Kenya's mega Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor Programme has been adopted as an African Union project and redesigned to link the Lamu port on the eastern African Coast of the Indian Ocean to Douala port in the western Africa Atlantic Ocean.
The adoption means it is now under the African Union and elevates the project's status to attract foreign direct investment and other financiers compared with its status during the launch in 2012. It also means the implementation will now be a regional affair under the AU, and will be important to the realisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Africa Union's High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa, Raila Odinga, made the announcement at a ceremony last week in Mombasa, Kenya. The ceremony was attended by ministers from Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, who signed a memorandum of understanding for development and funding, which was preceded by a three-day technical team meeting to discuss the future of the project.
The meeting was also attended by prospective financiers of the project including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Mission of Africa and the African Union's New Partnership for Africa Development (Nepad).
Last July, the Lapsset Development Authority applied -- to the AU Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), under Nepad and subsequently to the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI) project under the AU Commission -- for consideration under the AU flagship projects of Agenda 2063 after facing financial constraints and lack of political will, which has slowed its implementation.
The Lapsset authority argued that the project had potential to boost continental integration.
Mr Daniel Osiemo, Nepad Kenya's representative, said the corridor project is the only PIDI project and the largest in eastern Africa with a market catchment of more than 160 million people.
"This infrastructure development will promote the achievement of the AfCFTA and the inter connectivity will enhance movement of goods and services," said Mr Osiemo, adding, "Lack of infrastructure was cited as a major impediment in doing business and this project will create a link from Lamu port and help ease trade by reducing the distance through an efficient land transport system."
"Ethiopia is a large country and we need infrastructure to make business cheaper, that is why we are investing in the Lapsset corridor and we have already tarmacked more than 500 kilometres of road from Moyale to Awasa. Our presence here should send a clear signal that we are for the project," said Ethiopia's ambassador to Kenya Melos Alem, who witnessed the signing of the MoU. He refuted claims that Ethiopia had abandoned the Lapsset project in favour of Eritrea's ports of Assab and Massawa, which are closer to the country. He also added that southern Ethiopia, with a population of 50 million people, will be best served by the Lamu port.
The initial design of the project was to cover Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, but the redesign and adoption by the AU will see the project connect East Africa with West Africa to facilitate the AfCFTA and also make it easy when lobbying to be considered under the AU programme.
"The new regional project implementation programme will assist partner countries to hasten the development of the project and this commitment will attract more financiers to bring this project to success. In the past, each country has been funding its own projects but the MoU will facilitate crowd funding," said Mr Odinga.
"The project has been adopted by the AU and this will give it an upper hand in crowd funding," said Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Transport James Macharia.
The project will comprise roads, railways, ports, pipelines and special economic zones, to be implemented in two phases, starting with the Lamu-Isiolo-Addis Ababa to Djibouti by road and rail, while the second phase will connect Lamu to Kribi/Doula in Cameroon via Juba in South Sudan and Bangui in Central African Republic.
Lapsset joins the ranks of other continental corridors such as East Africa's Northern Corridor and Central Corridor.
Some of the projects under the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative being considered by the AU are the Nigeria-Algeria gas pipeline project (Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline); Missing links on the Trans-Sahara highway and optic fibre link between Algeria and Nigeria; Dakar-Ndjamena-Djibouti road/rail project. Others are North-South Corridor road/rail project; Kinshasa-Brazzaville bridge road/rail project; Unblocking political bottlenecks for ICT broadband and optic fibre projects linking neighbouring states and construction of navigational line between Lake Victoria and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor Programme was launched on March 2, 2012 by the then Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir.
Berth number 1 at the Lamu Port has been completed and Berth 2 and 3 are scheduled for completion this year.
Kenya and its landlocked neighbours, Ethiopia and South Sudan, will use crowdfunding to raise the billions of shillings required to build infrastructure linking their economies.
In an MoU signed by ministers to speed up implementation of the Lapsset Corridor project, the three states have also agreed on joint budgetary allocation. The MoU was signed at a meeting in Mombasa at the Kenyan coast, presided over by the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development Raila Odinga. Ministers from Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan resolved to harmonise regulations and run joint marketing for the project.