Kenya is bustling with roadworks at the moment. Nairobi is leading from the front. With the promise of great highways in the the near future, however, comes utter chaos now.

Every other major road seems to be under construction in 2020. As an inevitable result, brace for slow and bumpy rides through choking traffic jams on temporary mud roads.

Nairobi – the showcase

Nairobi, a city of endless roadworks

Nairobi is the showcase of the government’s aggressive drive to modernize Kenya’s infrastructure, funded by Chinese loans. China has risen to become Kenya’s main lender in recent years. EU countries and Japan are trying their best to stay relevant. The new kid on the block is the US, with a proposed new USD 3.5bn Nairobi-Mombasa expressway. Debt funding has brought Kenya’s debt-to-GDP ratio up to 63%, though. The loans being rather expensive, economists are raising concerns about the sustainability of further borrowing.

Under President Kibaki (2003-2013), Kenya started catching up again after 23 years of neglect under former dictator Daniel arap Moi. A lot of decrepit roads were repaired, while some long overdue projects like the expansion of Thika Road, and the construction of the Northern and Eastern Bypasses were hailed as major signs of progress. Today, those projects seem almost timid: Under President Kenyatta, the infrastructure boom has gone into an even higher gear.

Safety standards: potential for improvement!

Road safety is the first casualty of such roadworks, though. Deep trenches next to the road, cordoned off only with yellow tape, make nocturnal journeys along unlit roads lethal. Piles of sand and rubble in the middle of the same roads, with no warning signs, cause accidents by the hour. Also, unmarked, makeshift detours around obstacles are a certain recipe for chaos.

While the roads are rapidly being upgraded to the league of the advanced economies, safety standards are not quite there yet. With contractors often able to bribe their way out of already minimal requirements, roadworks sites become literal death traps. With many contractors originating from a major lender country, the government also fears biting the hand that feeds it.

Kenyans will have ever more kilometers of excellent roads to enjoy in the years to come. That is of little help to those killed or maimed in the construction process, due to sheer neglect and impunity!

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