MOMBASA, Kenya — Fireworks popped and confetti rained down in the coastal city of Mombasa as Kenya’s president inaugurated the new railway — designed, financed and built by China.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said the new train would connect the port of Mombasa with neighboring Uganda, create jobs and help transform Kenya into an industrialized middle-income country.
“This is a very historic moment,” President Kenyatta, waving a giant Kenyan flag, told the meeting of Kenyan and Chinese officials. “We can be proud.”
That was five years ago. The railroad has since turned into a fiasco, the target of lawsuits, criminal investigations into corruption and resentment by environmentalists and displaced workers in the trucking industry.
Now it’s a hot-button issue in Tuesday’s hotly contested election and part of a wider debate about China’s growing role in Kenya. China initially funded the railway as part of its trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which aimed to expand China’s economic and political influence by funding new ports, roads and railways worldwide. But China declined to fund the last stretch of the Kenyan railway – the connection to Uganda – as some African countries struggled to repay their debts.
Both leading candidates in the campaign to select Mr Kenyatta’s successor – William Ruto and Raila Odinga – have seized on the railway’s problems and pledged to reassess operations, while also seeking to distance themselves from the project.