Is the Lunatic Express back in Jamhuri?

11 mins read

The first train ride from Nairobi to Kisumu just happened for the first time after ten years. From the looks of it, people are excited about this alternative to buses and cars that Kenyans usually use for that trip.

One thing for sure is that it is going to be a whole lot safer and spare a lot of Kenyans from devastating accidents that we deal with on our roads. It is also fairly cheaper. Nairobi to Nakuru by train is Kshs 300 whereas the buses are Kshs 400. That is a big difference for many Kenyans with very little income.

From Nairobi to Kisumu by bus costs between Kshs 1,600 to Kshs 2,000. With the train, it costs Kshs 600 less than half the cost for the buses.

I know there are others whining that oh why can’t they extend the much faster and much more comfortable SGR to Mombasa.

The SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi is almost bankrupting the country and making such huge losses every year. It is impossible at this time to just extend the SGR but hopefully, the new Lunatic Express trains to Kisumu will be modified over time and we may get there.

Personally, there is nothing I like more than traveling and I make it very adventurous. I used the SGR in 2018. We were in town with my son who just wanted to visit Mombasa, specifically Fort Jesus. Mombasa was also my first place of work as a lecturer at then Mombasa Polytechnic so I have a great affiliation to Mombasa and the coast in general.

So we hit the SGR station in Nairobi at Roysambu station. It was quite a nice ride and first. It used to take me what felt like days to make it from Nairobi to Mombasa by train. SGR takes about 5 years of very pleasant ride.

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The one problem with the SGR now is that the stations are out of town and you have to hire a car to take you to Roysambu. Then the Mombasa Station is not even within Mombasa Island itself. It is out of the city and there you need another expensive ride to Mombasa.

When you add it all up my friends in Mombasa were telling me I would have been better off taking a plane and they are many of them now. That disconnect must also be fixed at some point. I told them the scenery you brush with as you move in the SGR is quite amazing outside the window.

Here is the new ride to Kisumu from Nairobi and back.

I have many fond memories of traveling in the old real Lunatic Express. My first trip to Mombasa was as a teenage high school student taking my field hockey team from Kakamega High School to Mombasa for the national championships. I was the captain of the team and our coach Mr. Vagela was also my economics teacher. I was really proud of the team.

Then we go to Mombasa and all hell breaks loose. We were a good team but there was one team from Nairobi and of course, our friends from Kisumu Boys High school and they used to win the trophy all the time.

So we are up against one of those teams and some High School Girls from Nairobi who hated these teams start to cheer for us to beat the other team and boy we were working very hard not to let those girls down.

Then they were shouting come on “Kachmega” do something. It was “Kachmega” this and “Kachmega” that but they were very nice to us. And we were asking why the heck are they calling us “Kachmega” and we are from Kakamega High School.

Then it was explained to us that these students in those high table schools speak like English people and they can’t pronounce Kakamega and they have found another name. And we asked where exactly do they come from. Are they Kenyans? So we just laughed it over.

Me I was knocked out of the game in the first half. I think I was too good and some guy just decided to knock me down and take me out of the game. Sometimes that is how you win games even in football which I am crazy about.

Me and my son we call ourselves football fanatics, not fans. And the whole world knows we love Chelsea since Drogba brought all of Africans there as fans. And they are the current Champions of Europe and now they have Mendy from Senegal. That is another story once we get out of this Lunatic Express.

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Trains make a big difference in transportation anywhere in the world. Here in Canada which is today the largest country in the world, it is the train system that built the country. Otherwise, they would be having at least four different countries. Canada would not be able to move their goods and products across the country if they didn’t have an efficient train transport system.

From Toronto where I live in the East to Vancouver in the north, you can’t drive there unless you are crazy. It is by train or air.

And we know agricultural produce and other items of commercial trade like cars cannot be transported by air. So if Canadians didn’t have their trains system they would not be able to trade even within their own country, forget taking their products to the United States, their biggest market.

In East Africa, our dead train system and dead waterway systems particularly in Lake Victoria are costing us a fortune. It is inconceivable that in the 1960s and 1970s through the East African Community structures and infrastructure we have effective rail and water transport systems between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Now it would appear we have more smuggling and other chokora business between the borders of our countries. It is a problem we need to solve and this new train line between Nairobi and Kisumu which effectively provides direct transportation between Mombasa to Kisumu by rail is a good step in that direction.

This provides huge trading opportunities for people all across the country where you can buy products from one part of the country and sell it in another part where there is demand.

It is also going to make it much easier to get goods from the port in Mombasa and open a shop in Kisumu for those products. That is how economies grow.

Now if we could figure how to stretch the rail line to Uganda that would be very good.

Then we need to figure how to open waterway lines between Kenya and Uganda through lake Victoria.

That would benefit both countries instead of fighting over Migingo Islands. There are a lot of opportunities knocking out there for us to expand our economy and improve people’s lives instead of shouting over petty things.

Just remember one thing. The first time we had the Lunatic Express in Kenya was just after the British colonialists came to Kenya in 1896.

They soon used the colonized Kenyan labor (free) to build a railway from Mombasa to Kisumu primarily to open the region for trade by importing goods and products to Mombasa port and transporting them all across Kenya and even to Uganda. That is how they made money moving everything everywhere and grabbing every piece of fertile land anywhere in the country.

This time around the new Lunatic express is not for the British, it is not for any ethnic community in Kenya but for all Kenyans to expand the commercial space in Kenya through efficient transportation.

It is more than 920 kilometers from Mombasa to Kisumu. It is just over 400 kilometers from Nairobi to Kisumu.

Providing secure and reliable rail transport for that kind of distance in the country is a key piece of developing the country and very good for improving the livelihood of Kenyans.

When politicians build 20 kilometers of semi-tarmacked roads in Kenya after five years in office they scream about it like it is the second coming of the lord.

How about 920 kilometers? If we keep working smartly as a country, we can get somewhere pretty fast. We have the resources and a very hard-working population. We are lucky. Aren’t we?

Adongo Ogony is a Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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