BY MICHAEL MUGWANG’A It has often been said that, at independence, Kenya was well on the same plane with so many of the current economic giants in the world. There is always talk of the Asian giants like Malaysia and Singapore whenever one takes a comparative look and how nations have fared over the years in economic progress. This is especially the case when the speaker, or writer for that matter, intends to take a swipe at the government of the day and point out how leadership failures have tended to retard the country’s progress towards achieving comparatively good living standards for her people. It is almost unanimously agreeable that Kenya has not done very well compared to her peers and equals at the time of her birth. In fact, it is true that much younger nations, like South Africa, are doing much better. But why It is greed. But it is not the common narrative that the country has had so selfish heads of State for the fifty years it has lived. Though I am not in any way sanitizing the shortcomings of the four heads of State we have had over the years, it will be defeatist to lump all the blame on four individuals and recoil on our national laurels hoping that one day an angel will come and take over State House, and deliver us to the promised land. In this country it is the citizens’ greed that has frustrated even the presidents’ minimal dream to leave some mark on the development landscape. Over the last five years or so, the State has initiated quite a number of projects that could turnaround the economics and economic fortunes of the county. But the actions of individual citizens have stood in the way of their implementation and timely completion. Let’s take a look at four of such projects: the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor; the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and; the roads infrastructure development and electricity connections. According to a report compiled by the LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority (LCDA), the secretariat in charge of the project, released in September, “the LAPSSET Corridor Programme is a regional flagship project intended to provide transport and logistics infrastructure aimed at creating seamless connectivity between the Eastern African Countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan”. In its entirety, the project intends to link a population of 160million people in the three countries. In addition, the corridor as part of the larger land bridge, aims to connect the East African coast from Lamu Port to the West coast of Africa at Douala Port. The report says the LAPSSET corridor is intended to operate as an “Economic Corridor with the objective of providing multiple Eastern African nations access to a large scale economic trade system thereby promoting socio-economic development in the region” Locally, the LAPSSET programme entails the construction of several subsidiary projects such as Lamu Port at Manda Bay consisting of 32 deep sea berths, an interregional Standard Gauge Railway lines from Lamu to Isiolo, Isiolo to Nakodok at the South Sudan border, Isiolo to Moyale on the Ethiopia border and Nairobi to Isiolo. It also encompasses interregional highways from Lamu to Isiolo, Isiolo to Nakodok and Juba (South Sudan), Isiolo to Moyale and Lamu to Garsen. In the region’s new trend of discovering potential oil well, LAPSSET also projects the construction of a crude oil pipeline from Lamu to Isiolo, Isiolo to Nakodok and Nakodok to Juba (South Sudan). A product oil pipeline from Lamu to Isiolo, Isiolo to Moyale (Kenya) and Moyale to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) is also envisaged to exploit the newly discovered resource. In the plan, international airports are to be built at Lamu, Isiolo, and Lake Turkana. The airports will come with resort cities at the three locations. The extensive project will also witness a merchant oil refinery at Lamu, a high Grand Falls Multipurpose Dam, and a “Fiber Optic Cables and Communication systems Building Transformative and Game Changer Infrastructure for a Seamless Connected Africa.” The project profile says the LAPSSET Corridor consists of two elements; a 500 metre wide Infrastructure Corridor where the road, railway, pipelines, power transmission and other projects will be carried and the Economic Corridor of 50km on either sides of the infrastructure corridor where industrial investments will be situated. According to the report, the implementation works have commenced for various components while other components are currently at project preparation phase. For instance, construction works are currently ongoing for the First Three Berths of Lamu Port, the Isiolo-Moyale-Hawassa Road (1000km) connecting Kenya and Ethiopia and power transmission lines connecting various key points along the corridor. Construction is soon commencing on the Lamu-Garsen Road (135km), Lokichar-Lodwar-Nakodok Road (334km) connecting Kenya and South Sudan. Project preparations are currently ongoing for Lamu-Garissa-Isiolo Road (537km), Nakodok-ToritJuba Road (400km), Lamu-Isiolo-Moyale-Addis Ababa Product Oil Pipeline