Nairobi: Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng waves during the launch of the passenger train on Wednesday.—AFP
Nairobi: Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng waves during the launch of the passenger train on Wednesday.—AFP

NAIVASHA: Kenya opened a $1.5 billion Chinese-built railway line linking Nairobi to Naivasha on Wednesday, despite delays in building an industrial park in the Rift Valley town to encourage freight.

The extension links to another Chinese funded and built $3.2 billion line between the port of Mombasa and Nairobi that opened in 2017 but is so far underutilised for cargo services.

Upgrading Kenyan railways has been part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects aimed at improving land and maritime trade routes between China and Europe, Asia and Africa.

Kenya had planned to open an industrial park in Naivasha, offering companies tax breaks for investing in manufacturing, and preferential tariffs for electricity generated in the nearby geothermal fields. But that has been delayed.

The railway was a pet project of President Uhuru Kenyatta who opened the extension on Wednesday.

Kenyatta was re-elected for a five-year term in 2017 after promising to develop the East African nation’s infrastructure, but it has been dogged by problems.

In April, China refused to fund the planned $3.7 billion extension from Naivasha to the Ugandan border town of Malaba.

Transport Minister James Macharia said then that the government would spend $210 million to rehabilitate the colonial-era Malaba line instead.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2019