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Nairobi Expressway Workers’ COVID Woes

Workers for the China Road and Bridge Corporation building the Nairobi Expressway complain of not being able to return home for prolonged periods. Image via the Kenya National Highways Authority.

As Kenya eagerly awaits the opening of the new Chinese-built Nairobi Expressway, concerns about workers and costs are surfacing.

The Nation newspaper reported that the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), has reportedly refused to let some workers return to their hometowns since March 2020. This apparently forms part of the company’s COVID-19 strategy. They complain that managers do regular checks, and those who slip out are fired.

The Nairobi Expressway is set to transform the city’s skyline. Aimed at easing Nairobi’s notorious traffic congestion, it’s the most expensive road project in Kenyan history. CRBC and the Kenyan government plans to recoup costs via toll payments over 30 years.

This plan, however, has become increasingly controversial. It’s unclear whether matatus (mini-buses) that serve as de facto public transport will be allowed on the new expressway. This has led to criticism that the expressway will only serve the elite.

Amid fears that the tolls won’t be sufficient to cover the costs, the Kenyan press is reporting that the gap could fall to tax payers. Proposals for the government to seize excess funds from the toll fund has also drawn criticism from the World Bank.

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