After the previous article I set my mind to write about something else and particularly something away from the sad tales of what terrorists were doing in Kenya. But like that annoying fly that chooses to rest on your face when you are on a date more sad news seems to be coming from Kenya again.
Not only did the bad guys strike again the effects of this terrorism are now staring us in the face more than ever before. It is not every day that we read of hundreds of tourists cancelling their holidays at the coastal towns of Mombasa and Malindi due to rising insecurity. The economy of Mombasa County will certainly be hard hit by these moves like I predicted last week.
Anyway I had set out to write about something positive, the signing of agreements between Kenya and China to start work on the standard gauge railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Nairobi (Embakasi) that was witnessed by the leaders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. To say that this is good news is an understatement.
I think it is still the Chinese who say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step. And in indeed this very long journey was kick-started when signatures were appended to the proverbial dotted line. I call it a long journey because when I look at the map of East Africa the new railway will not just stop at Embakasi but will continue to Rongai, Kisumu, Kampala, Kigali, and Bujumbura also to Kisangani, Juba and Lamu port as well as Addis Ababa.
In short we are looking at a metallic network that will link the major towns in this part of Africa. Moving both cargo and passengers in arguably the safest and cheapest way ever discovered by human beings. It is safe to say that real development is hard to come by where you do not have a comprehensive rail network.
Anyone who has been to India will tell you that the vast country has a railway that allows one to move from one end to the other. South Africa in Africa is one region that has also benefited a lot from a rail network and even graduating to high speed trains when they hosted the football World Cup in 2010.
In East Africa, our over dependence on the roads has cost us so much both in terms of lives and financially. Nasty road accidents especially those involving the big trucks on the roads are now the norm. Different measures like the night travel ban in Kenya and the late night travel ban for both trucks and buses in Tanzania has not done much to save lives.
We have also had to endure the pain of seeing our roads getting bad in just a short while thanks to the burden they have to bear from the heavy trucks that move all sorts of cargo especially from the ports to the hinterland. Imagine the relief our roads would get the day we have a functional railway and pipeline?
With a railway in place, one can stop worrying about the distance goods take to move from Mombasa to Kigali or Bujumbura and also the non tariff barriers. You do not expect a policeman stopping the train at every turn to ask for kitu kidogo like is the case with the trucks. A train does not have to deal with traffic bottle necks and so it can reduce the time goods spend on the road.
Trains are capable of carrying a larger number of passengers and greater volumes of goods since all you need in most cases is adding more wagons and you are good to go. It also leaves the environmentalists much happier since it remains one of the most environmentally friendly means of transport available.
I have mentioned it several times that for East Africa to get to the next level we need a good railway network and also better water transport since we have Lakes Victoria, Kivu and Tanganyika all connecting us in some way.
As someone obsessed with education I must admit that it is a bit disturbing to think that after so many years we are unable to build the railway on our own. The first one was by the British and now we have called in the Chinese. Where are all the engineers who graduate from our universities?