Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta inaugurated its R42-billion Chinese-built railway yesterday, the country’s biggest infrastructure project since independence, aimed at cementing its role as the gateway to East Africa.
The red-and-white diesel train left from a gleaming new terminal in Mombasa, carrying Kenyatta, Chinese dignitaries and citizens from around the country on its maiden journey to Nairobi.
The five-hour trip will take less than half the time of a drive between the two cities, a hair-raising trip on a narrow road clogged with lumbering trucks, where accidents claim dozens of lives each year.
“Today we celebrate one of the key cornerstones to Kenya’s trans formation,” Kenyatta said at the inauguration ceremony.
Dubbed the Madaraka (Freedom) Express, the train can carry 1 260 passengers and replaces the so-called “Lunatic Express” – a railway built more than a century ago by colonial Britain which was known for lengthy delays and breakdowns.
The old railway, whose construction became the stuff of legend as a pair of man-eating lions devoured some 135 workers, is credited with shaping Kenya into its current form.
Accusations of corruption, concerns over the effect on wildlife and criticism of the price tag, blamed on poor negotiations with the Chinese, have dogged the project.
Shortly before the launch, four people were arrested for vandalising the new tracks and stealing “assorted railway parts”, according to court documents.
The railway is part of a master plan by East African leaders to connect their nations by rail, with the standard gauge network planned eventually to link Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and Ethiopia.