by Christine Lagat
NAIROBI, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese-funded Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project will speed up economic transformation in Kenya and the larger eastern African region through increased cross-border trade, investments and easy mobility of skilled personnel, experts told Xinhua in recent interviews.
China's Exim Bank has provided 90 percent of financing to support implementation of the 472 kilometer high-speed railway that will link the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi.
Kenyan experts hailed the SGR project built by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) a critical milestone.
Professor Macharia Munene, a Nairobi-based diplomacy scholar, opined that the railway will promote regional integration and economic progress in an unprecedented way.
"The SGR unites various people in more ways than transport for goods and services," Munene remarked, adding that the railway dovetails with Kenya's ambition to become a regional transport and manufacturing hub.
Munene noted that SGR will boost prosperity in Kenya and the eastern African region through vibrant maritime and land-based trade in goods and services.
"The SGR project has two components; maritime and land-based transport. The maritime links Mombasa to the Middle East and Europe while the land links Mombasa to the interior of Africa. Its purpose is to open up huge areas to create wealth for the people," said Munene.
"The modern railway will reduce operational costs for businesses in Kenya and the region. It will also transform lifestyles," he added.
Kenyan officials, policymakers and industry executives believe that the SGR project will revolutionize transport as well as promote trade and movement of people in the region.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said at an infrastructure summit held in Nairobi last week that Kenya and its east African neighbors expect the SGR to shower huge economic and social benefits upon completion in June 2017.
The SGR project will boost Kenya's GDP by 1.5 percent besides positioning the country as an unrivalled hub for investments and trade.
So far, an estimated 30,000 Kenyans have been employed by CRBC to work at various sections of the railway.
Kenyan youth have also benefited from training in railway technology sponsored by CRBC.
According to Bethwel Kinuthia, an economist at the University of Nairobi, the SGR project will unleash mutual benefits to China and African allies once it is completed.
"An efficient and cheaper transport system will become a reality to ordinary citizens once the SGR project is completed. Both small and large businesses will definitely reap benefits," Kinuthia said.
Gerishon Ikiara, a diplomacy scholar at the University of Nairobi, said the mega infrastructure project will link Kenya to major trading blocs and boost its competitiveness.
"There are high expectations that the opening of SGR will mark the beginning of more competitive Kenyan and regional economies. Our manufactured products will have a competitive edge in the world market," Ikiara said.