- The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is one of the flagship projects under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
- The BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013.
Francis Musyoka Mwinzi, popularly known as Mariga, is a 31-year-old Football Kenya Federation referee whose exploits have seen him rise through the ranks to become a Kenya Premier League match official.
However, his journey has not been easy. He managed to reach the top due to sheer hard work and the Standard Gauge Railway.
When he was at the National Super League level in the previous seasons, games in Taita Taveta county, where Mwatate United was based, used to be mostly at 1pm or 3pm.
“Pre-match meetings are supposed to be at 10am. So for me to reach there in time, I had to wake up at 4.30am and rush for the matatus that leave at 5.30am because from Mombasa to Voi is roughly three hours by road. Then from Voi to Wundanyi stadium is like 45 minutes,” Mariga tells the Star.
It was too hectic for Mariga but he had to do it.
And because of the hustle and bustle of the matatus, he was always late for the pre-match meetings and sometimes he would miss it altogether and rely on his counterparts in Taita Taveta to step in for him.
“I also used to reach Mwatate exhausted due to the long and uncomfortable journey, which would affect my performance as a referee,” Mariga said.
However, with the advent of the SGR, which later introduced the inter-county train, things suddenly became much easier for him.
“With SGR I wake up at 6.30am, allowing me to get that vital extra sleep. I go with the 8am train and reach Voi at around 9.30am. From there, there are already vehicles waiting to go to Wundanyi and by around 10.15am I am at the pre-match meeting,” Mariga says.
Apart from the time factor, Mariga says via SGR, he used to get to the matches fresh unlike before, and this helped him be alert in matches, which he would officiate without any errors in judgment.
“Another thing is initially, after the games, which would end at around 5pm, getting back to Mombasa was another challenge. You would have to wait for matatus to fill and this would make you leave Taita Taveta county even at 8pm depending on the availability of passengers. No matatu would leave with an empty seat,” Mariga said.
This meant getting to Mombasa as late as 11.30pm. Talk of a case of exhaustion!
“However, the introduction of the inter-county train meant the SGR train gets to Voi at 6.50pm and leaves at 6.53pm. So from the match at 5pm, we would rush to the Voi SGR station, wait for the train and get back home by 8.30pm.
Horace Odhach, 34, a pharmacist and now an electrical engineering student at Technical University of Mombasa, started and financed Juventus FC, a football club in Likoni’s Mtongwe which for almost six seasons played in the FKF’s Coast regional league.
For away matches in Taita Taveta county, he used to spend around Sh1,400 per player in transport by matatu to Taita Taveta county.
“When I had money, we used to travel with a squad of about 25 travelling in two separate matatus but with my first eleven in the same matatu. We had to carry extra people who would take care of our belongings when we were on the pitch playing,” Horace, who would sometimes play in the matches, said.
But when he did not have money he used to carry at most 18 people.
“It is not comfortable for 18 players to squeeze into one 14-seater matatu for three hours to Voi. They reach the destination fatigued and unable to perform at their best,” Odhach said.
With SGR, the cost was greatly reduced, spending about Sh600 per player.
“And with SGR, I would book early enough. I used to make calls and because it was a group booking, I would get to choose the coach and the seats I wanted. It was easier, faster and much more comfortable,” Odhach said.
He won more matches away travelling by SGR than traveling by road.
And like Mariga, they would catch the 6.50pm train from Nairobi back to Mombasa, getting home by 9pm latest.
The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is one of the flagship projects under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
The BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations.
The People’s Republic of China defines the BRI as “a way for a win-win cooperation that promotes common development and prosperity and a road towards peace and friendship by enhancing mutual understanding and trust, and strengthening all-round exchanges”.
President William Ruto is among the foreign leaders expected in Beijing for the Belt and Road Initiative conference next week to mark 10 years of the BRI.
This will be President Ruto’s first visit to China since coming to office a year ago, a period he is seen to have oriented his foreign policy towards the West, unlike predecessors Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki.
It also comes at a time when Kenya and China are marking 60 years of diplomatic relations later in December.
Data released by the SGR shows that so far since the rail officially began operations in 2017, more than 11,155,000 passengers have been dispatched.
From June 2017 until June 11, this year Madaraka Express transported an astounding 10,335,919 passengers, covering approximately 7,358,241km.
According to Kenya Railways, the rise in demand for the train service shows more Kenyan travellers are seeking reliability, affordability, and speed while shuttling between Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and Mombasa, the coastal tourist destination.
The 592 km – track runs from Mombasa to Nairobi, before terminating in the Rift Valley town of Naivasha at Suswa.