Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

11 - Kenya’s Madaraka Express: An Example of the Decisive Chinese Impulse for African Mega-Infrastructure Projects

from Part II - Exploiting Institutional Voids by Design


This chapter illustrates how the impulse of Chinese financing and contractors on the delivery of infrastructure megaprojects has given a different development option to African governments. I ground the findings on a detailed study of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) built by Kenya, with Chinese assistance, between 2014 and 2017. The project was originally turned down by traditional lenders (the World Bank) based on a narrow cost–benefit analysis. I trace the ability of the Kenyan–Chinese project organisation to navigate the institutional voids in the environment, and rivalry between neighbouring countries, through a powerful and centralised organisation structure. I also show, though, that the detachment of this hierarchical authority from the institutional environment comes with a real cost that imperils the potential of the project organisation to catalyse broader socio-economic growth. Still, the case suggests that a centralised approach delivers outcomes for a reasonable cost. It effectively builds an option for further future development. This, I argue, makes the Chinese approach a viable alternative to the inclusive institutional approach espoused by traditional lenders.