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China's image boosted by road construction in Kenya

05 July 2013, 10:47 Bedah Mengo

Nairobi - The ongoing and completed road construction projects in Kenya have immensely boosted China's image among Kenyans.

The roads, have demystified and cemented China's image in the minds of citizens of the East Africa's biggest economy, many who now associate Chinese with finesse, quality and perfection.

Made in China

Before the start of the road constructions, many Kenyans associated China with bogus and cheap products.

The Asian giant was best known for cheap apparels, utensils and electronic items. It was common to hear Kenyans cracking jokes about Chinese items.

"Is that mobile phone made in China? That is why we cannot communicate well," a person would be told, even if they did not have a Chinese-made handset.


But entered Thika superhighway and the image of China has completely changed among Kenyans, including those in rural areas where the road's fame has spread.

The 353 million U.S. dollars thoroughfare that stretches from Nairobi to Thika turned around China's image in Kenya. The eight- lane 30 km road stretching from capital Nairobi to Thika, an industrial district, not only attracts local tourists, but has also become the point of reference of China and activities that relate to them.

The Chinese in Kenya are now known for construction of better roads than anything else. Their works and name always pop up in many conversations, especially those that involve traffic jams, poor road network or construction.

"The government should offer the Chinese the contract to build this road. The traffic jams are going to kill us," noted a passenger recently in vehicle along Outering Road on the east of the capital.

The pot-holed road, which heads to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), has become a pain, with motorists damaging their vehicles and spending hours in traffic jams every morning and evening.

Interestingly, the road joins the Northern bypass and Thika superhighway, which are in perfect form.

"This road was constructed recently but just look at how it has degenerated. It is barely two years since it was re-carpeted but it is now full of potholes. The government let the Chinese rework on it," noted another passenger.

Soon, all the passengers in the vehicle were discussing about Chinese road construction prowess.

"It took the Chinese about two years to complete Thika superhighway as big as it is, yet it has taken a local contractor over three years to build a 10 km road in Upper Hill area in Nairobi. Why give such people jobs yet the Chinese can complete the project on time and do quality work?" noted a female passenger.

Another passenger took the conversation outside Nairobi. "I come from western Kenya. For the past three years, a certain contractor has been building the main highway to Kisumu, yet he has not completed it. The road is in bad shape, making us suffer each time one is travelling up country. I wish they had given the work to the Chinese," said the man.

Such conversations have wiped out the negative perception Kenyans had of the Chinese. In Nairobi, they have become common especially during morning and peak hours when commuters on various roads spend endless hours in traffic jams as their counterparts on Thika superhighway cruise to work or home.

"The Chinese contractors are fantastic in their work. If it was a Kenyan company, it would still be doing the work or it would have long finished but we would now be negotiating through potholes," is a comment on the lips of many Nairobi commuters as they pass on road the Chinese are working on.

Thika superhighway is just one of the completed projects by the Chinese companies. These projects are acting as their ambassadors as they create a lasting image among Kenyans.

Ongoing projects

The Northern bypass is another work of the Chinese company. It stretches from Ruiru, through Ruai to Mombasa Road, and joins Old North Airport road, which is a key alternative artery to JKIA.

Ongoing road projects in the capital, according to Kenya Urban Roads Authority, are rehabilitation and dualing of Langata Road from Kenya Wildlife Service entrance to Bomas and Construction of City Cabanas interchange.

The Chinese are also working on the northern corridor road project, which connects Mombasa and Nairobi to Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The companies involved in the works include China Wu Yi, Synohydro Corporation, Shengli Engineering Construction Group and China Road & Bridges Corporation.


The fact that the Chinese build roads as Kenyans watch and use them has made their work stand out.

Unlike other contractors who close roads when they are constructing them, the Chinese allow motorists to use them as construction progresses. This has resonated well with Kenyans.

Dennis Mbuto, a public relations consultant noted that Chinese have turned around their image in Kenya.

"All the public knows about China in Kenya is good quality roads. The image that Kenyans held about fake mobile phones and cheap clothes is fast fading. The roads have become a huge selling point for the Chinese," said Mbuti.

Mbuti noted China has beaten Kenya's other partners who offer cash or engage in projects that do not directly touch on Kenyans' lives.

"Who does not use roads in Kenya? As long as the Chinese continue building quality roads, China's image in Kenya will outlive many generations. Their work has become the lens through which others are viewed," he noted.


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