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February 17, 2019

G-Spot: East Africa grows while Kenya politicks

Lagging behind
Lagging behind

It’s high time we stopped whispering sweet nothings into our own ears to make ourselves feel better, because in fact, things are not as rosy as we like to make out. If this issue could be reduced to a multiple-choice question, it would read something like this: Kenya is (a) an island of peace and stability in a region of upheaval; (b) the hub of East Africa’s trade, investment; (c) a tourism attraction because of our beaches and game parks; (d) all of the above.

For many of us still in the self-deception phase, the obvious answer would be (d). Dare anyone say anything different and we’ll give them short shrift. But if and when we bother to take off our rose-tinted spectacles, we’ll find that actually none of the above is strictly true any more, if it ever was in the first place. I say this after debating with various people lately.

One discussion arose after a friend posted a report about the Ethio-Djibouti railway being almost complete, thus giving Ethiopia access to a port again after losing it with the independence of Eritrea back in 1993. The first railway link between the two countries was established in 1981. It fell out of use and, over the past few years, the Chinese have been building a parallel SGR line, which is set to open next year.

Kenya, seemingly oblivious to this development, has been waxing lyrical about the Lapsset project, which, with the never-ending issues in South Sudan and the news of the Ethio-Djibouti line, is looking like so much pie in the sky for now.

The Ethiopian route to the sea wasn’t built overnight. What’s the point of having diplomats in Addis if they don’t keep abreast of such developments? Or are such reports ignored by people with dollar signs in their eyes, salivating over the money they can make from Lapsset even if it is a white elephant?

By the way, Djibouti’s port, which is being marketed as “ideally located to serve the Comesa market, linking 19 countries and 380 million people”, has been handling 100 per cent of Ethiopia’s maritime traffic since 1998.

Remember the uproar over the oil pipeline from Uganda through Kenya that is looking like it might go through Tanzania instead?

While Kenya has dilly-dallied for years over a Mass Rapid Transportation system for Nairobi, Dar es Salaam’s Rapid Transit buses launched this year. They are already providing transport for the city’s five million people, while Addis Ababa launched its Light Railway system in April. 

Soon, the only leadership we’ll show is in having the longest-running political campaigns, as ours run from one election to the next, with no room in between for the things that really matter, such as development.









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