Kenya began work on a $653m expansion of the capital’s main airport on Tuesday, the second large-scale infrastructure project it has launched in a week aimed at boosting trade and cementing its status as a regional commercial hub. The new terminal will be able to handle 20 million passengers when completed, three times the existing passenger flow through the airport, whose arrivals hall was gutted by a massive blaze in August. The east African nation of 40 million people has embarked on major infrastructure projects to make up for decades of under-investment that stunted economic growth.
Last week, Kenya launched the construction of new railway that will eventually link its Indian Ocean port of Mombasa with Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. “Africa has historically missed out on development opportunities due to inadequate investments in transport infrastructure or reliance on pre-independence infrastructure,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told a launch ceremony. “As Kenyans, we must now get it right.” Even before the August blaze, Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, built in the 1970s to handle 2.5 million passengers annually, was struggling to handle more than 6 million people a year as its regional importance grew.
The first phase of the new terminal’s construction will be finished in 2016. There are plans to also construct a second runway at the airport. The government will fund 15% of the project while the balance will come from loans to be provided by a consortia of local and foreign banks, the cabinet secretary for transport, or minister, Michael Kamau told Reuters. Building work will be carried out by Chinese firms Anhui Construction and China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Corporation (Catic), Kamau said.
National carrier Kenya Airways has blamed a lack of capacity for delays to its own expansion plans. The carrier, which is partly owned by AirFrance KLM, plans to more than double its fleet to more than 80 planes in five years. “An airport, being the first point of contact by the visitors, be they tourists or businessmen, has a lot to tell about the community and country in which it is located,” Kenyatta said. “It can, therefore, influence positively or negatively the level in Foreign Direct Investment and indeed the number of people wishing to visit a country.”