This file photo shows that a train of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway is seen at the Mombasa Railway Station in Mombasa, Kenya, on June 1, 2018. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)
The Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway is becoming a "nerve center" of skills transfer for Kenyan youth. So far, 1,072 Kenyan employees are capable of independently performing their duties, 252 Kenyans work in leadership positions and 29 junior locomotive drivers now work without supervision, according to a SGR technical skills transfer report.
by Xinhua writers Bai Lin, Naftali Mwaura
NAIROBI, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Brian Mbugua's athletic features combined with a high degree of self-esteem and oratory skills paved way for his meteoric rise at the Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train service, where he is a decorated train dispatcher.
The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR, which replaces the meter gauge railway that was constructed more than 100 years ago during the British colonial rule, has been an important fruit that came out of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late 2015.
The 28-year-old, who joined the SGR commuter train service soon after its launch in May 2017, was in his element on Tuesday when he received an award for excelling in a railway technical skills competition sponsored by his employer.
A ceremony celebrating 1,000 days of Mombasa-Nairobi SGR safe operations alongside a presentation of awards to winners of railway technical skills competition was held in Nairobi railway station on Tuesday afternoon.
ACCELERATING SKILLS TRANSFER
Mbugua was among the 27 first prize winners of technical skills transfer award presented to outstanding local employees by the SGR operator, Africa Star Railway Operation Company Limited (Afristar).
"I am grateful to my employer for providing me an opportunity to develop skills in railway transport. The training and mentorship that I have received is behind my career growth and nurturing of positive world views," said Mbugua.
The ambitious youth has found his voice in modern railway transport, thanks to encouragement from his Chinese supervisors coupled with rigorous training.
Ten staff members of Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway are awarded at a ceremony celebrating 1,000 days of safe operations in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yu)
"I consider myself lucky to have very resourceful supervisors at the dispatch department, who have taught me the nitty-gritty of operating a modern train service," said Mbugua.
He was in the group of local SGR train service employees, who visited China in 2019 to undertake courses in railway technology, safety management and customer care.
Mbugua said that technology and skills transfer, which has been the key feature of the SGR operations in Kenya, has made a lasting impact on the personal and professional lives of youthful colleagues.
"We have often received specific coaching to improve our performance at work. There are skills transferred at all levels and I have gained the confidence required to deliver positive results for my employer," said Mbugua.
The 480-kilometer Mombasa-Nairobi SGR, which is a critical component of Belt and Road Initiative, has been a nerve center of technology and skills transfer meant to benefit local youth.
Li Jiuping, general manager of Afristar, said "as of 6 p.m. Feb. 24, we have achieved safe operation for 1,000 days, cumulatively operating 13,000 trains, covering a total distance of 6.368 million kilometers without any liability safety accident."
The 1000-day operation features a high degree of safety, efficiency and responsiveness to customer needs with 4.17 million passengers and 771,000 TEUs of bulk cargo safely transported.
A staff member (L) of Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway tells his story on working and learning with his Chinese colleagues at a ceremony celebrating 1,000 days of safe operations in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yu)
According to SGR technical skills report released by the operator on Tuesday, the localization of Kenya's SGR operations nears 80 percent, which has been achieved through technical skills transfer in 123 railway specialties.
Wendy Kathambi, a female locomotive driver in her mid-20s, said that working at the SGR passenger train has been a defining moment amid interaction with highly skilled Chinese supervisors.
"I have been able to steer the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR passenger train without supervision since last June, and credit goes to my supervisors who are readily available to offer practical advice," said Kathambi.
The electrical engineering major said that participating in a refresher course in China in 2019 combined with constant mentoring has given her confidence required to shuttle locomotives.
SERVING LEADERSHIP POSITIONS
"Our Kenyan staff have acquired skills and knowledge from expatriates they are working with, in addition to training in China," said Sammy Gachuhi, deputy general manager of SGR Afristar, adding that Kenyan staff have taken up managerial positions as well and in the near future they will be capable of handling the task with ease.
Philip Mainga, managing director of Kenya Railways, said that Kenyan youth working for the SGR commuter and freight service are well-placed to acquire valuable and life-changing expertise from the Chinese supervisors.
"The constant exchange of knowledge and capacity building will stand them in good stead to competently run the service when the time comes to hand over the project fully to the local," said Mainga.
James Mutua, a 35-year-old senior transport attendant, who joined SGR passenger service in 2017, said that he treasures his work station thanks to ample opportunity for career mobility.
Staff members of Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway pose for photo as they attend a ceremony celebrating 1,000 days of safe operations in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yu)
"My immediate boss encourages me to explore new territories and seek assistance required to improve my work. Our workplace is conducive for knowledge sharing and capacity building that fosters professional growth," said Mutua.
The finance major was born in the semi-arid southeastern Kenyan county of Makueni, where climatic shocks like droughts are endemic and have created a resilient spirit among the native youth.
Mutua was among ten local SGR employees, who received safety awards thanks to meticulous application of tutorials they received from Chinese supervisors to facilitate seamless, efficient and risk free operations of the modern train service.
"The orientation and regular training courses, which I have undertaken since joining SGR train service, have enabled me deliver quality service to customers. The team I supervise has always prioritized the safety of passengers," said Mutua.
He belongs to a growing army of Kenyan youth, who have joined senior managerial positions at the SGR train service, thanks to implementation of an elaborate technology and skills transfer program.
The SGR technical skills transfer report indicates that 1,072 Kenyan employees are capable of independently performing their duties, and 252 Kenyans work in leadership positions. A total of 29 junior locomotive drivers now work without supervision. ■