Could Kenya be build­ing an­other ‘lunatic line’?

The Sh327bn SGR aims to take con­tainer traf­fic off the roads and boost the econ­omy, but threat­ens to dis­rupt wildlife and yield a fis­cal cri­sis

The Star (Kenya) - - Front Page - ALAS­TAIR LEITHEAD BBC

Thou­sands of rail­way work­ers died build­ing Kenya’s so-called “lunatic line”, some by man-eat­ing lions. The BBC’s Alas­tair Leithead con­sid­ers if a new rail­way line through a na­tional park could get the same nick­name.

In the top drawer of a desk at Nairobi Rail­way Mu­seum sits a lit­tle box con­tain­ing three small lion claws that are more than 100 years old.

“The man-eat­ing lions re­ally caused havoc in the his­tory of the rail­way con­struc­tion,” says as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor Elias Randiga.

The claws be­longed to the two lions that struck fear into the work­ers lay­ing rail­way tracks from Mom­basa through what was then the Kenyan wilder­ness.

“They man­aged to kill 100 peo­ple, but the to­tal num­ber who died from dis­eases and other causes was 4,000. For each mile, four peo­ple died,” he

It was such an ex­pen­sive en­gi­neer­ing project that the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment sug­gested only lu­natics would spend so much on a rail­way line to the mid­dle of nowhere.

The con­struc­tion, which be­gan in 1896, led to the found­ing of Kenya’s cap­i­tal, Nairobi, and the rail­way even­tu­ally reached Uganda.

These days, build­ing a new rail­way is a lot faster and eas­ier us­ing the lat­est Chi­nese track-lay­ing tech­nol­ogy — trains which lay the lines as they go along — but it is still fe­ro­ciously ex­pen­sive.

Kenya is bor­row­ing bil­lions of shillings that it will have to pay back, and crit­ics are ask­ing the same ques­tions Bri­tish par­lia­men­tar­i­ans did back in the late 1800s: why is it cost­ing so much, and is it value for money?

“It’s a white ele­phant. We don’t need it,” says Kenyan econ­o­mist David Ndii.

“It’s not nec­es­sary. It’s over­priced. It’s the most ex­pen­sive sin­gle project we have done and it’s not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able now or in the fu­ture.”

He be­lieves Kenya is tak­ing on too much debt for big in­fra­struc­ture projects and other de­vel­op­ments that have not been ac­counted for.

Phase one from Mom­basa to Nairobi is al­most com­plete, and it aims to take con­tainer traf­fic off the roads and boost the econ­omy. But the voices of protest are now grow­ing louder, as plans for phase two have it cut­ting through Nairobi Na­tional Park. They in­clude conservationists, Maa­sai com­mu­nity mem­bers and those afraid this will be the begin­ning of the end for one of the only na­tional parks in the world to still ex­ist within

KENYA IS BOR­ROW­ING BIL­LIONS OF SHILLINGS THAT IT WILL HAVE TO PAY BACK, AND CRIT­ICS ARE ASK­ING THE SAME QUES­TIONS BRI­TISH PAR­LIA­MEN­TAR­I­ANS DID BACK IN THE LATE 1800S: WHY IS IT COST­ING SO MUCH, AND IS IT VALUE FOR MONEY?

A sec­tion of com­pleted SGR at Mtito An­dei.

/COUR­TESY

The pro­posed paths for the Nairobi-Naivasha rail­way route in­side the Nairobi Na­tional Park. The blue line on the map (op­tion 4) shows the route the SGR will take through the park.

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