The Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) has cemented the Sino-Kenya trade and infrastructure relations, a senior executive of its operator said on Sunday.
Li Jiuping, general manager of SGR operator Afristar, said in a commentary published by the Standard newspaper that as part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), SGR is the “road of friendship” and “road of prosperity and development” for win-win cooperation between China and Kenya.
“It is a key outcome of Sino-Africa cooperation on infrastructure development,” Li said.
He said that the BRI’s infrastructure development goals complement the Africa Union(AU) agenda 2063, which mainly focuses on the continent’s interconnectivity.
“They both focus on the need to encompass people-centered development. They are both centered on sustainable industrialization and industrial diversification to generate high-value addition and decent employment for all,” said Li.
He said that with Africa having a huge infrastructure deficit hindering its economic development, trade and industrialization, the BRI provides an opportunity that the continent could strategically take advantage of.
“In Africa, Kenya is a core part of both the Maritime Silk Road and the Belt, with the SGR being the flagship project of this initiative, “said Li.
“The project is key to saving valued natural resources and protecting the environment, especially from the challenge of global warming. It reduces carbon emissions by introducing a modern and more efficient railway system,” he added.
The SGR is one of Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship projects and complies with the Kenya National Transport Policy — “Moving a Working Nation” (2009), whose vision for the railway sector is to provide efficient, reliable, safe and secure railway transport services.
According to Li, China and Kenya have adhered to the principle of mutually beneficial cooperation and development, as well as environmental protection.
He said that there are similarities between Chinese and Kenya cultures.
“For instance, they are both collective societies where people value each other and form strong interpersonal relationships with their families, friends and communities. People from collectivists societies are good team players, which is very important for SGR operations and maintenance,” said Li.
In order to create high performing Sino-Kenyan teams, the SGR operator fosters cross-cultural working relationships and promotes mutual understanding, respect and trust by building a strong cross-cultural team through promoting the idea, “we are a family”, said Li.
He said that some of the methods used to integrate the Kenyan and Chinese workforce include but are not limited to ensuring that communication channels are open and two-way.
“This creates a harmonious working environment and regular team building and recreational activities such as sports competitions and outdoor cultural exchange activities,” said Li.
In terms of freight efficiency, Afristar’s goal is to satisfy the needs of cargo owners and end the backlog of SGR cargo at the Mombasa port by working with the Kenya Railways Corporation, Kenya Ports Authority and logistics companies, according to Li.
He said that the scalability of SGR operations and maintenance is dependent on the localization of the project.
“We are currently at nearly 80 percent localization and have over 290 Kenyans in management positions,” said Li.
He said the localization rate has been achieved through technical skills training, which includes Railway Training Institute’s (RTI) pre-job training, on-the-job vocational training, apprenticeship programs, and professional development opportunities such as training opportunities for high-performing staff at leading Chinese rail-oriented institutions.
“So far, over 70 employees have gained skills from educational opportunities in China. We have also achieved localization through promotion of employees in railway specialties through annual skills competition,” said Li.
He said that the SGR has shortened the space-time distance between Nairobi and Mombasa, changed the way people travel and increased business activities along its corridor.