A Chinese-built bridge collapsed in Kenya two weeks after it was inspected by the president

Under construction.
Under construction.
Image: Reuters/Noor Khamis
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A $10 million Chinese-built bridge in western Kenya, personally commissioned by president Uhuru Kenyatta, has collapsed. At least 27 workers were injured when the bridge broke on Monday (June 26). The government has halted construction and sent a team of engineers to investigate.

The collapse occurred less than two weeks after president Kenyatta visited the site as part of a campaign tour before general elections in August. Kenyatta, who is up for reelection, has been emphasizing his party’s focus on infrastructure projects, like a new railway between Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa.

The president promised to build the bridge in Busia county after a boat carrying 11 people capsized on the river, killing everyone on board. Kenyatta attended the funeral for one of the victims, a student.

The collapse isn’t good news for Chinese companies operating in Africa either. Over the past decade, as Chinese companies have won more contracts to build roads and other infrastructure projects across the continent, Chinese officials and companies have worked to overcome a reputation for poor quality and lax safety standards. Portions of a Chinese built road in Zambia were washed away by rains in 2009, and a hospital in Angola was evacuated when local officials feared it would collapse in 2010, incidents that were widely covered in local media.

China Overseas Engineering Group, a subsidiary of one of the largest construction companies in the world, China Railway, had been contracted by the Kenyan government to build the 100-meter bridge. The company worked with the UK nonprofit Safer World to communicate with local residents and address any concerns about the project.

“This is very unusual because all the standards and specifications required by the employer were met,” a project manager for the company, Jerome Hua, told the Kenyan newspaper, the Nation. “We have experienced engineers and we are equally baffled by what happened. We hope to find the root cause of the problem and rectify the matter.”

According to the company, the bridge, originally slated for completion by next month, can be repaired but its cost, originally 1.2 billion shillings, will likely increase.

Kenyatta’s main rival Raila Odinga, who has frequently criticized the Jubilee party’s focus on mega projects, used the bridge collapse as a metaphor for the party overall. “This is a good sign of how they will tumble. When the monkey’s day to die draws nigh, all trees become slippery,” he told a rally in Siaya county.