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Kenya’s New Lunatic Express: The Standard Gauge Railway

by Ian Taylor 


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to integrate Africa into an ambitious Chinese-constructed infrastructure network that seeks to link the economies of participating countries to that of China’s. However, serious concerns about its cost for the host countries, the legacy and sustainability—alongside the social and environmental costs—of its projects have raised questions as to its value and long-term future. The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), linking Mombasa to Nairobi and beyond has been portrayed as a centre piece of the BRI in East Africa. Both the Chinese and Kenyan governments have represented the SGR as an example par excellence of Sino-African cooperation and the ubiquitous “win-win” partnerships that this is said to engender. However, serious issues with the SGR in terms of its cost, viability and practicality has meant that it is increasingly being seen within Kenya as an expensive white elephant beset with numerous intractable problems.

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Ian Taylor is Professor in International Relations, University of St Andrews and also holds professorial positions at Renmin University of China, the University of Stellenbosch, and the University of Addis Ababa. The author of eleven 11 academic books, editor of another thirteen, plus numerous articles. Co-editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies, he has visited and/or conducted research in forty-five African countries.