Protesters threatened to choke the main trade artery with much of East Africa.
More than 200residents in Voi, a town located 142 km inland from Mombasa, halted traffic with burning tyres to demand jobs from a Chinese company contracted to build a section of a railway in the area.
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East Africa’s largest economy is the world’s biggest exporter of black tea and blockage of the road to the port could disrupt shipments.
At least 90 percent of all cargo arriving at the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa is ferried to final destinations in Kenya and landlocked neighbours by road, with trucks the main mode of transport.
“Youth in the area around Voi are protesting against a Chinese contractor who they are accusing of denying them jobs on the standard gauge railway line which will be passing through our county,” John Mruttu, the governor of Taita Taveta County where Voi lies, told Reuters.
“They are saying the contractor has imported labour, including drivers, which are jobs the locals are entitled to. They also say the few locals who have been employed are being paid poorly, and sacked without reason.”
Officials at the company, China Road and Bridge Construction Company, were not immediately available for comment.
Kenya’s government has said about 30,000 Kenyan workers would be employed to build a multi-billion dollar standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Nairobi, with only a few hundred Chinese specialised workers hired for the project.
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East African leaders and China signed agreements in May related to the construction of the railway, which will continue from Nairobi to the border of neighbouring Uganda and other landlocked states.
The project to link Mombasa with Malaba on the Ugandan border is designed to cut transport costs and boost regional trade. Kenya’s government has said the portion of railway from Mombasa to Nairobi would cost 447.5 billion shillings including financing costs.
Mombasa port is the main trade gateway to east Africa, and handles imports such as fuel and consumer goods destined to landlocked Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.