Why SGR is Kenya’s new engine of economic growth
By Philip Mainga
There’s something outstanding about the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that seems to stun Kenyans. It is silent, sturdy and efficient and keeps time—there hasn’t been a single delay for over 2 years since its launch—quietly delivering a millennial goal.
None of its parts appear to be substandard because none are.
The vintage Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) erected by the British Colonialists in 1895 is now complimented by the inherently better and modern SGR. The plan was to have SGR follow a path more or less parallel to the older MGR, with benefits to local business along the path through a mix of cultural, economic and lifestyle changes.
But there are those who would see its disruption differently.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. To resist them creates sorrow,” says Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu. The SGR is part of a larger envisioned ideological change for the COMESA region. The plans were inspired by possibilities in improved trade efficiencies and investments in Export Processing Zones. Factors linked to ease of travel, improvements in safety for both passengers and cargo freight, environmental support for climate change and health safety for all. The ramification of these will impact insurance company interactions, regional and county macro-economies while at the same time supporting the basic unit of life—the family—through lifestyle changes for truck drivers. For these, the SGR needs to be celebrated a bit more.
First, it is a milestone. Through my schooling years, it was a long standing joke that after the colonialists built us the MGR, independent Kenya had not extended a single metre of rail. That nostalgia-tinted homage to colonial masters was shattered by the 485km SGR Phase 1. Such a massive project will always attract controversy, politics and theatrics.
Secondly, the SGR 1 cuts through eight counties (Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Kajiado, Machakos and Nairobi), injecting fresh ways of life in towns such as Voi, Kibwezi, Maisenyi, Miritini, Emali, Mariakani and Athi River. The new operational SGR Phase 2A, which crosses five counties from South Station to Narok ensure seamless travel from Mombasa to Suswa through Rongai, Ngong and Mai Mahiu.
Upon ultimate completion, the Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu-Malaba SGR will be the most important railway channel in Kenya, and will link Mombasa to the rest of country’s hinterland and East Africa through Malaba station.
The SGR has been critiqued for its startup costs, but it is reducing cargo load congestion, wear and tear of our roads, travel time and enhancing the development of a free port and EPZs. It also saves the country billions that would otherwise go to road repair. But more than anything, the SGR is committed to sustainably protecting our national heritage. The construction has been careful in fashioning a landscape that cares for its wildlife.
Beyond politics, the SGR has automated silencer technology in place for reduction of train vibrations. It is enriching and tending lives of both humans and the rich diverse wildlife heritage that feeds Kenya’s tourism industry. In a corporate level, it is reducing delay time for cargo hauls from Mombasa port.
This is the new route towards understanding a Kenya’s newest beauty as well as demonstrating benefits of efficient processes. It is an engine of growth towards architectural, urbanisation, tourism and economic prosperity. Overall, it is the most honest reflection of Kenya’s Vision 2030 aspirations and Big Four Agenda.
—The writer is Acting Managing Director, Kenya Railways