A major game-changing project in the life of our nation is the planned Nairobi-Mombasa expressway, which Bechtel Corporation of America is proposed to undertake with a price tag of at least Sh280 billion.
From the viewpoints of many, it is indeed a colossal amount comparable only to Phase One of the standard gauge railway (SGR).
It is important to see it in a broader context while analysing the national debt burden. The historical parallels from other countries that have leapfrogged in development are a good reflection to benchmark against.
China, for instance, from 1989, made deliberate change of its Maoist radical political pre-occupation to focus predominantly on economic heft.
Today, it’s the acknowledged world manufacturing nation, with highways, telecommunication networks, railways, airports, ports, waterways, housing, factories and so on. This has consequently enhanced the standard of living.
Another example is the Interstate Highway project which by dint of America’s 1956 Act, implemented a master plan that changed the face of the country.
The planning began in 1944 and it didn’t take off until 12 years later. Today people, trade, investments, telecommunication and commerce are connected seamlessly, courtesy of Inter-state highways.
Despite its vast land mass, the US road infrastructure can be compared to a spaghetti network.
It is probably the best model for opening up a nation’s far-flung frontiers to harness its potential.
This has catapulted it to be the greatest nation on earth economically, technologically and militarily.
Others that have realised positive results from superb transport infrastructure are Europe and South East Asia.
A shining example is Singapore, a small city state whose economy is in excess of GDP $329 billion versus that of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania combined of GDP $173 billion — according to World Bank statistics of 2017 — despite our enormous geographic size and population.
The point is that infrastructure is not to be equated to consumption but classified as a long-term investment with future returns.
This is why when Kenya is addressing the viability or otherwise of the Nairobi-Mombasa expressway.
We must encompass the next phase that includes Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, Busia as part of one seamless infrastructural project.
In the meantime, let us reflect on the amazing lessons learnt from President Mwai Kibaki’s decision to build the Nairobi-Thika highway. Hardly 10 years old, the social and economic benefits are immeasurable.
The expected spin-offs include skill transfer, massive (youth) employment and capacity building in the entire value chain of the construction and civil engineering sectors.
There are also opportunities for thousands of professionals, transport operators, passenger vehicles, tourism, agricultural produce and manufacturing, among others.
Delaying it would be postponing dreams and aspirations whose cost shall be too great to contemplate in future.
There will, however, be many naysayers. But if we are determined to change the landscape of development, now is the time for bold and uncompromising decisions to inform our future.
Nevertheless, I am not advocating that we should not be concerned about the national debt. But show me any country in the world today that made it without some financial support loans or benefactors?
Our challenge is lack of prudential commitment of loans as investment instruments for productive assets vis a vis consumption.
Kenya should invest in an even more ambitious project by incorporating planning for the Mombasa-Nairobi-Busia Expressway to spur economic growth to make us competitive consistent with Vision 2030. One overreaching caution is: We need to be vigilant in ensuring that every penny counts and must be accounted for by being intolerant to impunity and selfish corruption.
But let us not be under any illusion there is a nation which has ever succeeded without a generation that will make supreme sacrifices.
This must come from our collective leadership, who ironically, are living in luxury while majority are languishing in a sea of poverty.