Kenya has struck a deal with China that will see the Asian nation’s export-import bank finance 90% of the Standard Gauge Railway project.

The agreement was signed this week in Nairobi at a ceremony attended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Chinese premier Li Keqiang and three heads of state from the East African region.

The first phase of the project will cover 609.3km from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi and will cost US$3.6bn. The remaining 10% of this phase will be financed by the Kenyan government.

Construction is due to start in October and will take three-and-a-half years to complete, with China Communications Construction as the main contractor.

Once the Mombasa-Nairobi line is completed, construction will begin to link Kenya with Kampala, Kigali, Bujumbura and Juba, the capitals of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Once completed, the Mombasa-Nairobi leg will take passengers four hours and 30 minutes and freight double that time to travel.
According to a statement issued by the Kenyan government, the railway is expected to “change the region’s economic landscape”. It is intended to reduce the cost of doing business by reducing the cost of transport, a move that will see Kenya become a competitive business hub for the East African region and beyond.

At the signing ceremony, China’s Li reportedly said that China’s partnership with Africa was more than co-operation on single projects but was “a communication linking the hearts and minds of people”. He called on all Chinese companies involved in the project to ensure they supply the best equipment and adhere to all local laws. He said the Chinese firms will be required to transfer skills to local workers and be meticulous in their roles.