project and Lamu-Moyale-Hawassa-Addis Ababa Standard Gauge Railway project among others. On completion, and if everything goes according to plan, the whole project is expected to gobble $24.5 billion equivalent to Sh2.4 trillion at current exchange rates in construction costs. It is estimated that Lamu Port alone with its 32 berths will cost approximately $3.1 billion, the Railway $7.1 billion while the Crude oil pipeline will cost a further estimate of $3 billion for Lamu to Lokichar trunk line alone. But chances are everything will not go according to plan, it hardly does in Kenya. Then there is the real Standard Gauge Railway being spearheaded by slowly resurrecting Kenya Railways Corporation. Valued at about Sh327 billion, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR line for passengers and cargo is one of the single largest infrastructure project in the country’s history. The line, whose construction began in 2013, is scheduled for completion somewhere next year. According to www.railway-technology.com, the new railway line constitutes the first phase that aims to connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. The Mombasa-Nairobi part will shorten the passenger travel time from Mombasa to Nairobi from more than ten hours to a little more than four hours. Freight trains will complete the journey in less than eight hours, the website says, adding, “Construction of the 609km-long line began in October 2013 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2017. At least 60 new jobs a kilometre of track or approximately 30,000 jobs are expected during the construction. The SGR project, the profile given by the website says, is proposed to connect Mombasa to Malaba on the border with Uganda and continue onward to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. It will further run to Kigali in Rwanda with a branch line to Juba in South Sudan. Branch lines along the route will extend to Kisumu, Kasese and Pakwach. The SGR is a flagship project under the Kenya Vision 2030 development agenda. It will simplify transport operations across the borders and reduce travel costs and minimize the tear and wear pressure from our roads apart from benefiting the economies of Kenya and the neighbouring countries. The governments of Kenya and Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in October 2009 to construct the SGR from Mombasa to Kampala. A tripartite agreement was signed by the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in August 2013 to fast track the development of the railway to their respective capital cities, according to the website. The SGR line from Mombasa to Kigali is expected to be completed by 2018. The single-track standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi will have a route length of 472km and a total length of 609km. The Class 1 line will have a superior design catering to robust and low-maintenance requirement. The new line will run parallel to the existing meter gauge railway and the Mombasa-Nairobi Road or A109 Highway for the most part. It will deviate at certain points to attain the desired gradient and curvature. State-of-the-art passenger stations will be built at Mombasa and Nairobi as well as five other intermediate stations at Mariakani, Voi, Mtito Andei, Sultan Hamud and AthiRiver. A total of 40 stations are planned along the line, 33 out of which will be ready when the railway becomes operational. The freight terminals will be located at the Mombasa port and the Inland Container Depots at Embakasi in Nairobi. The railway line is designed to carry 22 million tones of cargo a year or a projected 40% of Mombasa Port throughput by 2035. The line will initially carry diesel cars while electrification is possible in future. Multiple unit passenger trains having a capacity of 960 passengers will travel at an average speed of 120km/h on the line. Freight trains will have a capacity of 216 TEUs and travel at an average speed of 80km/h. A typical freight train on the line will consist of 54 double stack flat wagons and measure 880m-long, according to railway-technology.com. So far, the Mombasa-Nairobi phase is as good as done save for the bottlenecks erected in its way by the opportunistic Kenyans and their companies. The second phase, from Nairobi to Naivasha, was launched on October 19 amid controversies that this article will look at shortly. Just a week before the SGR second phase launch, Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter was in the media complaining of the hurdles his ministry was facing in implementing some life changing projects in the country. Mr Keter’s ministry is in charge of connecting electricity and the State has lately been working on a programme to have as many homes in the country as possible connected to the national grid. The project, dubbed the Last Mile Connectivity, was launched by President Kenyatta in May this year in a ceremony marked by pomp and colour. The President at the same time also launched the National Primary Schools Electrification Programme and announced that the number of schools now connected to electricity is 20,575 from 8,203 in 2013 and