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Infrastructure crucial for economy development

Roads have long been viewed as the primary means of connectivity that account for more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s total passenger and freight transportation with the remainder of about 7 per cent mainly carried by rail and air.

Kenya represents a vital lifeline for landlocked neighboring countries as the largest economy in East and Central Africa, with more than 1,400 kilometers of coastline and the region’s largest and busiest port, Kilindini Harbuor. As a result, its transportation network is critical to the country’s and region’s future growth.

The Chairman of the Kiambu County Development Implementation Coordination Committee (CDICC) Wilson Wanyanga, who is also the Kiambu County Commissioner, says that he is impressed with the progress of the Mau-Mau road project which will cut across four counties that include Nyandarua, Nyeri, Murang’a, and Kiambu.

“This is the first ongoing Mau-Mau project and to visit the actual road, the sections are a dream come true and a lot of work has been done. We will help the contractors meet the set deadlines and work uninterruptedly,” said Mr Wanyanga during a tour of the project a fortnight ago.

Members of the CDICC’s group photo during the road inspection tour. Photo by Velma Mukhwana

Road infrastructure advancement is taking place as part of the ‘Vision 2030′ strategy, which aims at  turning Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country by 2030 by developing an integrated network of highways, railways, ports, airports, and waterways.

The construction of road infrastructure is also seen as a key enabler of the ‘Big Four’ agenda, which aims to ensure food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare.

Infrastructural developments are widely recognized as supporting trade, agricultural and industrial production besides increased investment, thus facilitating the government development plan which comprises the legacy of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking during the site visit, the Kiambu County Engineer, Judith Songok, recalled the genesis of the project and mentioned that it is aimed at celebrating the Mau-Mau heroes who used to travel from Nyeri through Murang’a and then arrive at Kiambu during the pre-colonial era.

“There will be improved connectivity to other major roads in the region. The Mau-Mau Road will facilitate movement of passengers and freight albeit enhancing access to national and regional markets for agriculture and industrial products of the region” said Engineer Songok.

As highlighted under the Vision 2030’s Second National Medium-term Plan (MTP), which covers the 2013-17 period, the government hopes to construct and rehabilitate approximately 5,500 km of roads, including some 3,825 km national trunk roads and 1,675 km of county roads, by 2018.

Around 1,700 km of roads for non-motorized transport, including paths and walkways, will be constructed, and 800 km of new roads will be designed. Some 4,257 km and 1,735 km of national trunk roads and county roads, respectively, will also be periodically maintained.

Kenya has a total road network length of 160,886km and according to PwC Kenya’s current Road Network inventory, is estimated at 177,500km comprising 63,000km classified roads and 114,500km of unclassified roads administered by various government departments.

This includes national roads, district roads (and unclassified rural roads), urban roads, and special roads (i.e. park roads) which are administered by the Roads Department, District Roads Committee and County Councils, City and Municipal Councils, and various government agencies.

Engineer James Mwitari from KenHA explained to the CDICC team during the tour that the project scope comprises of construction to bitumen standard of Mau-Mau Road of about 112.6km.

“Since the concept is to build an international road, we have to also work simultaneously on the spur roads that will connect Nyandarua, Nyeri, Murang’a and Kiambu counties” said Engineer Mwitari

“The Earthworks to formation level takes time, since it involves bush clearing for the entire 22km stretch and also involves constructing in layers using different materials but the finishing process takes a short time,” added Engineer Mwitari.

According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Economic Survey 2020, the Government has continually invested in construction and rehabilitation of road infrastructure across the country in order to spur economic growth through all sectors.

The total government expenditure on roads is expected to rise by 10.0 per cent to Sh169.9 billion in 2019/20 from 154.5 billion shillings in 2018/19.

Similarly, development expenditure is also expected to rise by 15.5 per cent to Sh111.7 billion in 2019/20. The expenditure on road maintenance and repair is also expected to increase to Sh58.2 billion during the same period.

The World Bank has been a leading supporter of Kenya’s road rehabilitation efforts over the last 14 years, with over $1 billion in International Development Association (IDA) financing.

Engineer Monica Abonyo, Deputy Director, KeNHA, further highlighted the benefits of the project to the people of Kiambu County, saying it would open up the region and enhance transport services.

“The overall goal of the project is to reduce travel time, ensure road operation cost is reduced, further open roads to investments and employment opportunities and reduce accidents, there will  also be growth of local market centers due to improved accessibility, thus providing for social inclusion in terms of schools, hospitals, markets,” added Engineer Abonyo.

“Roads will facilitate movement of passengers and freight and further enhance access to national and regional markets for agricultural and industrial products, there will be improved intercountry connectivity which will enhance devolution, leading to development of larger economic blocks.

There is need to support rural development through investment in rural road networks for recovery in the Post-Covid era. Increased investment and prioritization of development of rural road networks is required as a paradigm shift to the historical focus on the traditional network.

The contribution of small-scale farming to the country’s overall agricultural sector has not been left out either. Small-scale farming makes a major contribution to household consumption, with a large percentage of small-scale farmers producing primarily for subsistence. Purchases account for 68.3 per cent of overall food consumption, while self-production accounts for 18 per cent.

Subsistence efficiency cushioned households’ consumption, as a result, food security during this difficult period of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to lockdowns and stay-at-home protocols.

Citizens have turned to subsistence farming as a consequence of the pandemic’s labor disturbances.

Improved road networks would improve not only producers’ access to input and output markets but also market connectivity, accessibility, and integration, all of which have a significant impact on trade rates, lower transaction costs, and improve the efficient price transmissions, all of which will affect purchased consumption and thus food security in the region.

Kenya’s attempts to change its strained transportation network seems to be progressing, as government spending and foreign investment has increased significantly in recent years.

Despite intensified competition, ongoing delays in road and port projects and a slew of non-tariff barriers, the government’s commitment to improving transportation indicators have already resulted in steady growth in the rail, port, road, and maritime segments.

These innovations, combined with recent regulatory reforms and an ambitious plan to extend and enhance the aviation network should help the country continue to attract foreign investment, allowing it to achieve Vision 2030 goals of becoming a true regional powerhouse.

By Velma Mukhwana

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