Where is the anger at the apartheid claims in Chinese-run rail system?

Wednesday March 18 2020

Kenya Railways MD Atanas Maina addresses guests at the Syokimau Terminus on May 31, 2018 in the event to mark the first anniversary of the Madaraka Express. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The great and good of Kenya’s independence struggle were armed with rudimentary weaponry yet took on the military might of a global industrial power.

They fought for our resources, dignity and freedom.

They fought to take back what colonial racism and usurpation took away from Kenyans. But, alas, 55 years after independence, Kenyans are reeling under a deliberate policy of segregation at the hands of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).
This state-owned conglomerate carried out the feasibility study for, constructed and now operates the 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa standard gauge railway (SGR), and its popular Madaraka Express passenger line.

Kenyans are saying the Chinese often boast that they will have their way or the highway; that there are three Chinese personnel for a job that could be performed by one person; and the Chinese are doing jobs that should belong to Kenyans.


Kenyans are saying they are discriminated against by their Chinese bosses in terms of pay, and are separated from their Chinese counterparts when it comes to restaurants, toilets, accommodation and travel.

Lest you forget, three years ago, Chongqing Chinese, a Chinese-owned restaurant in Nairobi, banned black people from the establishment after 5 pm unless they were in the company of whites, Indians or Chinese.

A robbery two years earlier persuaded the ownership not to admit “Africans that we don't know because you never know who is al-Shabaab and who isn't.”

Amazingly, this foreign-owned restaurant did not have the requisite trading licences. It was swiftly shut down by then Governor Evans Kidero upon correctly reading the souring mood of Nairobians.

A small private Chinese business brands Africans robbers and terrorists and bars them from its restaurant that operates illegally. And CRBC, a transnational, runs a massive public transit system and racially abuses Kenyans.

This is a deliberate policy of apartness – apartheid – imposed on Kenyans by the Chinese. Is this racism visited upon Kenyans because they are recipients of Chinese loans or because they built SGR? Is it because they manage this railway or because Chinese loans account for more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s Sh4.5 trillion debt?


It doesn’t matter. Section 41 of the Constitution of Kenya says that every “person has the right to fair labour practices” and that “every worker has the right to fair remuneration, reasonable working conditions and to form, join or participate in the activities and programmes of a trade union and to go on strike.”

So where is the anger that should greet Chinese racism? It should be scathing from the Legislature and Executive arms of the government; it should be scorching from the umbrella Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), and it should be searing from the Railways and Allied Workers Union.

No, it will not be coming from the Executive. First, bumbling government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe asked Kenyans to “bear with the Chinese”, which means to “tolerate” them or “put up with” what the Chinese are doing to them. He actually defended the Chinese and barracked complaining Kenyans.

Then, the Cabinet Secretary for Labour Ukur Yattani ordered a seven-day investigation to establish the veracity of the claims of racism. But, as if keen to assure the Chinese and cast doubt on Kenyans, he said that the allegations, if true, point to a violation of the Constitution.

Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli said in a TV interview that neither the umbrella union nor its affiliate was aware of the racism and discrimination by CRBC.

That is not surprising when it is noted that CRBC has forced staff to swear not to discuss workplace issues on social media.

It is not surprising when aggrieved staffers have been asked why they left their previous employers if CRBC is intolerable.

It cannot be surprising if CRBC staffers are forced to lie on their stomachs as punishment for mistakes made in the course of their duties.

Parliament must, therefore, step up to the plate. It must go beyond the Transport Committee summoning Mr Yatur. In my view, both Houses of Parliament should set up a joint ad hoc committee of inquiry into the scandal of racism at CRBC.

Parliament must represent the people of Kenya and ensure the running of SGR reflects and meets their needs, aspirations and laws. Parliament must be ready to channel the anger of Kenyans and tell the Chinese to stuff their money.

Yes, handshake or not, Parliament must stand up, speak up and stick up for the dignity of Kenyans.

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