stated that by the end of June, all 22,175 schools will be connected. According to information released by the Kenya Power and Lighting Company at the time of the launch, there had been an increase of 1,041,576 new customers in its base over the previous two years, raising the number of customers to 3,300,467; representing a growth of 46%. In the President’s speech, he also announced that the cost for installation of electricity would now drop from Sh35, 000 down to only Sh15, 000 to speed up his Government’s agenda to have at least 70% of Kenyan households connected to electricity by 2017. Those who cannot pay the Sh15, 000 at once, the President promised, would still get connected and have the option of making payment by installments through their bills. He said the decision to reduce the cost of installation was reached after the progress that his Government had achieved in increasing power generation and is aimed at allowing all Kenyans access to electricity. He also said that by 2017, it was his expectation that 70% of Kenyans will have access to electricity translating to more productivity and creation of more jobs. The Last Mile Connectivity Project also comes with a change of approach at how electricity connections are done. Whereas Kenyans used to make applications with long procedures in the past, now Kenya Power and the Rural Electrification Authority would “come knocking on door, asking Kenyans to allow them to connect their households to electricity”. The two agencies were to ensure that all households near electricity transformers are connected to power whether the owners have made applications or not. “Everything we do is aimed at making Kenyans become busy with work, more productive and wealthier,” the President said. The end of the year is just days away and the tale on the ground is not as rosy. And the reason is not the President. It is the greedy Kenyan. Then there has been the project to expand the roads and the road network in the country. There are a thousand and one cases in courts. All these projects have one thing in common; individuals fighting to get a big piece of the money allocated to the construction process. In most, if not all cases, there has been the question of compensation for land on which these projects pass. As we speak, all the four projects are in limbo over the land question. The sad part is, in most cases, the litigants are not every Tom, Harry and Dick that is complaining. They are speculators who are in a position to accurately predict the route these projects will take months, or years before they are launched, acquire the land from peasant owners and wait to reap big from the Government when that time comes. And then there are the activists. This is an amorphous group that sources its voices from a variety of occupations and with varying express motivations. This voice has been especially very vociferous in matters SGR. Their concerns are as valid as any. Whichever the concerns, however, the country can only move forward if development projects are allowed to continue as seamlessly as possible. And there is some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. A bill is in Parliament that seeks to cap the amount of money that can be paid as compensation for land acquired by Government for implementation of State funded projects. The bill will, hopefully, also cap the greed that has been our undoing as a nation for decades. Gazzetted last September, the Land Value Index Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was necessitated by the need to predict and streamline just what should be the compensation of lands compulsorily acquired by the State for development purposes. This will have the desired effect of enabling near budgetary allocations to the various projects and avoid situations where costs are adjusted at will and at the behest of speculators. For instance, there is a proposal to amend “ Section 2 of the Land Act inserting the words “Just compensation” in relation to compulsorily acquired land or creation of wayleaves, easements and public rights means a form of fair compensation that is assessed and determined through criteria set out under this Act” As much as the word “just” could be interpreted differently by various interested parties, it gives the courts a workable formulae to determine just how much is just. But what is more important, in my view, is that the amendment provides that: “(58) Upon receipt of the notice under subsection (5), the Registrar shall make an order, pursuant to section 76 (1) of the Land Registration Act, 2012, prohibiting or restricting dealings with the affected portion of land thereof until it vests in the acquiring body” This primarily guards against instances where a piece of land keeps changing hands after being identified as a target for acquisition by the State hence cutting down cost increment by emergence of land merchants who seek to buy and sell for profits. But all said and done, what needs to change as a matter of urgency is our national and individual appetites for State money and the cultivation of moral values. It works for the general good of everyone.