The Telegraph reports that China is taking over where the British left off by ploughing £3.2bn into new infrastructure projects in Kenya. While these include port expansion and hydro-electric dams, the main focus of the investment is to be the so-called “Lunatic Express” train line, originally built by British engineers and African and Indian workers over 100 years ago.
The 660-mile track from Mombassa to Lake Victoria came in massively over-budget when it was finally completed in 1901, and cost nearly 2,500 unfortunate workers their lives – hence its name.
Much of the track has fallen into dereliction thanks to years of what the Telegraph refers to as “state-sponsored looting”, with top speeds of only 20 mph even on the best sections. This has caused freight to be forced onto busy, unreliable and poorly maintained roads.
The Chinese now plan to rebuild the train line using a new standard gauge track in a deal struck with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. According to the Kenyan government, the new rail link could knock 79 per cent off the cost of moving freight across East Africa.
The Chinese have been able to make inroads into Kenya as Western allies have taken a step back due to Kenyatta’s alleged crimes against humanity – for which he is to be tried in the International Criminal Court this November. Some worry that Kenya is putting all its eggs into one basket with the Chinese and further alienating old friends.
However, in the Telegraph report, Nairobi businessman, Charles Nderitu, who exports sugar to the Gulf had this to say. “I’m looking at the bottom line, and if I can move my produce along some new, fast, cheap railway, instead of by lorries that cost so much and are always breaking down, I don’t care who builds that railway. It worked for the colonialists when they opened it before. Now it’s time to rebuild it so that it works for us Kenyans.”