Kenya: Kisumu Project Will Reposition Mombasa As Region's Best Port

20 August 2019

Kisumu is in the news. It is the sign of the parlous state of public debate among the political elite that a section of our leaders want us to look at the pros and cons of the new container port in parochial terms - insisting that it is all part of goodies coming out of the handshake deal between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga.

CLOAK AND DAGGER

As a society, we are suffering from a major crisis of vision among our leaders. The people we elect have no sense of ambition and are incapable of seeing what is in the country's regional strategic interests.

In my view, the Kisumu project must be seen - first and foremost, an ambition by Kenya at securing hinterland accessibility to the port of Mombasa. Even though we don't usually admit it, we are permanently engaged in a cloak-and-dagger game with our East African neighbours over economic dominance.

Just the other day, the Ugandans decided to route oil pipeline through Tanzania, instead of Kenya. It was shortly followed by the decision by Kigali to develop a railway link through Dar-es-Salaam port, instead of Mombasa.

When you look at the situation and trends closely, it seems that our East African Community partners have just been stirring us along, while constantly jostling for tactical advantage over us in an endless game over economic dominance of the region.

In the case of Uganda's crude pipeline, Kampala argued that land compensation costs in Kenya were too high and were likely to push the cost of the construction of the pipeline too high.

Kampala also invoked the issue of insecurity on the route to the coast of Kenya. This, despite the fact that we offered to allow the Ugandans to build their crude along Kenya Pipeline Company's existing way leave, which would not attract additional costs.

The Ugandans also ignored the fact that KPC had been operating an oil pipeline on this route for more than 30 years without any major security breaches.

The point here is this: That in the context of the battle over geostrategic significance between the three major economies in East Africa, the thinking behind the commercial port in Kisumu makes a great deal of sense.

DOMINATE SEAPORTS

It is in our strategic interests to dominate seaports, develop waterway links and build high quality of transport networks of internal terminals.

When we build big infrastructure projects that connect us with the major economies of East Africa, we must look and debate permanent interests and geostrategic significance.

We are at a point where we must start discussing whether our long term future lies in opening up of new transport corridors between us and South Sudan and Ethiopia.

At times, I get this feeling that since we are the dominant economy in the region -- and considering that cooperation between East African partner states was structured around the principle of asymmetry, where the bigger brother must make, we did not do a good job at configuring our relations with our neighbours around well-defined national interest strategies.

The lesson here is that we need to refine our national interest strategy more sharply when it comes to regional infrastructure projects.

The way I see it, what is going to tip the scales for us in these endless cloak-and-dagger games with our neighbours for regional dominance is Mombasa, the largest port in the region.

Two years ago, we completed building a state-of-the art container terminal to double the capacity of the port and allow access larger vessels. Indeed, the second container terminal is how we intend to reposition Mombasa as the reference port along the Indian Ocean Coast, making it possible for the port to out-compete Djibouti, Dar-es-Salaam and Maputo.

PIRATED VIDEOS

When we built the second container terminal, our ambition was to have a high-performance port that connects to the standard gauge railway to form a fully integrated transportation chain and corridor running all the way to Kigali.

We decided to experiment with the idea of giving the new facility to an experienced international operator, the shipping line Mediterranean Lines. We have an additional seaport in Lamu.

Which brings me to the barbarism which authorities displayed in dislocating and disrupting fish sellers at the famous 'Lwang'ni' market to give way for the port.

Let's give it a human face. Still, we must appreciate the biggest problem we have in this country is the unwillingness and the lack of capacity among our leaders to fight the political battles necessary to advance society forward.

Informal sector businesses and businesses like 'Lwang'ni' area growing a very fact rate.

Yet when you look at it closely, this a sector resorts to because we have lost capacity to create descent jobs for the citizen of this country.

As you enjoy your fish at 'Lwang'ni', what you will see are able bodied young men hopping from one restaurant to another, hawking counterfeit watches and pirated videos.

What we call the informal sector is just but a disguised form of worklessness. Long term policy should aim to eliminate so that citizens are able to get descent and stable jobs.

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