The Star (Kenya)

Jun. 01, 2017, 12:15 am

President UHuru Kenyatta launching the SGR Cargo train at the port of Mombasa.PHoto/MOnicah Mwangi
President Uhuru Kenyatta launching the SGR Cargo train at the port of Mombasa.PHoto/Monicah Mwangi

“God forgive me, but I will not hesitate to sign the death warrant of anyone found guilty of vandalising the SGR to sabotage our economy.”

That was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s grim warning yesterday as he flagged off the first passenger train on the Sh327 billion Chinese-built and Chinese-financed Nairobi-Mombasa line.

He also kicked off his reelection campaign.

“This is a historic day and a day everyone of us should feel proud to be a Kenyan,” Uhuru said, adding the SGR will be a cornerstone of development.

“Despite criticism and opposition, we have launched the Madaraka Express to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years,” he said.

The 427-km single-track standard gauge railway is Uhuru’s flagship project and central campaign promise essential to realising Vision 2030.

The President warned that vandals will be tried as economic saboteurs and will face the harshest punishment of hanging.

No one has been executed in Kenya since the attempted coup in 1982. God-fearing Presidents have refused to sign execution orders.

Uhuru spoke as four people are held in police custody over damage to sections of the new railway at Kibanda Hasara in Kwale. Scrap metal they allegedly stole was recovered from yards in the town.

“We will not allow them to sabotage our economy and the welfare of the future generations of our country,” Kenyatta said.

The President spoke when he commissioned the passenger line at the Mombasa Terminus at Miritini in Mombasa county. Freight service was commissioned on Tuesday.

Then Uhuru, Deputy President William Ruto and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta stepped aboard for the historic first passenger train ride to Nairobi.

The train drivers are Chinese, at least for the first year.

The passenger express takes four to five hours between Mombasa and Nairobi. That’s 12 hours shorter than the old train ride, once called the Lunatic Express.

The bus takes nine to 10 hours.

Transport costs are reduced as freight rains take only five hours.

There will be one return trip between Nairobi and Mombasa daily.

Uhuru ordered construction of a matatu terminus at the SGR Mombasa Terminus.

He said one-way economy fare is Sh700.

First class is Sh3,000.

Bus fare is more than Sh1,200.

Uhuru said it will cost no more than Sh50,000 to move a container by rail from Mombasa to Nairobi. It costs at least Sh100,000 to move a container of goods by road.

Kenyatta promised a new railway when he was elected in 2013. Groundbreaking was on November 28, 2013. Completion was to be in five years but this first phase was completed 18 months ahead of schedule.

The President directed the Transport ministry to build the road leading to Miritini station, for easy access to the terminus.

“I know Kenyans like complaining but today we should shed those differences and celebrate this achievement,” the head of state said.
He also expressed gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the collaboration and support that made it possible to complete the project in half the projected time and on budget.

Xi sent a high-level delegation, led by a special envoy State Councillor Wang Yong, to congratulate Kenyatta and the Kenyan people.

The Chinese too got aboard.

Ruto called the SGR is one of Kenya’s greatest milestones, a result of government commitment.

Speaking in Voi during a stop, Kenyatta said the government will build a dry port in Voi to reduce congestion at the Mombasa port.

“They say we will not build a dry port and a special economic zone here. I want to announce here we shall build the dry port in Voi so business people can collect their goods here and reduce congestion at Mombasa port. This will create jobs for Taita Taveta people,” he said.

Also on board were Cabinet Secretaries Najib Balala (Tourism), Dan Kazungu (Mining, Joseph Nkaissery (Internal Security), Taita Taveta Senator Dan Mwazo, Women representative Joyce Lay and Taveta MP Naomi Shaban .

Passengers included 47 students representing the 47 counties.

Uhuru addressed residents at Mariakani, Voi and Mtito Andei and Syokimau on his way to Nairobi.

He said the SGR will reduce travel costs and create jobs.

“In our first term, we focussed on building the foundation for take-off and transformation. That is why we said despite all circumstances we have to build the SGR and the Voi Taveta road,” Uhuru said.

He bashed the opposition, saying it has no economic development agenda.

“Instead of giving us solutions, they are criticising what we have implemented. They have been in power but failed to construct the Mwatate Wundanyi road, which was last done by my father’s regime. All the years they have been in power they did nothing to uplift your livelihoods. Ignore their lies and propaganda,” Uhuru said.

He said the state will build the Sh30 billion Mzima 2 water project.

“We shall come here to launch the water project. We shall make sure that you drink the water first before it is taken to Mombasa,” the President said.

As for unga and the maize shortage, the President said the means to ensure Kenyans get the commodity.

“My brothers and sisters, vote for actions. Don’t vote for propaganda. This will create job opportunities to our people,” he said.

Taita Taveta Senator Mwazo said the opposition will drive the country off the rails.

“They speak and criticize a lot at the expense of development. We want our people to get job opportunities at the new railway station,” he said amid cheers.