China-Driven Rail Development: Lessons from Kenya and Indonesia

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in May 2017 inaugurated a Chinese-built railway, the country’s biggest 
infrastructure project since independence that is aimed at cementing its role as the gateway to East Africa. Image: Getty, Tony Karumba/AFP
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in May 2017 inaugurated a Chinese-built railway, the country’s biggest infrastructure project since independence that is aimed at cementing its role as the gateway to East Africa. Image: Getty, Tony Karumba/AFP

China’s considerable success in expanding its domestic railway network, especially its high-speed rail capacity, has drawn the attention of Global South governments.

Executive summary

This, together with rail’s prominent place in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the willingness of Chinese banks to fund railway projects, has made China a major provider of rail infrastructure around the world. This policy briefing examines the environmental, socio-economic and governance (ESG) impacts of two such projects, in Kenya and Indonesia. Both cases show problems in terms of environmental and socio-economic mitigation. These are compounded by significant lapses in (and constant controversy around) their governance. In both cases the projects raise questions about local governance, in addition to incurring serious delays and financing issues. Overall, the briefing demonstrates some of the challenges facing Chinese rail provision in the Global South, especially how weak recipient institutions can compound reputational risk.

28 Jan 2022
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Research by
Series
SAIIA Policy Insights No 121, January 2022
Country
China, Indonesia, Kenya
SAIIA Programme
Foreign Policy
Tags
Belt and Road Initiative(BRI), Rail
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