Roads and Road Transport in Kenya


Road infrastructure is one of the key components of communication and development of nations. The Kenya Vision 2030 aspires for a country with integrated roads, interconnected railways, communication ports, airports, infrastructure Waterways and communications as well as provision of adequate energy. Kenya’s roads sector has undergone many changes over the past five decades and has reached arguably its most illustrious period yet. Implementation of the latest road policy is expected to take the sector to the next level in the context of the 2010 Constitution.

Looking back over the past 50 years, one notes the gradual transformation that the sector has undergone. Whereas assorted challenges have been experienced, the overall picture that emerges is one of success. On Kenya’s road to economic and social development, infrastructure has played and continues to play a key role. In this, the public sector has been the key actor supported by a diverse cast that includes development partners and the private sector.

Transport services constitute a key component of Kenya’s service sector in both their contribution to the c0untry’s employment and income generation and their role in external trade, especially at the regional level. The Kenya economy is dependent on roads and road transport.

Good infrastructure facilitates trade, economic development and improvement in the quality of life, especially in Kenya where roads carry over 80 per cent of passenger transport. Roads are one of the modes of transport of people and goods and are used to interconnect other modes as Well as provide access to basic social services.

Kenya has a public road network of 160,886km, of which 61,946km is currently classified while 98,940krn are unclassified. The current road classification system, which was developed in the 1970s, has six road classes — classes A to E and a Special Purpose Road class. Each class is defined by the functional criteria related to administrative level of centres the roads connect.

MAJOR SHIFT IN ROAD POLICIES AT INDEPENDENCE

There was a major shift in road policies from the Sessional Paper N0. 10 of 1965, just after independence, to the era of structural adjustment and now that of the 2010 Constitution that emphasizes devolution. The only policy strategy that has been consistently pursued is decentralisation of road service provision. Otherwise, starting in the mid—1980s, there was an increasing effort to move towards private sector participation, including privatization and full cost recovery for public inputs, as opposed to emphasizing government provision, as was the case in 1963 to 1984.

The shifts in policies over the years have been gradual and continuous as occasioned by changes in the economy.

Immediately after independence in 1963, the Government moved to lay the foundation for the country’s rapid economic growth. The total length of both roads made from bitumen and gravel or earth roads increased from 41,94lkm in 1963 to 46,600km in 1972.

In its policy statements and strategies, the Government gave fair attention to the development of a robust road network to support social and economic activities. For instance, the density of paved roads exhibited an upward trend, with the length of paved roads for every 1,000 persons increasing from the period immediately following independence to 1986.

In the first decade after independence, the public sector embarked on providing a regionally distributed infrastructure while facing two key challenges. Extensive infrastructure development demanded huge investment but because of the inherent risks, it did not attract foreign investors. Secondly, local entrepreneurs were too few and possessed fairly limited technical skills and too little capital to undertake major investments. Capital markets were underdeveloped and could not be relied upon to provide sufficient credit.

This explains why the thrust of policies such as Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 with respect to infrastructure was public provision with participation of the private sector in certain areas.

Participation of the private sector, especially in surface transportation, was ideal as a training ground for Kenyan entrepreneurs.

A principal line of Kenya’s strategy was to develop transport and other infrastructure so as to draw the entire nation into the market economy and to lay the basis for rapid industrial growth.

Recognizing the importance of the agricultural sector to the country’s economic growth, the government laid emphasis on infrastructural investments and development as a policy strategy that would bolster agricultural development.

The establishment in 1969 of the Special Rural Development Programme (SRDP) was a milestone in the process of decentralizing planning, as it institutionalized rural planning and management through establishing an administrative structure. While the national government constructed roads in all areas of the country, district councils had the mandate for developing rural roads using cess funds from the sale of agricultural commodities. The arrangement was such that bodies like Kenya Tea Development Authority (now Kenya Tea Development Agency) developed roads in the small-scale tea growing areas.

