n Economic History of Developing Regions - Clientelism at work? a case study of Kenyan Standard Gauge Railway project - research

Volume 34 Number 3
  • ISSN : 2078-0389
  • E-ISSN: 2078-0397
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Through investigating Kenya’s newly launched Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project, this article explores the impact of clientelism on mega-infrastructure projects. This research traces the initiation and implementation of this Chinese-financed and -constructed railway in Kenya, based on over 100 interviews and triangulated with media and policy reports on SGR. We argue that clientelism had mixed effects on holding project management and the government accountable, conditional on the inclusiveness of the patron–client network. In areas where local people and businesses were included in the patronage system, for instance as constituents or trade union members, the patron–client networks held the project management accountable. The patronage system was conducive to corruption and oligopoly when the system only included elites and excluded citizens/businesses. In most situations we found that China has played a less influential role in the politics around the construction management than is generally assumed. This paper provides new evidence to the debate around clientelism and development in Kenya, and the conditions when patronage systems work for and against accountability. Moreover, this research advances the ‘African agency’ position in Sino-African relations literature by showing not only whether but also how Kenyan actors exercise their agency in interaction with Chinese counterparts.

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