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Mombasa-Nairobi highway woes



The fate of the 466-kilometre, six-lane Mombasa-Nairobi expressway has been in limbo as the Kenyan government and contractor Bechtel, work to determine the best financing model for the project. The Kenyan government want the project to be undertaken on a PPP basis, while Bechtel believe it should be wholly funded by government.

It is estimated the project will cost $3.8 billion (Sh380 billion), and supporters and detractors of the programme have recently had a lot to say about the project and funding.

Critics of the project say that it is expensive at $3.8 billion, and almost twice as expensive as previously anticipated. Additionally, with an existing highway already running from Nairobi to Mombasa, there are those who have questions why a new highway is needed at all, when it would be possible to upgrade the existing road.

According to the Nation newspaper, supporters of the project claim “a new road is faster to build and the works won’t interfere with the traffic. Also…in case of the future tolling of the highway, the old road can be used as a free alternative.”

Earlier this year, James Macharia, Cabinet secretary for Transport and Infrastructure told parliament that his ministry prefers a PPP model for the construction of the expressway. In July, he denied that Bechtel had been given the contract for the construction, despite an announcement in August 2017 by Bechtel president Craig Albert that the project had been awarded to the company.

“The construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway has not been tendered to anybody,” said Mr Macharia. “My ministry has no knowledge of an agreement with Bechtel. There is talk of single-sourcing of this tender to the Americans, which I know nothing about.”

The funding method favoured by Bechtel will require Kenya to enter into a loan agreement with the US Export-Import (Exim) Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). According to Bechtel, the PPP model will end up costing taxpayers more.

At the time of writing this, there is no definitive decision regarding funding or contractors for the project.

At the upcoming African Road Infrastructure and Investment Congress, we will be speaking with Andrew Patterson, African President, Bechtel about the necessary ingredients for Successful road development partnerships – examples and near-misses. Join us on 30 and 31 October in Nairobi to hear more about this project and others.