Specifically, the levy was discounted from farmers’ income at marketing centres for coffee, tea and sugarcane, among others. Overall, the special purpose roads programme (SPRP) involved the construction or improvement of access roads to areas that produced cash crops such as Wheat, tea, sugar, rice and coffee; roads to regions with potential for tourism and fisheries; and those that served settlements and other rural development points. Under this programme, ministries or agencies that required specific road improvements to support their activities financed the needed improvements. The Ministry of Works acted in only an advisory or contractual capacity.

Kenya Roads Policy

The roads policy for Kenya over the 1970 to 1989 period was encapsulated Within the second (1970 to 1974), third (1974 to 1978), fourth (1979 to 1983), fifth (1984 to 1988) and sixth (1989 to 1993) national development plans; the 1984 National Transport Plan; and the 1986 Sessional Paper No. 1 on ‘Economic Management for Renewed Growth’.

A more integrated and facilitative role was to be adopted by the Government under which the place of the private sector in development was recognized.

Still in the 19 80s, the government through the District Focus for Rural Development (DFRD) Strategy and Rural Trade Promotion Centres (RTPCs), aimed at effecting decentralized and participatory planning, further decentralizing road provision. The DFRD programme intended to broaden the base for rural development and encourage local initiative to complement the ministries’ role in order to improve problem identification, resource mobilization and project implementation at the local level.

The people were to be directly involved in the identification, design, implementation, and management of projects and programmes. This was to make development more consistent with the needs and aspirations of wananchi.

Secondly, the decision—making structure would centre on the districts themselves. This would minimize delays that often characterized centralized decision- making systems. Thirdly, and most important, is that equitably, resources would be directed to areas in most need.

The typical project package included improvement of town and link roads, Water and electricity supply, grain stores, slaughterhouses, bridges, bus parks, telecommunications (telephone, post offices), market centres, youth polytechnics, access roads, footpaths, and ablution blocks.

In the ongoing effort to improve communication and transportation in the rural areas, the Government initiated the Rural Access Roads Programme (RARP) in 1974. It was renamed the Minor Roads Improvement and Maintenance Programme (MRP) in 1985. The RARP involved the construction of all-Weather, farm-to-market roads (new links) in high-potential agricultural districts, whilst the MRP covered the improvement of existing Links through gravelling, improving bridges, and building culverts.

Rural access and minor roads programmes (RARP and MRP), which are formulated and implemented by the Government as central infrastructure strategies for rural development, have had positive impacts in providing cheap access to markets for both agricultural outputs and modern inputs.

Impact evaluation of the RARP showed an increase in crop production of 29 per cent from baseline conditions one year after the programme was completed. Over that period, sales of farm produce went up by 51 per cent, farm income by 27 per cent, non-farm cash earnings by 11 per cent, and total house-hold earnings by 20 per cent.

Because they used labour-intensive techniques in all the civil engineering Works, the RARP and MRP played an important role in the development of rural areas, as Well as in generating employment opportunities for the rural population. The programmes had constructed 7,600km of access roads and created 72,000 person-years of employment by 1985 against targets of 14,000km and 80,000 person-years.

Road Tolls in Kenya

Road tolls were introduced on the main paved network in the early 1980s to supplement regular budgetary funding. The toll revenue provided funds outside the normal budget 1992/93 Kshs326 million was collected from tolls and used for periodic maintenance and strengthening of the main paved road system).

Under the RARP, a total of 8,120km of rural access roads had been constructed by June 1992, of Which 7,552km had been graveled, and 3,100km of minor roads had been constructed by June 1992, of which 2,39Okm had been graveled.

Some of the challenges faced by the rural roads programmes — and which partly account for the failure to meet targets — Were shortage of labour in the high-potential agricultural areas, particularly during harvest times; shortages of middle-level staff such as inspectors and overseers; lack of transport and, in some cases, technical construction problems attributed to soil conditions, structure and topography.

Both the RARP and MRP strategies were still pursued even after a strategic and comprehensive development policy document on Economic Management for Renewed Growth was published as Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1986. The tempo of the two programmes was accentuated through the Kenya Market Development Programme (KMDP). The KMDP Was designed to enhance agricultural productivity and farm incomes by alleviating production and marketing constraints in high-potential areas.

