French firms are waiting for Kenya’s decision on whether they should go ahead and expand the Mau Summit highways, a key road for cargo movement between Kenya and neighbouring countries.
Visiting French Minister of State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships, Ms Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, said it is up to the new President William Ruto when works on the Northern Corridor road starts.
Ms Zacharopoulou spoke to the media on Wednesday, a day after attending Dr Ruto’s inauguration and later met with him at State House to discuss priorities in their bilateral relationships.
But the pending issue from his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta’s days is the incomplete deal that would have seen French firms finance and build the 233km highways that start on the edge of Nairobi in Rironi to Mau Summit through Nakuru.
“We have to resume talks, obviously, but it would be something important and would be nicer for the new administration to speak with the companies,” she said in Nairobi.
“It [discussion] has been slowed by the electoral period, but now we are ready, and all the companies and financiers are waiting to put money into it, but they are waiting for Kenya to resume its part,” she added, referring to the general elections in the two countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron won back his seat in early May, while Kenya’s electioneering period to replace retiring Uhuru Kenyatta ended on Tuesday.
President Kenyatta had begun discussing the construction of the Ksh160 billion ($1.3 billion) toll highway from Nairobi to Mau Summit, slated to start in September last year.
A French consortium made up of Vinci Highways SAS, Meridian Infrastructure Africa Fund, and Vinci Concessions SAS was tasked to expand the main artery from Nairobi to western Kenya into a four-lane dual carriageway through a public-private partnership model.
The consortium was to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the highway. The companies would then recoup their finances using the revenues and income generated from tolls charged on motorists at a given tariff.
In July, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved financing of $150 million to support the project, which involves widening the existing Rironi- Mai Mahiu–Naivasha road to a seven-metre carriageway with two-metre shoulders on both sides. It also includes the construction of a four-kilometre elevated highway through Nakuru town and the building and improvement of interchanges along the highway.
The loan is to be disbursed to Rift Valley Highways Limited – a Kenyan registered special purpose vehicle owned by the consortium.
The Rironi–Nakuru–Mai Mahiu road is part of the Northern Corridor network linking the port of Mombasa through the Malaba border to Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The companies and financiers are waiting for the letter of support, which is the way Kenya commits to this project,” the French minister said.
“For us, there is a very strong political support even though it is a private project. It all depends on the priorities of the new president.”