels.” His contact is firstname.lastname@example.org. WHY THE DELAY? Something is amiss at the Reg- istrar of Motor Vehicle’s logbook section at the Kenya Revenue Authority headquarters in Times Tower, Nairobi, remarks Bernard Gaitho. He applied for change of details in his logbook in early November, last year, and he is still waiting, and this despite numerous visits to their offices in the city. As a result, Bernard adds, he can neither apply for insurance cover nor have the car valued. The car registration is KBA 741E, and his contact, email@example.com.
February 23rd 2014
February 25th 2014