The road rehabilitation component of the KMDP aimed at reducing transportation costs incurred in moving agricultural commodities from rural producers to markets by improving selected rural roads in eight districts — Kakamega, Kisii, Kitui, Nakuru, Narok, Nyamira, Nyeri and Uasin Gishu — to all-Weather standard roads.

All—Weather roads can be used daily by agricultural transporters to deliver commodities to markets in a timely fashion, even during periods of heavy rainfall. District development officials helped the KMDP in road selection during the initial stages of the programme. The Ministry of Roads and Public Works (MoRPW) in Nairobi reviewed the recommendations from the districts. The roads were evaluated, selected and ranked by an interdisciplinary MoRPW team using a scheme for rating roads according to how much they fulfilled the conditions defining road importance. These factors included the road condition, population density, average size of land holdings, market linkages, drainage, terrain and construction cost.

Rural Roads Access in Kenya

The background to and the nature of roads and road transport policy reforms in the 1990s are provided by a number of Government of Kenya blueprints.

These include the seventh (1994 to 1996) and eighth (1997 to 2001) national development plans, the Policy Framework Paper (PFP) on Economic Reforms for 1996 to 1998, the Sessional Paper No. 2 of 1996 on Industrial Transformation to the Year 2020 and the 1997 National Roads Strategic Plan (NRSP).

The theme of the seventh planning period was ‘Resource Mobilization for Sustainable Development’. For the roads sector, the plan pledged government commitment to continue the principles of the RARP and MRP under a new Minor Roads Transition Project.

The Eighth National Development Plan focused on issues relating to road development coordination, laying out priorities and strategies for integrating the sectors, and detailing a five—year infrastructural investment programme. The stated overall government policy for the Kenya road transport infrastructure over the 1997 to 2001 was three-pronged:

  1.  to continue implementing a programme for providing adequate funding and to strengthen the management of roads;
  2.  to improve urban transport efficiency;
  3. And to increase accessibility and mobility in rural areas by supplementing motorized transport with non-motorized modes.

These programmes generally met their immediate objectives of improving rural access roads.

However, the Ministry of Roads and Public Works recognized that a network approach was required but that full rehabilitation of the network would be financially prohibitive. The ministry then adopted an approach to road rehabilitation and maintenance based on district networks.

Known as Roads 2000, this approach was designed to raise operating conditions on the 55,000km of unpaved classified roads. The Roads 2000 strategy of partial rehabilitation, spot gravelling and improved drainage was developed to improve road conditions, increase accessibility and bring the network to a maintainable standard.

In essence, the Roads 2000 strategy sought to:

  1. Provide basic transport conditions for faster agricultural growth and social development by rehabilitating the rural road infrastructure and improving the roads within the rural areas for all—Weather access; Increase rural employment directly through the extension of labour-based road works (Wherever conditions permit), and indirectly through faster agricultural growth;
  2. Remove the constraints to private sector initiatives and development in general imposed by the deteriorating road infrastructure;
  3. Support the development of small domestic contractors through the provision of contractor training and small construction contracts; and
  4. Support increased efficiency within the civil service through a substantial reduction in force account activity in the road sector and increased capability in district planning and contract administration.

In 1994, a road maintenance levy fund (RMLF), consisting of an automotive fuel levy and transit toll collections, was introduced by the Road Maintenance Levy Fund (Amendment) Act of 1994. The RMLF Act empowers the minister in charge of roads to impose levies on petroleum products, the proceeds of which will go to the maintenance of public roads.

In September 1994, the Government introduced transit toll charges under Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) arrangements in addition to axle-load limits on trucks that carry heavy loads. These trucks are partly responsible for damaging the Mombasa—Nairobi—Kampala—Kigali road. Kenya’s axle—load regulations represent the core of the transport policies relating to trucking productivity, infrastructure provision, and management. Revisions in size and weight limits are reflected in truck fleet, operating weights and volumes, which in turn affect the geometric requirements, loadings, maintenance, and rehabilitation intervention levels of the infrastructure.

