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Uhuru’s big fail in France visit now revealed after being kept secret for days


Whether it was by State agencies or through the Presidential Press Unit, details about Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent visit to France have largely been kept under wraps. Unlike most other state visits where ordinarily the President’s handlers will release details boasting of major deals and contracts that the president had been able to sign, there had been a noticeable silence surrounding this one.

 

It is however now emerging that the reason behind this might perhaps be because the president’s trip was marked by a huge failure to ink a financial deal for the construction of a railway line linking Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Nairobi’s city centre, delaying the €128 million (Sh16.3 billion) infrastructure plan.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said that the French trip did not lead to the signing of the deal, which will fund the construction of the five kilometre metre-gauge line linking the airport to standard-gauge rail (SGR) terminus in Syokimau.


Earlier agreements had provided for the signing of the loan pact by June 30 when President Kenyatta was in France.


“No agreements were signed, we just reviewed progress towards the launch of the project,” said Mr Macharia, without giving details.

 


This means that the rail project, whose construction was initially set for August following a deal agreed between French President Emanuel Macron and his Kenyan counterpart in March 2019, faces further delays.


The loan will also aid the revamp of the old 17-kilometre railway track that links to the SGR line at Syokimau, construction of two airport stations, a terminal at Donholm and an automatic fare collection system.


Construction of the rail link to JKIA was expected to be completed in 2021. Mr Macron viewed it as one of the key projects to cement bilateral ties between Nairobi and Paris, promising to provide sustainable financing in what was seen as a dig at China.


China has provided nearly Sh500 billion in loans for the construction of the SGR line from Mombasa to Nairobi, but some critics have expressed concerns over Kenya’s growing debt burden and Chinese loans.


China had earlier expressed interest in expanding the SGR line to JKIA and the city centre via Syokimau. But the plan was termed costly and shelved.
Sources familiar with the rail deal see the hand of the Chinese in attempts to block it.

 


Mr Macron’s joint press briefing with Mr Kenyatta was symbolic given its venue at the CBD railway terminus during his March visit to Kenya, where the French leader repeatedly mentioned ‘sustainable financing’ and ‘respect for sovereignty’ in what was understood to be his way of saying that Paris funding was better than Chinese.

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    Written by Joshua Wanga

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