Kenya: Ruto engages with France on key road project after hitting pause

By Victor Abuso
Posted on Tuesday, 17 January 2023 14:59

Future image of Nairobi-Mau Summit highway (photo: twitter0

The €1.6bn ($1.73bn) deal signed between Nairobi and Paris in 2019 to finance and operate the Nairobi-Mau Summit highway may be back on track. President William Ruto had put the project on hold after he came to power in September, but has initiated fresh talks. Kenya will now engage France for further discussion over the key road that will connect the East African country to its neighbours.

The road plan, which is said to be the most expensive infrastructure project in Kenya, was initiated under the administration of former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to the French Ambassador to Kenya, Arnaud Suquet, construction firms are ready and waiting for the go-ahead to proceed with the project.

“This remains a priority project when it comes to the relationship between the two countries,” he said during a meeting with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on Monday.

The two leaders met in Nairobi to discuss the project that is expected to create new opportunities for future engagements between Kenya and France.

“We remain open to having further discussions with the developer, which we hope will result in giving Kenyan taxpayers the best value for their money,” Gachagua said.

The 233km-highway is to be part of the Northern Corridor network linking the port of Mombasa, through the Malaba border, to Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is to be constructed from Rironi, near the capital Nairobi, to Mau Summit through Nakuru County.

Ruto’s initial hesitation

Ruto’s initial decision to halt the project is reported to have been largely influenced by the former administration’s decision to award the contract to Vinci Group. According to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, the French company drew criticism over accusations of irregularities in computing income taxes for its bid.

Ruto’s administration had also raised concerns over the high cost of the proposed toll, which road users will be expected to pay.

According to the contract negotiated under the private-public partnership (PPP) arrangement, Vinci Group and the EPC conglomerate are to build the road and will own it for 30 years. The Kenyan government, for its part, will be responsible for collecting toll fees from motorists.

Ruto wants fresh talks about the project, under his government’s terms

During a visit to Nairobi in  September, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, the French minister of state for development, Francophonie and international partnerships, had told the press that it was up to the new president to decide on when the project should begin.

“The companies and financiers are waiting for the letter of support, which is the way Kenya commits to this project,” he said.

Ruto sending a political message

Suba Churchill, a political and governance analyst, says Ruto’s initial reluctance and sudden change of heart is sending a political message to France as well as the international community.

“Ruto wants fresh talks about the project, under his government’s terms,” Churchill tells The Africa Report.

He says Ruto believes that officials from Kenyatta’s administration were pushing for the project out of personal interest.

“It is clear, he did not support how the contract was awarded, he wants to correct that,” Churchill says.

The construction of the highway was to begin in September 2021. Depending on the decisions of Ruto’s administration, a new start date may be announced.

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