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22 Nov 2022

ABDI LATIF DAHIR, The New York Times (USA)

Kenya discloses part of Standard Gauge Railway contract with China in bid to increase transparency

“Kenya Discloses Part of Secret Railway Contract With China” 9 November 2022

Kenya’s government has disclosed some details of the loan agreement the country signed in 2014 with China to build a railway, a major step toward political accountability but one that could strain relations with Beijing, the country’s top financier of infrastructure projects.

The administration of President William Ruto of Kenya on Sunday published three documents from a contract used to construct the railway, a passenger and freight service that was funded, designed and built by China. The railway starts from Kenya’s coastal region but ends in the middle of nowhere.

Since the $4.7 billion project, known as the Standard Gauge Railway, began five years ago, it has cast a long shadow over the East African nation. It was over budget by millions of dollars and became the center of multiple criminal investigations, saddling the economy with ever-growing debt and ending with judges declaring it illegal because it contravened the country’s procurement laws.

Experts on China and Africa said the revelations were unprecedented, given that Chinese loan contracts are often shrouded in secrecy.

“It is a significant gesture toward transparency,” said Cobus van Staden, managing editor of The China Global South Project, a nonprofit researching China’s engagement with Africa.

The three documents revealed how the railway’s financier, Exim Bank of China, had the upper hand in the negotiations. China is Kenya’s top trading partner, and the African country owes more bilateral debt to China than to any other nation. [...] the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement after the move.

“Chinese financial institutions provide financing support for China-Kenya cooperation in accordance with internationally accepted commercial and market principles, which alleviated Kenya’s lack of funds and enhanced Kenya’s capacity for independent development,” a spokesperson for the Chinese ministry said.