China has agreed to help fund the construction of a railway line linking the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

China Exim Bank will provide 90 percent of the $3.8 billion (R39.5bn) cost of the project and Kenya will finance the remainder, according to a statement from the office of Kenya’s president. The first part of the railway will be a 609km line joining Mombasa with Nairobi.

The planned railway line would be Kenya’s largest post-colonial project and should “eventually unify all of east Africa”, President Uhuru Kenyatta said at yesterday’s signing ceremony in Nairobi.

Kenya, east Africa’s biggest economy, has a single-track railway line built by colonial power Britain shortly after the start of the 20th century.

“This is indeed a major undertaking that will boost the connectivity and integration of the east African sub-region,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said. China Communications Construction will be the lead contractor on the project.

Construction would start in October and the first part of the line would take 42 months to complete, Kenyatta’s office said. – Bloomberg