The Government has several mobile weigh bridges, and static ones at Athi River, Mariakani, Webuye, lsebania, Gilgil and Busia for controlling axle load.

The Government then moved to develop an institutional framework within which the management of the entire road network would most effectively be undertaken.

In 1998, a Kenya Roads Board (KRB) Bill was drafted for establishing an autonomous, executive (or national) roads board to manage the RMLF and MR&R. The Bill was discussed and passed by Parliament in December 1999 as the KRB Act 1999. The Act outlines the major tasks of the KRB as follows:

  1. Coordinate implementation of all policies relating to the maintenance, rehabilitation and development of the network;
  2. Coordinate maintenance, rehabilitation and development of the road network with a view to achieving efficiency; cost-effectiveness and safety
  3. Administer funds derived from the fuel levy and any other funds that may accrue to the board;
  4. Determine the financial allocations for road agencies and evaluate the delivery of works through technical, financial and performance audits;
  5.  Ensure that all procurement of works is conducted in accordance with the guidelines and criteria set by the board; and
  6. Recommend to the minister responsible for roads the areas for study and research; the specifications, design standards and classification for roads; vehicle types and dimensions; axle-load limits; and road safety measures

In essence, KRB provides an institutional framework within which the entire road network is managed, and is entrusted with the authority to efficiently use KRB funds to develop, rehabilitate and maintain the network. The KRB Act provides for broad allocation of funds, with 60 per cent going to international and national trunk roads and primary roads, 24 per cent to secondary roads, and 16 per cent to rural roads.

The KRB is composed of major stakeholders in the roads sector, who constitute the majority of its membership, and representatives of relevant government ministries or departments. The stakeholders include the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Kenya National Farmers’ Union, the Automobile Association of Kenya, road contractors, road transporters, and the Kenya Association of Tour Operators. The Government is represented by various infrastructure ministries.

The ongoing implementation of the KRB Act is expected to translate into the physical improvement of the road network, improved utilization of the fuel levy funds:  reduction in vehicle operating costs and travel times, open and accountable procurement of road works and effective financial and technical auditing of road works.

From 1995 to 1999, the length of earth or gravel roads declined by 910km, mainly because these roads were upgraded to bitumen standards.

Road Transport Department in Kenya

The department was initially under the Ministry of Transport and Communication before being absorbed by Kenya Revenue Authority on July 1, 1995 through an Act of Parliament. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles heads the department charged with the responsibility of undertaking registration and licensing of drivers and all motor vehicles and trailers in the Kenya. It also maintains records relating to registration and offers safe custody of all documents in its possession.

Other responsibilities of the department include collection of revenue for the Government and promotion of road safety by effectively administering of the Traffic and Transport licensing.

Within the department’s licensing section is the Transport Licensing Board (TLB). The TLB discharges the provisions of the Transport Act as provided in the Transport Licensing Act (Cap. 404) of the laws of Kenya.

It provides coordination and control of means and facilities for transport in the country. The Transport Licensing Act stipulates that all vehicles carrying goods and passengers whose tare Weight exceeds three tonnes must be licensed. Consequently, the junctions of the board involve receiving applications, scrutinizing, approval of applications, and issuance of licenses.

The vehicle registration section receives and processes registration application forms for new motor vehicles, allocation of numbers, issuance of number plates, preparation and issuance of original logbooks for newly registered vehicles and issuance of duplicate logbooks. In addition, the section ensures proper transfer of vehicles, and proper keeping and retrieval of vehicle records.

Public Transport Reform in Kenya

The history of public transport in Kenya stretches back to 1934 when London-based Overseas Trading Company (OTC) introduced the first buses, a fleet of 13 on 12 routes.

These routes 1-12 formed the earliest traditional bus routes in Kenya that are still in use today.

These routes expanded as the city of Nairobi grew to include inter-urban routes serving the city centre with passengers from surrounding estates like Eastleigh and Highridge and Parklands.

