In the past 10 years, Kenya has adopted a new spine for national economic growth, shifting from the initial focus on agriculture and service industry, with infrastructure now largely considered the enabler to development in hitherto neglected regions and sectors.
In Nairobi, the quest to rejuvenate the capital city’s infrastructure has been so upbeat, more so in 2018, that we now speak of mega infrastructure projects. Road construction has seen the largest of these ventures.
Planned and ongoing construction projects include A104 (Mombasa Road) from the Likoni Road junction to James Gichuru Road junction by the government and Nutrip, funded by the World Bank; European Union-funded ‘Missing Link 15 B’, commonly known as Deep Sea road; James Gichuru-Rironi road; and dualling of Ngong Road.
There are also plans to build a highway bridge connecting Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Mombasa Road to Kangemi on the Nakuru highway. The 28km bridge, an expressway, is expected to stem the problem of passengers missing flights at the JKIA due to perennial traffic congestion in the city centre.
The same mega road projects have happened in Mombasa, as seen in the expansion of the Sh6 billion Moi International Airport-Port Reitz-Magongo and Mombasa-Miritini roads into dual carriageways, interchanges and overpasses. Ongoing projects include the dualling of the Mombasa-Mariakani highway, Dongo-Kundu Bypass and Mombasa Northern Bypass, which were set to increase efficiency in the Port of Mombasa.
Construction of a road connecting the Mombasa port to Bujumbura, which a recent report indicated is finally complete, is aimed at encouraging Burundians to trade more through Kenya. The 1,545km road — through Voi, entering Tanzania at Holili to cross into Burundi at the Singida-Kobero border post — cuts the distance, through the Northern Corridor, by 358km.
Work on the Sh2.7 billion Changamwe-Magongo road is also complete, according to TradeMark East Africa.
Yet national institutions such as Kura and KeNHA that lead infrastructural development are largely mute on the social safeguards and development outcomes of these surges in infrastructure. Sadly, the delivery of massive infrastructure in Kenya — be it the standard gauge railway, Kenya Power expansion or mega roads — is rife with allegations of massive corruption, ballooning national debt and mass evictions.
No doubt, the large infrastructural developments have enhanced movement and expanded opportunities for many people. But we must never forget that these interventions must be implemented within the precepts of the Constitution, with a focus on leaving all Kenyans better off.
While the Constitution and Statutes provide standards and rules to ensure ethical discharge of their functions, most institutions mandated to finance or deliver public infrastructure have a rather perfunctory application of these laws. That ends up creating a disconnect between the built infrastructure and outcomes such as those envisaged in the Constitution.
We can make use of the constitutional provisions in broader outcome criteria to assess the outcomes and, indeed, the development dimensions of the mega infrastructure. In this expanded review, attention ought to be paid to the extent to which infrastructure development is done in tandem with the criteria of ethics.
This is nothing new. Over the years, development institutions such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank have had to respond to the critique that projects which they supported left most ordinary people worse off. Their strategy of engagement had to shift from the passive one of do-no-harm to affirmative action, which required them to demonstrate the projects were actually ‘doing-good’.
In the Kenyan context, there exist these strong ethnical criteria in the Constitution. If development is to be understood as a human rights question, then reference must be made to Article 19, which highlights the importance of human dignity as an enabler and outcome of development.
We are returning to where we started in the 1970s, to critique development. While the critique then was around the notion of how the ‘people matter’, it is now much more. The question raised in review of mega infrastructure in Kenya is: What kind of societal ethic does it advance?
This and other questions can only be resolved through multi-stakeholders project design and implementation platform that takes into account evidence in policy formulation and practices.
Mr Akoth is a director, Pamoja Trust. [email protected]