The political class has blown hot and cold about the expansion of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) for some years now. While there’s agreement that we need to expand the airport, part of the Northern Corridor infrastructure, the point of departure looks to be who is to privately benefit from the development.
During the Kibaki Administration, it was agreed that the Greenfield Terminal be put up next to the current airport. It was to be built at a cost of Sh56 billion.
However, this was cancelled early 2016, in the guise that it was not a priority. Interestingly, the government went on to prioritise scandalous dams in the Rift Valley and Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme that may end up wasting much more without a single coin return.
Gravely enough, the Chinese firms contracted to build the ‘non-priority’ field are claiming Sh17.6 billion for breach of contract. In short it would have been cheaper to just finish the project. In the midst of all this, Rwanda has announced a joint venture with Qatar Airways that will put up an airport double the capacity of JKIA.
That itself should worry Kenya given the political muscle of the carrier and what the new hub will do to regional aviation. Indeed, at this juncture short of calling in the muscle of another giant, there seems to be little other recourse. This is because with our public debt and an ailing national carrier, the State’s resources might not be enough to stave off the force of the gas-rich Qataris. Kenya has been dithering on how to restructure Kenya Airways and JKIA, but now options may be thrust at the country.
It is conceivable that self-interests of the ‘deep state’ are still at play against public interest here. But we need to move with haste to resolve outstanding issues as Doha breathes down our necks.
This is even as Ethiopia has tripled the capacity of Bole International Airport, hub of Ethiopian Airlines, soon after it overtook Dubai as the main clearance hub for sub-Sahara Africa.
True, the restructuring of the JKIA and KQ must go hand in groove. But they must happen quickly. The political class should spare us their hidden cards and for once put the country ahead of their games. True, the Qatari capital injection is a wake-up call.
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