Shem Oirere reports on how major highway projects in eastern African will improve links and the economies of a number of countries in the region
Kenya, which has eastern Africa's biggest economy, is implementing a road sub-sector improvement programme focusing on rehabilitating and constructing new national roads to link the country with its neighbours and beyond.
The heavily donor-funded Transport Sector Support Project for Kenya is meant to raise the country's economic profile in the region and ensure the realisation of a dream by the East African Community (EAC), a regional trade organisation, of creating a seamless transport network within the region, said Franklin Bett, Minister for Roads, when commissioning one of the projects.
With an already growing intra-regional trade under the EAC framework, Kenya has moved to enhance the movement of goods and people from and to the country by pushing for the completion of three key road projects linking the country to the rest of East Africa as the region moves to strengthen ongoing economic, social and political integration.
A total of 649km of highways implemented in three separate project schemes are being constructed or upgraded to improve access from Kenya to Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
One of the projects, the 147km Kisumu-Kakamega-Webuye-Kitale road, is very important in linking Kenya to Tanzania and Sudan, and is referred to as the Western Corridor. It is the second biggest Corridor after the other World Bank
-funded Northern Corridor, and is also set to have extensions to Ethiopia and Uganda.
Its location makes it a critical road that will "facilitate trade and regional integration, a large population in the project area, in Kenya and East Africa," according to the World Bank, the project's main financier.
Specific project works include the rehabilitation of the 147km road including a 10km dual carriageway. The contractor would, in addition to widening the existing road, construct roadside facilities including truck and bus parking, seasonal markets and road-user facilities.
The project is being overseen by Kenya National Highways Authority
(KeNHA), the country's biggest transport state corporation, which says that at least 95% of the road is in poor condition "with the section between Kisumu and Kitale being in a situation of total disrepair." Technical design done by Otieno Odongo and Partners indicates that the surface course of the paved road will be enhanced to 100mm from the current 50mm for the section between Kisumu and Kakamega while the pavement structure of the section between Kakamega and Kitale will be 50mm from the current double surface dressing. The lean concrete base of the paved road will be 150mm according to KeNHA's pavement structure project details.
Rehabilitation and reconstruction of this road, which will have a 7m wide carriageway with at least three interchanges, coincides with both Kenya's effort to grow its economy by 6.1% and the ongoing attempts by the EAC to create a seamless transport network after the ratification of the EAC Common Market Protocol (an agreement which allows free movement of goods, people and money) by the organisation's five-member states of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and land-locked Rwanda and Burundi.
"The Bank is making this substantial investment in Kenya's two most important road corridors as part of its effort to help Kenya transform into a modern middle-income economy," said Johannes Zutt, World Bank country director for Kenya.
"This project will reduce bottlenecks on transit traffic and trade, particularly in the western region, opening up trade and investment opportunities for Kenya and the wider East African region." Development partners, the bank and the Government of Kenya are investing in the project, while the Northern Corridor is also being improved with the support of another US$460 million of bank support.
[The Northern Corridor, offering a variety of links including road/rail, rail/lake and oil pipelines, stretches for more than 1,400km, and is one of the most strategic commercial and humanitarian routes in Africa, linking the port of Mombasa in Kenya to the Great Lakes countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with links to northern Tanzania, southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia].
An earlier economic and financial analysis by the bank said: "Given that the economic growth in the country [Kenya] has been in the range of 5-7%/year in the last five years and expected to grow at between 5-7%/year in the future, traffic volumes are likely to grow in the range of 7-10%/year." Kenya is also implementing its side of the Athi River-Namanga-Arusha road project, which links the country to Tanzania and the southern Africa region.
The road will not only open up for more business for Tanzania but also ease traffic movement to Ethiopia and Uganda.
At the Namanga border point between Kenya and Tanzania, the road links with the Namanga-Arusha road, one of the busiest roads in both traffic and passenger volumes between the two eastern Africa countries according to statistics by Tanzania National Roads Agency (TANROADS), a state agency under the Ministry of Works responsible for the maintenance and development of the trunk and regional road network.
Kenya and Tanzania are each working on their side of the Athi River-Namanga-Arusah road with different project completion times, but with the objectives of increasing trade between the two nations in particular and the eastern Africa region in general.
The EAC considers the road to be the backbone of the region's economy, as it links East Africa to southern Africa.
"The development of this road project will facilitate movement of traffic from Zambia, through Tanzania and Kenya to Ethiopia as well as Uganda and Sudan," according to a statement by the EAC on the organisation's infrastructure plan contained in its strategic development plan.
"The road will also enhance import/export traffic from the port of Mombasa, which is the more convenient port for northern Tanzania on account of distance, and also as it is part of the tourist circuit serving the national parks of Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya and Manyara, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania." Kenya's Ministry of Roads says the road will have at least five new bridges with spans ranging from 20-30m with reinforced concrete. The longest bridge, the ministry says, will be on Athi River with a 90m span, which will be "a composite steel and concrete deck bridge." The road, which is being constructed by China National Overseas Engineering Corporation (Covec
), starts at the junction with the A 109 Mombasa-Nairobi road, 25km south west of the Kenyan capital.
To simplify movement of goods and passengers at the border crossing at Namanga, a $45.8 million One Stop Border Post (OSBP) is being set up as part of the entire Arusha-Athi River road project with financing from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency
Once complete, the OSBP will ensure "human and vehicular traffic from Kenya only stops in Tanzania and vice-versa," according to JICA.
"The OSBP has been developed as a result of excessive delays experienced in cargo clearance at border points mainly because of poor institutional management systems, inadequate physical infrastructure and services required to support cross border cargo management." Being one of the Cross Border Transport Infrastructure projects, the Athi River-Namanga-Arusha road fits into the long term road development plan of the EAC as road users in both countries look forward to increased traffic that underlies industrial development, trade and economic growth thus contributing to poverty reduction.
Kenya is also moving to open up its route to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa through the construction of a 366km stretch of the multi-national 666km Mombasa-Nairobi-Addis Ababa corridor that crosses the Kenya/Ethiopia border.
China's Jianxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction, the road's major contractor, is constructing or rehabilitating to bitumen standards the Kenyan side of the road linking Moyale town to the Merille River.
"Drainage structures will be newly constructed or rehabilitated while junctions and accesses will be improved," said a briefing on the multi-million dollar project by the African Development Bank
The Moyale-Merille River road is considered crucial in opening up Kenya's arid north and increasing volumes of trade with Ethiopia.
"The implementation of the project, will greatly contribute to improving transport and communication infrastructure in the Horn and eastern Africa countries, removing physical barriers to cross-border trade, and expanding market size beyond national boundaries." Ethiopia, which has already awarded a $44million construction contract to its side of the corridor to Egypt's Arab Contractors Company, looks forward to the completion of the Moyale-Merille River section of the project so as to enable it to get access to international markets.
Kenya on the other hand looks at the Moyale-Merille River road as the missing key to unlocking the potential to its arid and semi-arid northern districts, a region known for livestock farming and oil exploration ventures by multi-national oil exploration companies.
"In terms of route options, the existing road from Ageremariam to Moyale and Moyale to Merille River was found to be technically, economically and socio-environmentally the most feasible route to achieve the project objectives.
"A large part of the project area is prone to drought and famine, and the provision of relief food and other forms of humanitarian aid is a frequent necessity, hence the improved road is expected to enable rapid emergency response."