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Why the Lack of Chinese Transparency Undermines Trust in Kenya’s Sustainable Development

Construction workers wrap up the work day at a section of Ngong Road in the Karen neighbourhood of Nairobi. Photo by KC Cheng.

We were inching along Ngong Road, one of the major roads in Kenya that links Nairobi to Ngong town. Even at 3 in the afternoon, the traffic leading out of the capital was packed with commuters. Street-hawkers use this slowness to their advantage, going from window to window selling everything from mosquito rackets and packets of groundnuts to floor lamps and jigsaw puzzles. It is not uncommon to be stuck in traffic for 2 hours over distances that should only take 15 to 20 minutes on clear roads. “This is why I prefer boda-bodas,” I jabbed at my friend, knowing how she feels about motorbikes. They may be excellent for weaving in and out between vehicles, but notorious for not always getting riders to their destinations in one piece. Anyone who has ever been on the continent would understand that traffic here operates differently– the regard for human life is simply on a different level. I’ve seen a matatu (bus) cross highway barriers to drive against opposing traffic only to knock over an oncoming motorbike.

I thought about how our friends joke about a sure-fire way to rise in political ranks in Kenya– declaring one’s prioritization to complete Ngong road construction. That’s one thing that Kenyans, split by everything from religion and tribe to ethnic identity, would whole-heartedly agree on: finish this road, once and for all.

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