Leadership, News

How Infrastructure can boost the livelihoods of households

“How exact­ly will the Nairo­bi express­way put food on my table?” a dis­grun­tled Nairo­bian posed this ques­tion to me dur­ing a recent event. 

A World Bank’s infra­struc­ture finance brief pro­vides a suc­cinct answer to this ques­tion, ‘Infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment lies at the nexus of eco­nom­ic growth, pro­duc­tive invest­ment, job cre­ation, and pover­ty reduc­tion.’ In oth­er words, the Nairo­bi Express­way, Thi­ka Super­high­way, Nairo­bi-Mom­basa SGR, the 10,300km of new tar­mac roads that have been con­struct­ed in the last nine years plus future roads and rail­ways will can spur man­i­fold invest­ment, cre­ate jobs and boost our economy. 

It is for this rea­son that Vision 2030 ‘aspires for a coun­try firm­ly inter­con­nect­ed through a net­work of roads, rail­ways, ports, air­ports, and water ways, and telecommunications.’

An inter­con­nect­ed coun­try will be able to trans­port goods and peo­ple in a seam­less, prof­itable way that will lift house­holds into mul­ti­ple rev­enue streams. 

Roads and rail­ways played a crit­i­cal role in build­ing USA’s econ­o­my into the World’s strongest economy. 

In June 1956, the US Con­gress passed the Fed­er­al-Aid High­way Act that autho­rized con­struc­tion of a 66,000-km net­work of inter­state high­ways that would spread across the nation. In order to ensure that this mam­moth road project saw the light of the day, the new Law allo­cat­ed $26 bil­lion (Shs3 Tril­lion) for con­struc­tion of the high­ways. Inter­est­ing­ly, these funds were most­ly raised through an increased fuel tax.

Forty years after enact­ment of the Fed­er­al-Aid High­way Act, the Amer­i­can High­way Users Alliance pre­pared a report on the inter­state high­ways impact. The report revealed that the new­ly built high­ways had returned more than $6 in eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tiv­i­ty for each $1 it cost. Here­in lies the pow­er of an elab­o­rate trans­port infra­struc­ture project – it deliv­ers an incred­i­ble return on investment. 

USA’s transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road was com­plet­ed even ear­li­er on May 10, 1869. Its com­ple­tion cat­alyzed America’s indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. In so doing, it laid the ground­work for the inter­state high­ways to dra­mat­i­cal­ly open up the US econ­o­my even further. 

Kenya expe­ri­enced a mea­sure of this infra­struc­tur­al eco­nom­ic boost after the Nairo­bi – Mom­basa Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way was com­plet­ed in May 2017. Direct jobs were instant­ly cre­at­ed when 2,285 staff were enlist­ed to work at the 33 sta­tions on this route and in the trains them­selves. Fur­ther to this, the SGR is said to have boost­ed Kenya’s eco­nom­ic growth by 1.5% and con­tributed to the over­all cre­ation of at least 46,000 jobs for local residents. 

Although some ana­lysts counter that the SGR’s eco­nom­ic impact is not as rosy, move­ment of peo­ple and goods between Nairo­bi and Mom­basa is undoubt­ed­ly eas­i­er, which is a boon to business. 

For these eco­nom­ic gains to be pro­tect­ed and mul­ti­plied, the SGR needs to extend ful­ly to the west­ern region and into Ugan­da. That way, inter-coun­ty and cross-bor­der trade will increase exponentially. 

How­ev­er, the rail­way alone can­not deliv­er opti­mal infra­struc­tur­al eco­nom­ic gains. Just as the Inter­state High­ways were built from USA’s coast to coast, we need to a mod­ern high­ways net­work that will spread across Kenya. This must be a nation­al project that will cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of Kenyans and not a piece­meal project. Such a high­way net­work would eas­i­ly cut into half the time tak­en to trav­el by road from Kisumu to Mom­basa, not to men­tion oth­er far-flung parts of the coun­try. This would have a mas­sive impact on business. 

Accord­ing to the World Bank, 840 mil­lion peo­ple in the world live more than 2 kilo­me­ters from all-weath­er roads. This com­pli­cates their access to trans­port infra­struc­ture, which under­mines their busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties. That has been the case in Kenya since independence. 

We only have eight years remain­ing before we reach 2030, the tar­get year of Vision 2030. Indeed, 2030 is in the next elec­tion cycle. If we are to achieve the lofty, yet achiev­able eco­nom­ic goals of this vision, we must work day and night to con­nect every cor­ner of this coun­try by rail and road.  If we do so, the 12 mil­lion house­holds in the coun­try will access new eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties that are not lim­it­ed to their local­i­ties.  Think green act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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