KENYA – Construction of a railway line linking Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the country’s capital city Nairobi are back on track after Kenya secured US$125.6 million loan from the French government.

Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the Business Daily in an interview that a commercial agreement to construct the five-kilometer line have been closed, setting the stage for start of construction from March next year.

The loan will also aid the revamp the old 17-kilometre railway track that links to the standard gauge railway (SGR) line at Syokimau in the outskirts of Nairobi from where the new line will be built to the airport.

Turf wars and tendering fights had derailed construction of the JKIA railway line in what threatened the deal inked by French President Emanuel Macron and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta.

The country’s Treasury had raised the red flag over the secret procurement of a consortium of French firms to build the new railway line and declined to commit funds following a request from the Ministry of Transport.

The Transport ministry had informed the Treasury that a consortium of five French companies led by Egis Group had been tapped for the railway project on the back of a financing deal agreed with Paris and commercial lender BPI France Assurance Export.

Mr. Macharia said that a contractor for the airport line would be tapped ahead of March, with construction expected to be completed in under two years.

“The French government has committed to finance the construction of a new rail link passing over Mombasa Road from Syokimau standard gauge rail terminus into JKIA to the tune of US$125.6 million”

James Macharia – Cabinet Secretary for Transport. Kenya

“The cost will also include upgrading the existing meter gauge line from the Nairobi Central Station to Syokimau train terminus,” said Macharia.

The deal essentially means that Kenya has dropped the bid to have the JKIA rail built using private backers who were to recover their money from toll charges and instead opted for a French loan.

The JKIA-Nairobi city center railway line was planned to de-congest the East Africa nation’s capital city and reduce the time taken between the central business district and the region’s largest international airport—which handled 11.7 million domestic and international fliers last year.

The distance between JKIA and Nairobi city center is 20km, and travel should take between 30 minutes to less than an hour, however, it takes up to two hours due to heavy traffic on the road linking the airport to the city.

The turf wars also hinged on revelations that the Cabinet had yet to approve the JKIA rail project despite the deal being part of a multi million-dollar trade agreement that Mr. Macron signed with Mr. Kenyatta during his March 13 Kenya visit.

The public private partnership (PPP) deal fronted by French firm, Egis, was also faulted for not having complied with the law.

The consortium of French companies included Egis, Sogea-Satom, Alstom, Thales and Transdev—who are major players in the rail transport business.

Construction of the rail link to JKIA was expected to be completed in 2021 and Mr. Macron viewed it as one of the key projects to cement bilateral ties between Nairobi and Paris, promising to provide sustainable financing in what was seen as a dig at China.

China has provided nearly US44.5 billion in loans for construction of the SGR line from Mombasa to Nairobi, but some critics have expressed concerns over the country’s growing debt burden and Chinese loans.

China had earlier expressed interest in expanding the SGR line to JKIA and the city center via Syokimau but the plan was termed costly and shelved.

Sustainable Financing

Mr. Macron’s joint press briefing with Mr. Kenyatta was symbolic given its venue at the Nairobi’s Central Business District  railway terminus where the French leader repeatedly mentioned ‘sustainable financing’ and ‘respect for sovereignty’ in what was his way of saying that Paris funding was better than Chinese.

Mr. Macron’s push for partnership saw various French firms sign deals worth over US$2.7 billion during his two-day visit in Kenya.

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