Hosted by Goethe-Institut, contemporary artist Michael Soi presents a series of 17 paintings celebrating women from all over Nairobi, bringing you different takes on the...
Commuters agree that their transit time into Nairobi has plummeted. But they also lament the lack of signage and lane markings that has landed many a driver unexpectedly in Muthaiga or on River Road, scratching their heads. Lately, however, a new complaint has been heard more and more often: What is the deal with all the mess?
Heaps of old asphalt. Piles of dirt and debris. Puddles of stagnant water. Half-constructed walls which fail to channel away the rain. While a newcomer to Kenya might appreciate the speed of travel that East Africa’s first superhighway affords them, they’re unlikely to appreciate the view. Fingers inevitably point at the Chinese, who contracted the Thika Road reconstruction in its entirety. But can they really be held accountable for the clutter? And does the mess prove they’re not doing a good job?
“You can’t say yet whether the road is a success till it’s done,” says Mugo Kibati, the Director General of Vision 2030 . “Right now it’s a mess. But I marvel at people who expect there to be no messy transition. The work will be complete by commissioning.” This is currently scheduled—depending on whom you ask—for June, July, or August.
“The whole fixation on Chinese versus the West is neither here nor there,” Kibati maintains. “The focus should be on the criteria—and China is meeting them. This is one of the highest-quality roads ever done in Kenya.” According to him, the Chinese contractors are fulfilling all their requirements, and they are doing the work to a high standard—particularly in terms of cost-efficiency.
Given that Kenyan taxpayers are funding the project, largely through loans from China and the African Development Bank, cost-efficiency is a plus. Aesthetics, on the other hand, may be a luxury. Cleanup, landscaping, planting trees—all this is required of the Chinese under the terms of the contract. But according to George Kiiru, one of the Kenya National Highway Authority (KENHA) engineers involved in the design of the superhighway, the contractors technically have up to two years after the completion of the road to clean it up.
“We’re very happy with what the Chinese are doing,” says Kiiru. Of the garbage along the road? “That to me is not garbage. We normally deal with such things in road construction.” Signage, lane markers, guardrails, streetlights—all these are promised before the commissioning, and are, admittedly, more crucial than addressing the mess.
Turn to local contractors, however, and the feedback changes. “According to my standards, they’re not doing a good job,” reports one Kenyan contractor who builds roads in Kenya— or used to, until it became impossible to underbid the Chinese.“They bid too low. Then they don’t have enough finances to do a quality job.” According to this contractor, who asked not to be named, the Chinese have an advantage in that the interest rates in their homeland are so much lower; Kenyan contractors can’t compete anymore.
Offers the Chinese embassy “Despite some media reports indicating some complaints over the duration of the construction and inconveniences caused during the construction, the general feedback is very positive and encouraging.” Only time will tell whether the mess gets cleaned up to everyone’s satisfaction. Plans to maintain the superhighway upon its completion remain undetermined. There is talk at KENHA of public-private partnerships offering incentives to lure companies into undertaking maintenance, but nothing has been finalized. “We wanted a highway able to carry a lot more traffic,” says Mugo Kibati. “But we also want to change the driving culture.” The results of that plan may not be visible for awhile longer.