Intra-urban routes of estate to estate to city centre came as the country became independent in 1963 and movement became busier: Routes 28, 32, 41 and 42 are ‘classic routes’ created in 1966. Peri-urban routes like 100, 102, 108 and 111 came in 1984-1985.

The Express route to upcountry was bus route 200 created by Kenya Bus in 1995.

Subsequent matatu routes have followed these old Kenya Bus routes to date.

Public transport is dominated by matatus. The term matatu is derived from a local Kikuyu vernacular term mang’otore matatu which means “thirty cents” which was then the standard charge for every trip made.

In the early 1960s, the total number of matatus operating in the country was less than 400 and did so in the form of taxis. In 1973, President Jomo Kenyatta, responding to lobbying from matatu operators, declared that matatus were a legal mode of transport and could carry fare -paying passengers without obtaining special licenses to do so but had to comply with existing insurance and traffic regulations.

Initially, the Kenya Bus Service existed since 1934 as the sole legal provider of public transport services. It was jointly owned by the United Transport Overseas Ltd with 75 per cent shareholding and the Nairobi City Council with 25 per cent. It operated in major towns including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu but eventually could not cope with demand.

By 1990, of the 333,300 vehicles registered in the country, 17,600 were matatus.

And by 2003, the number had risen to an estimated 40,000 matatus. In 2012, however, 22,052 TLB Licenses were issued, compared to 23,680 the previous year. The drop is attributed to the Government’s decision to phase out 14-seater matatus.

Unfortunately, the industry’s vast growth has been accompanied by increasing road traffic accidents that continue threatening the safety of Kenyan travelers. Accidents tripled from 3,578 in 1963 to 10,106 by 1989, and 11,785 in 1994. The number of reported traffic accidents further rose to 16,800 in 2000. Reported traffic accidents in 2009 stood at 12,369 with a death toll of 4,072, 10,644 serious injuries and 11, 906 slight injuries. In 2012, the number of accidents had dropped to 6,917 with a 3,141 death toll. The 2013 death toll is already past 3.000,

To check the spiraling accidents the Government in 2004 instituted reforms in the public sector to tame fatalities and injuries on roads. The regulations threw a spotlight on the chaotic matatu industry and were famously nicknamed “Michuki Rules” after Transport Minister John Michuki, who implemented them firmly.

The rules which came into effect in February 2004 required all matatus and buses to install speed governors, passenger safety belts, operate in clearly defined routes, to carry a specified number of passengers and their drivers and conductors to be disciplined and to have a clean security record.

During Michuki’s tenure at the helm of the ministry until 2005, a semblance of order was restored on Kenyan roads with significant reduction in road accidents.

Flagship road projects and policy developments in Kenya

During this decade, the government constructed undoubtedly the flagship of its road development — the Kshs31 billion Nairobi—Thika Highway. The road, whose construction started in 2009, was commissioned on November 9, 2012.

The 50km road is crucial in regional connectivity as it forms part of the Trans-Africa Highway running from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo 1’n Egypt. It links Nairobi to Ethiopia at the Moyale border town, nearly 800km from Nairobi.

Besides this vital road, the Government built several by— passes surrounding or traversing Nairobi to help decongest the capital city.

The Kenya Roads Act, 2007 and the Sessional Paper No. 5 of 2006 on the Development and management of the road sub-sector for sustainable economic growth provided the legal and institutional framework for the management of roads. The Sessional Paper which was approved by Parliament on October 19, 2006, also spelt out policies to be pursued by the Government in the medium term for sustained growth. Substantial progress has been made in roads following the reforms informed by the Sessional Paper No. 5 of 2006. Prior to the reforms of 2006 in the roads sub—sector, the uncertainties, duplication of roles and inconsistency in the road asset management system largely contributed to poor state of roads in the country. The reforms under the Sessional Paper No 5 of 2006 realized the four basic building blocks necessary for effective roads management i.e. ownership, clarified responsibility, stable financing and commercialized management.

In 2007, the Kenya Roads Act was enacted. The Act established three Roads Authorities with responsibility of clearly defined mandates on the management of respective sub-networks. These were the Kenya National Highways Authority, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority and the Kenya Rural Roads Authority.

