President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to protect the standard gauge railway by all means — including authorising the execution of vandals.
Launching the passenger train on the Sh327 billion railway in Mombasa Wednesday, the President reminded Kenyans that he still has powers to authorise implementation of the death penalty.
“The presidency gives me powers to authorise executions, and let me warn those who plan to vandalise the railway that I will sign that order and they will be hanged,” President Kenyatta told a gathering at the Miritini terminus.
He added: “I normally prefer to pardon the guilty and have them serve life imprisonment sentences but the railway is a different matter. Those who will be sentenced for destruction of public property, I want them to listen to me—God forgive me!—I will approve their hanging.”
The President issued the stern warning four days after police discovered damaged guard rails along the track at Mariakani, Mombasa.
BELONGS TO KENYANS
He said the project should be continued by successive governments because it is a vision for the people of Kenya.
“It is not mine,” said the Head of State. “It doesn’t belong to (Deputy President) William (Ruto). It is for all Kenyans.”
If, indeed, President Kenyatta approves the death penalty against a convicted vandal, that will be the first since the execution of Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, who was tried and sentenced to death in a Court Martial over the aborted August 1, 1982 coup against President Daniel arap Moi.
In 2009, former President Mwai Kibaki commuted the sentences of all the 4,000 prisoners on death row to life imprisonment.
When President Kenyatta took over he followed suit last year with 2,747 others, of whom 2,655 are men and 92 women.
PAY FOR CRIMES
President Kenyatta said that while he had restrained himself last year, this time the vandals will pay for their crimes.
“There is a law against destruction of critical infrastructure — economic sabotage — and it is a capital offence,” the President explained. “And if you are convicted, you are sentenced to hang.
“There are those among us who don’t like to see things go well. They think if they want Uhuru, or the government, to look bad, you vandalise the railway or electricity infrastructure. I want to tell you: This railway is not mine. It is not Ruto’s. It is not the government’s. It has been built by money belonging to the 45 million Kenyans.
“This railway is Kenyans’.”
Section 343 of the Penal Code states that a person who damages the railway works, with an intent to endanger life or with the knowledge that it is likely to endanger life, is liable to imprisonment for life.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko had on Monday said four suspects arrested over the vandalism of the SGR would be charged as economic saboteurs.
“All those identified and apprehended will face the full force of the law and will be charged and prosecuted not as ‘petty thieves’ but as organised criminals and economic saboteurs,” Mr Tobiko said in a statement.
The Madaraka Express, which is being built by the Chinese, is arguably the most outstanding of the transformative projects President Kenyatta has overseen since coming into office in 2013.
He launched the service a century and 21 years since a white colonial master stood under the skies of the picturesque island of Mombasa to launch what was called the “Lunatic Express” — the railway line that would link the Kenyan coast to the shores of Lake Victoria in 1901.
SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
Launching the SGR freight service train on Tuesday, President Kenyatta argued that the creation of a special economic zone in Naivasha will not kill operations at the Port of Mombasa.
“We have invested approximately $600 million (Sh60 billion) in the expansion of this facility,” he said. “I think that is a clear indication that we want to make this port the best in Africa.” However, opposition leaders, who claim the government has exaggerated the cost of the railway and is taking port handling business to the hinterland, have criticised the project.
But the President argued that the noise around it was only political and called on Kenyans to embrace the new railway.
“Let us abandon divisive politics and build Kenya together,” said the President. “Whatever your political belief, whoever you support, today we should be together.
“We should celebrate together.”
The port and the railway also represent Kenya’s existence on the international stage. While the SGR is a product of a loan by China, the port is being expanded with money lent by the Japanese, who have, of late, been fighting with Beijing for a stake in Africa.
Last year, Kenya launched a container terminal at the port built with a $297 million (Sh30 billion) loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).
It can handle 550,000 containers a year, improving the port’s capacity to 1.6 million containers annually. Kenya is to repay the loan in 40 years.
Japan announced that it will spend a further $500 million (Sh50 billion) on the port in the second phase of its expansion, which will involve dredging out the channel and the harbour and creating new berths for ships.
But the politics of the railway went beyond the port. Deputy President Ruto and the Kenya Railway Corporation board chairman, Gen (Rtd) Jeremiah Kianga, told of how many interests nearly had the SGR project fail to take off.
“This is a very proud moment for you (President), for the Jubilee administration and the people of Kenya,” said Mr Ruto. “We have had to go through very many challenges — the court cases, the environmental issues and the political issues surrounding this project.”
Mr Kianga suggested that cartels attempted to derail the project further.
He recalled: “The reason this was challenging was that there was the multiplicity of players and the diversity of interests. And some of them were pulling in directions that were not helpful.”