• Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure development goals complement the African Union’s own Agenda 2063, which mainly focuses on the continent’s interconnectivity.
• They are both centred on sustainable industrialisation and industrial diversification, and generating high-value add and decent employment for all.
The global infrastructure landscape has changed tremendously since the advent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, billed as the single most significant undertaking by the country on the international stage.
The initiative — a long-term policy and investment programme that aims at infrastructure development, increasing trade and acceleration of economic integration to connect Asia with Africa and Europe — was unveiled in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping.
BRI consists of a Silk Road Economic Belt, a trans-continental passage that links China with South East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route that connects the China’s coastal regions with South Asia and south east, the South Pacific, the Eastern Africa and the Middle East.
The BRI’s infrastructure development goals complement the African Union’s own Agenda 2063, which mainly focuses on the continent’s interconnectivity. They are both centred on sustainable industrialisation and industrial diversification, and generating high-value add and decent employment for all.
In Africa, Kenya is a core part of the Maritime Silk Road and the Belt, with the standard gauge railway being the flagship project of this initiative. The project is significant in terms of saving valued natural resources and protecting the environment, especially from the challenge of global warming, because it will reduce the carbon emission footprint by introducing a modern and more efficient railway system. It is one of Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship projects that will contribute significantly to different sectors of the economy, directly or indirectly.
As part of BRI, SGR is the "road of friendship" and "road of prosperity and development" for a win-win cooperation between China and Kenya. It is also an important outcome of Sino-Africa cooperation on infrastructure development. As the general manager of Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), the operator of SGR, I find Kenya a great place to work because it has an excellent business climate and Kenyans have a good work ethic.
It is noteworthy that there are various similarities between Chinese and Kenyan national cultures. For instance, they are collectivist societies where people value each other and form strong interpersonal relationships with their families, friends and communities. People from collectivist societies are good team players, which is very important for SGR operations and maintenance. To create high-performing Sino-Kenyan teams, the company fosters cross-cultural working relationships and promotes mutual understanding, respect and trust.
I wish to emphasise that Afristar’s mission is to provide safe, efficient, customer-focused railway services. For instance, we strictly implement the train timetable as directed by KRC and the punctuality of passenger service is 100 per cent. The train punctuality is very important during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure passengers arrive at their final destination before the curfew. The train schedule is tailored to the travel habits and business needs of Kenyan passengers.
I strive to build a high-quality SGR operations brand by providing world-class passenger and freight railway services. The scalability of SGR operations and maintenance is dependent on the localisation of the project. We are at nearly 80 per cent localisation and have over 290 Kenyans in management positions.
The localisation rate has been achieved through technical skills training, which includes RTI pre-job training, on-the-job vocational training, apprenticeship programmes, and professional development opportunities.
In my opinion, the SGR has shortened the space-time distance between Nairobi and Mombasa, changed the way people travel, and increased business activities along the line. It has played a positive role in promoting the economic and social development of Kenya and even East Africa. As of August 27, the SGR has transported over 4,373,000 passengers and 948,700 20-foot equivalent units since its launch.
Li Jiuping is the GM of the SGR Operator, Afristar.