Speech By Raila Odinga
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN;
If we are to attract businesses to our country, we must invest in a transport system that is efficient, reliable, predictable and safe.
Today, the lack of efficient public transport has left the Nairobi Central Business District perpetually clogged in traffic.
Subsequently, too few people want to venture into the CBD for shopping. Traffic chaos is killing business in Nairobi.
Nairobiâ€™s potential is crippled by lack of adequate infrastructure. It has overcrowded roads, rising population, much pollution and a congested airport.
And while this has been happening, other cities in the region have been catching up by investing in urban infrastructure renewal. We must change urgently.
That is why I gladly attended the launch of our new airport terminal a few days ago. It is the reason I fully support launch of the Standard Gauge Rail that the president did a few days ago. It is the reason I am happy to be here today.
I congratulate the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and the Board and Management of Kenya Railways for the steps they are taking.
It is difficult to support long-term grand infrastructure projects unless you believe in what your nation should be decades and centuries down the line.
As minister for Roads, I learnt that people focus on the here and now. They resist when told to vacate road reserves for a road coming decades down the line.
Here and now focus is a road to failure and we must avoid it at all costs.
It is important that these grand projects coincide with our 50th anniversary as a nation.
They remind me of the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway; which we later mismanagedâ€¦to death.
Short term thinkers of that time thought the 5 million pound metre gauge line was going nowhere, and up to no good.
In the House of Commons, one of the Members uttered these immortal lines in resistance and I quote:
What it will cost, no words can express;
What is its object, no brain can suppose;
Where it will start from, no one can guess;
Where it is going to, nobody knows;
What is the use of it, none can conjecture;
What it will carry, none can define;
And in spite of George Curzonâ€™s superior lecture;
It clearly is naught but a lunatic line.
I admire the vision and courage of the leaders who went ahead and completed the project.
May be we could posthumously award Engineer George Whitehouse who arrived in Mombasa on December 11, 1895, to start the construction of the Uganda Railway and Engineer Preston who on 20th December 1901 completed the construction when the railway line reached Lake Victoria and the Indian Coolies.
They defied monumental odds, including the famous Man Eaters of Tsavo.
That is the path we must follow to bequeath a better country to our children.
In the last 10 years, we have invested heavily in infrastructure. This must continue if we are to propel our country into the league of modern nations.
I am glad that Engineer Michael Kamau was picked to head this docket. I have faith in his ability to deliver infrastructure to Kenyans.
It is my wish to see commuter rail services get infective. A successful take off here should make other towns feel that they too must have one.
Above all, we must invest in maintenance. Our biggest curse in Africa is the inability to maintain what we have started.
Today, interest in a functioning public transport is at it highest due to the ever-rising cost of fuel and the congestion and dangerous driving on our roads.
Yet the country as a whole and urban centres in particular have no functioning mass public transport systems.
Travelling by public transport must become fun, not torture and a one-way ticket to the grave. Using public transport must stop being a rendezvous with gun-wielding robbers and fast paced pickpockets.
An efficient public transport that can carry even our cabinet secretaries, governors and senators to and from work must be a priority allover the country. This is one area in which the national and county governments must join hands.
And we must start planning for further expansion with an eye on the future needs of our cities and our country decades from now.
We need new investments in world-class public infrastructure to make our cities more user friendly and livable.
We have to invest in roads with space for cyclists, Tuk Tuks, Boda Boda and pedestrians; in sanitation, in safe public parks, in water bodies, in airports and modern railway stations.
In this regard, I want to challenge the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and the Kenya Railways Corporation to open a similar train station at the Kasarani Sports Centre.
The reason that stadium barely fills during matches is the absence of reliable public transport. A reliable train service to the stadium would breathe new life and boost its revenues while keeping people from all corners of Nairobi happy.
We must work on keeping costs of living, working and doing business in our city low if our country is to remain a top investment destination.
Finally, I want Kenyans to know that every other city in the region has Nairobi in its sights.
Without deliberate and determined steps, there is no guarantee that the future will be a continuation of the past successes of this city.
If we donâ€™t invest in making Nairobi a livable city, where the cost of living, working and doing business are low, we will soon be talking of a Nairobi that once was the hub of the region but no longer is.
We live in extremely competitive and dynamic times. Nations and cities slide up and down rankings with a single wrong step.
We must never underestimate the determination of our neighbours to take over the functions currently associated with Kenya.
We therefore have to keep reinventing ourself if we are to maintain our present lead.
Along with Nairobiâ€™s development, we must also work for the development of our counties. Letâ€™s not pit one level of government against the other. We want both our urban areas and rural areas to develop.
I wish the Nairobi Commuter Rail Project all success. I wish every citizen of this enterprising city all success.
I wish the Ministry of transport and infrastructure and the Board and Management of Kenya Railways all success.
Thank you and God bless You All.
Raila Odinga is the former Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya. He gave the speech during the official opening of Makadara Railway Station earlier today.