The Kenya National Highways Authority has responsibility for the management, development, rehabilitation and maintenance of national roads. The Rural Roads Authority has responsibility for rural roads and the Kenya Urban Roads Authority is responsible for all public roads in the cities and municipalities, except where those roads are national roads.

In May 2009, the Integrated National Transport Policy (INTP) was developed to clarify the roles of the various players in the delivery and management of transport infrastructure and services. The INTP seeks to address the challenges in the transport sector through integration of transport infrastructure and operations as well as responding to market needs of transport. In a bid to plan future road investments, the Ministry of Roads developed a Road Sub—Sector Investment Programme (RSIP) 2010 to 2024 which outlines the strategies, programmes and projects for the development of Kenya’s road infrastructure in the short, medium and long term. The state department responsible for roads shall implement and periodically update the RSIP for national trunk roads and county roads to ensure prioritization for existing and future road network. Planning of maintenance Works will be systematic and in accordance with the Road Sector Investment Programme (RSIP) for the period 2010 to 2024 published in May 2011.

Expansion of Road Network in Kenya

Overall expenditure for the Ministry of Roads in 2011/ 2012 financial year stood at Kshs91.5 billion and is expected to rise to Kshs117.6 billion in 2012/13. In 2012 to 2013, the country recorded major developments, especially in road infrastructure development.

The Government undertook numerous road projects that have added to the expansion of the road network in the country. Numerous roads were officially commissioned during this period.

Completed Road projects in Kenya

The Multinational Athi River – Namanga – Arusha road

The rehabilitated road was jointly opened by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, witnessed by President Yoweri Mnseveni of Uganda, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

The road is part of an important commercial and transport corridor serving both Kenya and Tanzania.

This road stands out as it greatly enhances the integration and commercial viability of the East African Community and strategically forms part of the Trans African Highway N0. 9 running from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt.

The section of the road between Athi River and Namanga is 136 kilometers long and links Tanzania and Kenya through the international border at Namanga. It traverses Machakos and Kajiado counties of Kenya.

The road has been aptly improved to international trunk road standards with seven-metre carriageway and 2-metre shoulders. Climbing lanes have been provided in steep sections to enhance the level of service and improve safety.

With the construction of this road, travel time has reduced on various sections of the road by over 60 per cent; many investors in road transport have put public transport vehicles on the road indicating less operating costs. Investments in real estate have risen significantly along the road corridor and pollution levels in terms of dust have also drastically reduced, making driving comfortable and convenient.

Nairobi – Thika Highway

The eight lane highway was officially opened on November 9, 2012. The highway, dubbed the Superhighway, is the first of its kind in East and Central Africa and took 42 months to construct. It has transformed the lives of the people living along the route and those that use it. Already, commuters are enjoying faster, reliable, comfortable and more affordable journeys. The travel time between Nairobi and Thika now is about 30 to 45 minutes, as opposed to two to three hours previously.

Nyamasaria – Kisumu – Kisian road

In a major milestone in infrastructure improvement, the Government embarked on this project, converting it into a dual carriageway. The project also required installation of a new bridge at Nyamasaria and construction of the single bituminous carriageway Kisumu Southern bypass starting from Nyamasaria and ending at Kondele (a distance of 3 .3km), with overpasses at Nyamasaria and Kondele.

The improved road is expected to ease transportation costs especially for the heavy commercial vehicles destined for other regional countries through the Busia border.

Ejinja – Bumala road upgrade

The road, which is in Busia and Kakamega counties, was upgraded into a two-lane single carriageway of bitumen standards.

The project, which is being funded by the Government, cost Kshsl.73 billion and was officially commissioned in December, 2011.

The road will not only improve transportation of produce between Butula and Bumala trading centres but also the status of communities of the area.

Lanet – Njoro turnoff rehabilitation

The road forms part of the Northern Corridor route that links Mombasa with Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The project measuring 17.5km was funded by IDA, World Bank and the Government at a cost of Kshs2.97 billion. The project started on October 9, 2008 and was completed early 2013.

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