Kenya: New Port in Kisumu - Is It (Still) Good Idea?

The Kisumu port in western Kenya handled just 13,500 tonnes of cargo last year, a figure that has experts questioning the country's plan to build a new $140 million port in the lakeside city, as part of the joint standard gauge railway project.

The port has been underutilised for years, despite its immense potential and strategic positioning to serve the landlocked countries in the Great Lakes Region.

Uganda was the main user of the port last year, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the cargo.

According to the Kenya Ports Authority figures for 2018, the port handled 12,000 tonnes of fertiliser destined to Uganda, 240 tonnes of Magadi soda, 108 tonnes of heavy machinery to Tanzania and two tonnes of assorted cargo and a bottle filling machine.

In terms of imports, the port handled 1,100 tonnes of sugar from Uganda, and 50 tonnes of heavy trucks from Dar es Salaam, pointing to its under-use as a key trade route for the three countries.

The underuse has been blamed on the invasion of the weed in the lake, a poor transport system and the sorry state of its landing sites.

Cargo hub

In its heyday, the Kisumu port was an important passenger and cargo hub interlinking Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania through the Port Bell, Jinja, Bukoba and Mwanza ports. But the collapse of the railway network and the recurring hyacinth problem sank the port's fortunes.

KPA took over the port's management from Kenya Railways in 2017, with plans to revamp the Kisumu pier site. Currently, it receives at best one vessel a week, down from four two years ago.

Now a new port is being planned at Kisian, 16km from the city centre, with cement, coal and petroleum products destined for the region being used as justification for its construction.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, when he hosted his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni recently, said that the country was finalising the construction of the petroleum jetty on Lake Victoria.

"For the first time since colonial days, we are utilising Lake Victoria for transportation, thereby reducing the cost of moving fuel to Uganda and increasing the potential for trade between the two countries," President Kenyatta said.

Two years ago, the government signed an agreement with China Exim Bank for a Ksh14 billion ($140 million) loan to finance its construction.

Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the Kisian site was chosen for its potential for expansion, complete with a logistics and an industrial park.

The port will be linked by rail, with other auxiliary connections--access roads, electricity connections and satellite buildings. The designs show that the new port will require 20 square kilometres to accommodate all its amenities.

The EastAfrican has seen design documents from Kenya Railways for a container terminal in Kisumu, whose construction is expected to take 18 months.

Once complete, it will be leased out to sub-operators under an agreement with KPA. The new port will have two multipurpose berths of 3,000 tonnes and one work boat berth.

"There will also be the construction of a roll on/roll off terminal that will facilitate loading and offloading of ships designed to carry wheeled cargo like cars," says the document.

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