Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy, has begun the $960-million process of constructing and upgrading two key roads in the capital of Nairobi through public/private partnerships as part of the multinational Northern Corridor Transport Improvement Project (NCTIP).

On Feb. 24, the country signed an agreement with G8 member-country Japan for partial funding of the construction of the Nairobi Western Ring Road. Japan gave Kenya an initial $420,000 grant for the project. NCTIP is a multibillion-dollar road and air-transport program that aims to link the Great Lakes countries, with an estimated combined population of 120 million, to Kenya ’s seaport of Mombasa. The Great Lakes countries include Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A total of 4,400 kilometers will be either upgraded or constructed across these countries. The corridor also serves northern Tanzania, southern Sudan and Ethiopia.

The World Bank has committed $460 million in financial support for the NCTIP project. Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said during the signing of the $420,000 grant from Japan that Kenya is seeking additional financial support to fund the construction. The tendering process for design and construction works will be carried out by the Ministry of Roads in accordance with Japan’s Grant Aid guidelines.

The grant comes just months after Kenya granted concessions for 106 kilometers of its highway system to two foreign infrastructure development companies—Austria’s Strabag and Israel’s Shikun & Biuni—for the $893-million deal that was approved by the country’s Parliament last December. The two companies will upgrade and expand the 45-km-long Nairobi Southern Bypass motorway under the 30-year concession, effective in 2014. They will also construct a four-lane, 5.9-km-long road in Nairobi while demolishing seven roundabouts blamed for the city’s traffic, which is estimated to cost the country’s economy $386 million every year.

The concessionaire and Kenya’s Ministry of Roads are working out the procurement procedures for the two bypasses, referred to as “the missing link” in the planned 300-km road network that is part of NCTIP.

Last December, President Mwai Kibaki said Kenya has entered into negotiations with China for the financing of another key $20-billion section of NCTIP. That portion will include the construction of a second port at Lamu plus road and rail links, an oil pipeline to southern Sudan and Ethiopia and an oil refinery at Lamu.