BY SHEN SHIWEI
Touring Kenya’s tea farms in Naivasha, bulks of premium tea are packed and loaded onto a special tea export train of the Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, which runs from the capital city of Nairobi to East Africa’s largest port city of Mombasa for onward export.
As a more efficient method of transportation, the train has cut down on delays caused by road transport and warehousing, and tea factories do not incur auction expenses such as warehouse storage and brokerage costs. For customers in Europe, the Middle East and other regions, the freshness of tea is well preserved since the logistics time and multiple handling of the tea are dropped.
Launched in 2017, the 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, with a speed of 120km per hour for passenger and 80km per hour for freight, has cut travel time by half, from an average of 10 hours on the century-old meter gauge railway to approximately five hours.
Cargos of tea, flowers, grains, vehicles and “Made in Kenya” products now have an easier path to the international market on the bustling freight trains. And passenger train services have become a key means of transport for residents in Kenya thanks to its reliability, affordability and speed in relation to alternatives like buses.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that passenger traffic on the SGR trains increased by 20.1 per cent in 2022, and freight service revenue hit $95.5 million in 2022, up from $91.8 million in 2021.
Besides flourishing industrial parks, which have turned the route into an emerging economic corridor, Kenya also upgraded the old meter-gauge railway to connect to the SGR with its agriculture-rich central region, where Kenya’s top agriculture exports of coffee, tea, flowers, vegetables, avocado, pineapples and macadamia are produced. That has ensured commodities are easily transported to the port of Mombasa for export. Already, Africa’s biggest avocado exporter, Kenya now found a new market for the fruit in China.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that passenger traffic on the SGR trains increased by 20.1 per cent in 2022, and freight service revenue hit $95.5 million in 2022, up from $91.8 million in 2021.KNBS
SGR’s impact has proved to be the economic game-changer it was touted to be at both the national and regional levels. With the 120 km Chinese-built Nairobi-Naivasha Railway, an extension of Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, goods going to the East Africa hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi will be cheaper due to decreased transport costs, and will arrive faster at their destinations. Taking at least two days for trucks to reach Kampala from Mombasa, this could be shortened to just one day once the railway reaches Kisumu on Lake Victoria.
With the regional economic corridor along the SGR flourishing, the vision of Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET) has come true, with the Chinese company-built Lamu Port in Kenya going into operation. The deep-sea port has the potential to become a premier trans-shipment hub for all cargo destined for the continent. Furthermore, Lamu now joins Mombasa Port as a key entry and exit point of cargo, deep into and out of Africa’s hinterland.
In the coming years, those stories of flourishing development along the new railways and seaports under the Belt and Road Initiative will further tell us how it will benefit people in Kenya and East Africa at large.
Shen Shiwei is a political and economic analyst for CGTN and a non-resident fellow of the Institute of African Studies of Zhejiang Normal University