President Uhuru Kenyatta today commissioned the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the most outstanding of the transformative projects he has initiated since coming into office.
It was a century and 22 years ago today when a white colonial master stood under the skies of the picturesque island of Mombasa to launch what was called the lunatic express, the railway line that linked the Kenyan coast to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Kenya gained independence from the colonial regime 68 years after that date and despite the growth of population as well as economy, the country has been stuck with the old railway line, which the lunatic express train rolled on into the interior of the country.
The inadequacy of the old railway system resulted in pressure on the highway from Mombasa to Nairobi, leading to delays and exorbitant costs of commuting and movement of cargo.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta came into office, three President’s and 50 years after Kenya became independent, he pledged to replace the colonial railway.
He promised to construct a Standard Gauge Railway line to replace the inadequate one.
For a country previously known for unfulfilled Government promises and grand Government pledges that were mismanaged, many Kenyans assumed President Kenyatta’s promise, given in the early days of his Presidency, could be of a similar ilk.
But President Kenyatta’s promise was one he intended to fulfil by all means necessary.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the SGR project was held on November 28, 2013 and as per the initial project plan it’s completion was set for five years afterwards.
President Kenyatta however had a different plan all together and he put this into effect by adopting a hands-on approach to ensure he influenced the progress of the project.
He held a management conference with the project implementers – China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and relevant Government agencies every three months and the location of the meeting was most often at the field offices of CCCC.
Additionally, President Kenyatta opened direct communication lines for the Chinese company to access him or any other Government official to address any challenges they faced in terms of funding, cooperation with Government or even issues arising from communities.
Financing was never a challenge from the beginning since President Kenyatta had secured full financing for the project from the China Exim Bank when he paid a State visit to China in 2013, his first State Visit outside Africa.
Most of the challenges concerned obstacles in the form of compensation or access for land and most of the issues were dealt with promptly.
This resulted in the project being completed in the short period of two and a half years instead of the five years initially planned for.
As he launched the passenger service of the modern rail service this morning, President Kenyatta beamed with the smile of a man who had accomplished a once in a lifetime challenge.
He told Kenyans to be proud of the country’s achievement which will be a cornerstone for future development.
“This is a historic day and it is a day that everyone of us should feel proud to be a Kenyan,” said the President.
He said the SGR is a milestone marking Kenya’s transformation to an industrialised, prosperous and middle-income country.
He said the SGR replaces the lunatic train, which despite criticisms at the time of its construction, became the foundation for Kenya in its early years.
“Today, despite criticism and opposition, we have launched the Madaraka Express to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years,” said the President when he spoke at the Mombasa Terminus in Miritini.
Deputy President William Ruto said the SGR is one of Kenya’s biggest milestones and is as a result of the commitment of the Government.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a high level delegation led by a special envoy, State Councillor Wang Yong, to deliver his message of congratulations to President Kenyatta.
Mr Wong said President Jinping was proud of the completion of the project, which is a result of China’s cooperation with Kenya for mutual gain.
The passenger train reduces the travelling time between Mombasa and Nairobi to between 4 to 5 hours.
It takes travellers an average of 9 to 10 hours to travel by bus between the two cities.
The SGR also reduces the cost of moving goods as the cargo train takes only five hours to move between the two towns.
President Kenyatta launched the cargo services at a colourful ceremony at Port Ritz, Mombasa last evening.
The SGR is expected to transform the economy and landscape of Kenya in a similar fashion as the lunatic express changed the face of Kenya.
Speaking before getting into the inaugural SGR passenger train for the historic ride from Nairobi to Mombasa, President Kenyatta said he felt proud of his Administration’s achievement.
“I am proud to be associated with this achievement. We have started the journey,” said the President.
The President was joined on the train by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the Chinese delegation and other dignitaries.
Also on the train were 47 students representing the 47 counties of Kenya.