By: KWENDO OPANGA
Have you noticed that most road construction in Kenya today, and from the previous administration, is being undertaken by Chinese firms?
Do you recall that the present government committed to constructing 10,000 km of roads by 2017?
Will local firms, and those from other countries, partake in this boom?
I am alive to the fact that during the Kibaki administration we rounded on local construction firms as competent at cutting corners and delivering poorly done roads, which developed gully-sized potholes no sooner than the contractors handed them to government and packed their bags. These were the so-called rogue contractors.
But I have four questions. One, have these contractors who were forsaken for their poor work refused to reform?
Two, have not new Kenyan contractors emerged on the road construction landscape to merit big jobs?
Three, what does this state of affairs mean for local entrepreneurship?
Four, why have other international firms completely been overshadowed by the Chinese?
I am also alive to the fact that Chinese firms are not only adept at constructing roads throughout Africa and elsewhere, but they are also winning contracts to construct high speed railways in the United States and the United Kingdom.
As a newsman and teacher, I follow closely China’s growing influence around the world.
I followed President Xi Jinping’s state visits to the US in September and this month in the UK.
Memories of the Cold War hit me this week when a Chinese missile destroyer and patrol ship shadowed an American warship in the South China Sea.
And, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was last week in China on her eighth visit!
But that is far away. In Africa, Latin America and locally, I see the Chinese in many mega projects.
Which leads me to know, for example, that of the 11 roads currently under construction, and which are funded by the Government of Kenya and donors, seven of them are being undertaken by Chinese.
These include the constructions of the Marsabit-Turbi, Turbi-Moyale, Timboroa-Eldoret, Mwatate-Taveta roads and the rehabilitation of the Kisumu-Kakamega and Webuye-Kitale roads and the building of the Nairobi Southern By-pass.
Of these Government of Kenya and donor-funded roads, only the following are being built by non-Chinese firms: Merille-Marsabit, Eldoret- Webuye, Webuye-Malaba and Kakamega-Webuye.
The amount of money involved in these 11 projects totals up to Sh90 billion and, I think, it is important to observe that more than 90 per cent of the above construction is carried out by the following Chinese firms: Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Company Limited (Marsabit-Turbi and Webuye-Kitale), China Wu Yi Limited (Turbi-Moyale and Timboroa-Eldoret), Third Engineering Bureau (Mwatate-Taveta), China Overseas Engineering (Kisumu-Kakamega) and China Bridge and Road Corporation (Nairobi Southern By-pass).
Four on-going government road projects namely Oljororok-Ndondori, Rumuruti-Maralal, Maumau-Ruambwa-Nyandiorera-Siava and Kehancha-Suna-Masara are being built respectively by China Jiangxi Kenya Limited, China National Aero Technology International Engineering Corporation, China Overseas Engineering Group Co Limited and China Wu Yi Limited.
Of the top six companies that have tendered for the construction of the Gichuru- Rironi Road, five are Chinese.
The lowest bidder is Sinopec International Petroleum Service Corporation at Sh16.4 billion, but the five bidders below it are Chinese.
The award is eagerly awaited, especially because the next bid stands at Sh17.4 billion.
Also to be awarded shortly is the tender for the building of the Tala-Kenol Road.
The Chinese firm China Wu Yi put in the lowest bid at Sh4.4 billion, with Sinopec second lowest at Sh5 billion and China Dalian third at Sh5.2 billion. Five of the 14 bidders are Chinese.
As seen from the foregoing, and bearing in mind that it won the tender for the Molo-Oledurugune Road with its bid of Sh1.7 billion, China Wu Yi is emerging as a dominant player in Kenya’s road construction sector.
However, if it lands the Gichuru-Rironi Road tender, a few eyebrows will be raised given that it bid higher than Sinopec.
China Wu Yi is constructing at least six major highways estimated to cost upwards of Sh55 billion.
I am told the Chinese deliver, almost without fail, on quality and timelines. Can Kenyans not deliver on the same? Look East, but remember all politics is local.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION