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Chinese-Built Railway a New Boon for Kenyans

China Daily| Updated: August 11, 2023


Kenyan train drivers learn operating procedures from their Chinese instructor during training in Nairobi, before the start of the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway. [Photo/Xinhua]

NAIROBI — While growing up in the picturesque central Kenyan countryside, Lawrence Pius Murithi was at ease juggling his schoolwork and tending to his parent's farm, instilling in him the virtues of hard work, fortitude and service.

Murithi's strong upbringing came in handy when he enrolled in a mechanical engineering course at a mid-level college in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where he burned the midnight oil and passed with a good grade.

Now, supervisor of the rolling stock department of the Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Murithi glows with pride having secured a prized career that has eluded the majority of his peers.

Prior to the launch of the 480-kilometer-long modern railway on May 31, 2017, the 32-year-old benefitted from training on the maintenance of passenger trains, sponsored by the SGR contractor.

"I was lucky I was considered to join the SGR in the rolling stock section for the maintenance of passenger trains," Murithi said during a recent interview, attributing his Chinese instructors for his competence at work.

In the last six years since he joined the growing ranks of local youth working for the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR, Murithi has sharpened his technical, managerial and interpersonal skills.

In addition, he has improved his financial standing, thanks to a decent monthly salary that has enabled him to purchase land in his ancestral village and run a livestock business as a side gig.

"I have ornamental birds and other animals. Working for the SGR has improved my living status and I look forward to furthering my education so that I can join top management of the company," Murithi said.

Looking back, Murithi was at pains to explain how life would be minus the financial security, exposure and skill set that the modern railway has provided him, vowing to mentor his younger peers to dream of prestigious careers like his.

Since it was put into operation six years ago, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has accelerated the localization of its workforce, hiring a robust group of young professionals to work in key sections like locomotives, tracks, signaling and management.

Dennis Ogeto, a 33-year-old mechanical engineering major, was recruited by the SGR operator in 2018 to work in the dispatch section where his daily routine involves connecting wagons with passenger and cargo trains.

The former construction worker's face glowed one balmy afternoon as he held chopsticks with dexterity while enjoying a meal of rice and beef stew before embarking on his next assignment.

Under the tutelage of Chinese instructors, Ogeto is now competent in assembling wagons for passenger and freight trains that ply the Mombasa-Nairobi and Suswa routes.

"The training by Chinese instructors has been very good. When I joined the SGR, I had minimal skills, but now I have gathered a lot of skills," Ogeto said, adding that he also acquired managerial skills from his Chinese supervisors.

Ogeto said that other positive attributes he has acquired courtesy of his Chinese instructors include better time management, self-discipline, hard work and respect for diversity.

A career spanning over five years at the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has also improved Ogeto's social skills, and he singled out his ability to relate with the passengers and his colleagues.

Despite his humble upbringing in a rural hamlet in western Kenya, Ogeto has dreamed of a better future and looks forward to upward mobility at his current station.

"I dream to get a managerial position at the SGR in the years to come and hope one day it will be extended to the Ugandan border so that it creates more opportunities for fellow youth," Ogeto said.

Hailed for revolutionizing mobility and commerce along its 480-kilometer corridor, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has contributed to the growth of Kenya's gross domestic product by 1.5 percent, according to government statistics.

The SGR, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, has unleashed skills and technology transfer, benefitting local youth.

Stephen Mutua, a 39-year-old father of three, is a proud team leader at the track and bridge maintenance section of Ngong SGR station, located on the western hillsides of Nairobi.

A business management major from a mid-level college, Mutua joined the SGR in 2019, and thanks to training and mentorship from his Chinese instructors, he is competent in overseeing a team that maintains the track.

"I have gained knowledge, especially from the Chinese technicians who have taught us a lot in the areas of management, planning and inspecting the track and bridges," Mutua said.

Mutua plans to go back to college soon and pursue an advanced course in railway operations and maintenance, and hopefully secure a top-level managerial position at his current workstation.