Håvar Bauck

The rise and rise of Kenya’s infrastructure

Kenya – Africa’s infrastructure powerhouse

Kenya’s ongoing infrastructure boom started with former President Mwai Kibaki.  Grand projects like Thika Road, and the Northern, Eastern and Southern Bypasses in Nairobi, ushered in a national sense of yes-we-can. This has become part of the contemporary Kenyan mindset.

Kibaki also rehabilitated a number of national roads, like Nairobi-Mombasa, Nairobi-Nakuru, Emali-Oloitoktok, et al., transforming road trips from an extreme sport to a pleasant experience in only a decade.  I remember well the deplorable state of almost every piece of infrastructure when I arrived in Kenya in 2002, at the end of the disastrous Moi era.

While Kibaki’s tenure was impressive in terms of infrastructure, the first term of his successor, President Uhuru Kenyatta, is truly mind-blowing, though:

At a record pace, Chinese contractors are building the new Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), replacing the century old narrow-gauge railway, built by the British.  Upon completion, the new railway is likely to edge out road transport between Mombasa and Nairobi obsolete, removing most of the trucks on that road.  The railway is planned to continue to Kigali through Kampala, although the Kampala-Kigali section seems uncertain at the moment.

With less than a year until the first trains hit the rails, the government has announced official plans to expand the Nairobi-Mombasa highway to six lanes.  A highway of this magnitude will be a first-ever in Sub-Saharan Africa. The impact on the regional economy will doubtlessly be significant.

Mombasa is also undergoing an infrastructure revolution: The Mombasa Port, already the busiest in the region by far, is in a massive expansion process. Eventually, its total capacity is projected to reach 2.55 TEU p.a by 2019.  This will put Mombasa at par with Durban and Tanger (second and third in Africa respectively). At the same time, the ongoing Dongo Kundu Bypass project will link the North and South Coast, eliminating the current ferry connection, and with it, the hellish jams through Mombasa Island.

Mombasa is about to get a serious domestic competitor, though, with the new Lamu Port currently under construction about to take over the position as the number one regional port. The total capacity in TEUs for the Lamu Port does not appear in official documents. It is allegedly projected to become the number one port on the continent, though.

Meanwhile, Tanzania shelved their plans to build Africa’s biggest port in Bagamoyo, leaving Kenya’s position unchallenged.

Along with the Lamu Port project, Kenya is constructing its second national transport corridor, dubbed the Lamu Port – South Sudan – Ethiopia (LAPSSET) Corridor. This infrastructural mega-project features a second standard-gauge railway, an oil pipeline, and a (or several) high-capacity fibre-optic cable(s).

LAPSSET will connect Southern Ethiopia and South Sudan to Kenya’s infrastructure network, while giving Northern Kenya a historic boost.  As a pre-cursor, the Isiolo-Mandera road, commenced under Kibaki, is already almost complete, connecting Kenya and Ethiopia by road.

In a perspective of Pan-African infrastructure, LAPSSET and the Mombasa-Kampala railway and highway (when eventually extended from Nairobi to Kampala) play an even greater role:  Isiolo-Moyale was and is an important section of the legendary Cape-Cairo highway (aka the TAH 4), planned for more than a century.  With the Kenyan part complete, two sections in Tanzania and Northern Sudan still remain, but the project is one crucial step closer to completion.

LAPSSET also opens up an alternative route for the Mombasa-Lagos Highway (aka the TAH 8), long hampered by perennial instability in DRC.  Obviously, stability in South Sudan has recently become another risk factor, although seemingly a more temporary one.

In terms of digital infrastructure, Kenya is already a continental champion, with 8 terrestrial fibre optic cables (backbones), matched only by South Africa.

Kenya is also connected globally via seven submarine fibre-optic cables, beaten only by Djibouti and Egypt. As a result, Kenya already has one of the most robust internet uplinks on the continent. While currently, all those cables terminate in Mombasa, the LAPSSET project will add a second one in Lamu, also boosting redundancy.

Energy is an obvious pre-requisite for Kenya to benefit from the world-class infrastructure the country is building.  Fortunately, this has by no mean been neglected.

In 2010, Kenya had an installed generating capacity of 1050 megawatt (MW).  That has already increased to 2300 Mph, with a number of other projects, such as Lake Turkana Wind Power about to boost this figure further.  While the stated national target of 5000MW by EOY 2017 seems unlikely to be met, the growth in installed capacity is nevertheless an impressive achievement.  The government’s own target for 2030, is 23,000 MW, underpinned in part by the four planned nuclear reactors to go live by 2027.

While many African countries are investing heavily in infrastructure, few if any are in the same league as Kenya. This is almost certainly part of the reason why Nairobi has already taken the top position as Africa’s number one foreign direct investment (FDI) destination, and why Kenya as a country is also the fastest-growing FDI destination on the continent.

Categories:   Business

  • Amos Gachiri

    This gave me a whole different perspective on the country

    • Happy you liked it! Kenya is a quite impressive country, and most people are hardly aware of how fast it is rising!