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Kenya’s Dream to Build a Modern Railway Is Turning Into an Economic Nightmare

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the inaugural Nairobi-Suswa, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line constructed by the Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and financed by Chinese government, on October 16, 2019 in Nairobi. SIMON MAINA / AFP

Many Kenyans were excited about plans to build a modern railway across the country linking the port city of Mombasa and Malaba town on the Kenya-Uganda border. It was touted as a game-changer; the key to unlocking not just Kenya’s economic takeoff, but that of the entire East African region. It was supposed to reduce travel times by half, boost trade and economic activity in Kenya, create millions of jobs and improve the people’s standards of living. Ten years later, only half of the project is complete with no funds for the remaining phase of the project: Its economic viability is in doubt as China demands payment for the debt incurred by the project.

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