Murkomen Inks Deal to Extend SGR to Ethiopia

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen during his vetting on Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen, on Friday, August 11, announced that Kenya had signed a deal to connect the Standard Gauge Railway with Ethiopia. 

Murkomen, who made the announcement after holding bilateral talks with his Ethiopian counterpart, Alemu Sime, stated that the SGR would extend from Lamu to Moyale via Isiolo to Addis Ababa.

"We further agreed to establish a Bilateral Steering Committee comprising officials from Kenya and Ethiopia to fast-track the development of the LAPSSET Corridor and its supporting infrastructure," Murkomen announced. 

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen addresses the media at Transcom House in Nairobi, on June 27, 2023.
Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen addresses the media at Transcom House in Nairobi, on June 27, 2023.
Kipchumba Murkomen

Further, both countries agreed to develop the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Programme, which seeks to connect the country to partner states of Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Murkomen added the project's long-term goal involved creating a land bridge between the East and West Coast of Africa.

"I apprised the Ethiopian delegation of President William Ruto's commitment, as the current champion of the LAPSSET project under the AU Presidential Infrastructure Championship Initiative, to prioritise the development of the Corridor, full port equipment, the operationalization of the first three berths of the Lamu Port and the development of Lamu Special Economic Zone along the Corridor,"  he stated.

"The President also plans to fast-track the upgrading of the Lamu-Garissa-Isiolo road of the LAPSSET Highway to Bitumen standard which will see a completely tarmacked road link the Port of Lamu to Ethiopia. The upgrading of the Lamu-Ijara-Garissa to Isiolo is ongoing," the former Elgeyo Marakwet Senator added.

Kenya and Ethiopia are yet to disclose the exact cost of the extension within their territory.

The SGR, which connects the port city of Mombasa and Nairobi, was constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation and launched by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017.  The first section, between Mombasa and Nairobi, commenced offering passenger rail service in June 2017, while the freight rail service began in January 2018.

Other segments are under construction, including the extension from Naivasha to the Malaba-Kampala route in Uganda. The government has expressed confidence that the deal would boost trade between the countries.

"Uganda has committed to ensuring that SGR is extended to the border with Rwanda, South Sudan and DRC Congo as soon as possible to improve further the viability and attractiveness of the financing of the SGR along the Northern Corridor," CS Murkomen stated on July 28, 2023.

The cost of SGR remains a contentious issue, with concerns over the possible misappropriation of up to Ksh500 billion. Various reports have faulted Uhuru's administration for inflating the cost, leading to the loss of billions. 

Last year, businessman-turned-politician Jimmy Wanjigi, who claimed to have participated in crafting the SGR deal between Kenya and China, alleged that the Jubilee government hiked the initial cost from Ksh55 billion to over Ksh300 billion.

The reports were, however, dismissed by former State House Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, who did not reveal the exact amount in the deal. 

In June 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that the government legally acquired the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) contrary to a suit filed by Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah, who wanted the contract expunged. 

A five-judge bench comprising Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, Mohammed Ibrahim, Smokin Wanjala, Njoki Ndung’u, and William Ouko unanimously agreed that the government and the public were involved in the deal through Parliament.

The judges also found that the procurement process was undertaken as a government-to-government contract and did not require it to be guided by the Public Procurement Disposal Act 2005.

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train readies for takeoff.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train readies for takeoff at the Nairobi terminus.
Photo: Kenya Railways