Kenya has moved to fix the challenges that had threatened to stall the Sh6.9 billion Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Naivasha.
This comes days after Kampala protested the move by Nairobi to direct all transit cargo destined for Uganda -- Kenya's biggest trade partner -- to be cleared at the Naivasha ICD from June 1.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, who toured the facility Tuesday, said the government had dealt with most of the sticky issues raised by various partners and customers and it is now ready for operations.
Since last week, the minister has been wooing the neighbouring countries to use the Sh6.9 billion facility by listing the benefits.
In a four-page letter last week, for example, Mr Macharia explained the gains to his Ugandan counterpart.
Uganda had argued that the use of the Naivasha ICD should be optional. Kampala is a major user of the port of Mombasa, accounting for up to a quarter of the cargo that passes through the facility.
At the same, the Shippers Council has weighed in on the subject, saying the government should not make it compulsory for port users to use the ICD.
"The government should allow choices as much as it should encourage the use of railway. At the end of the day shippers make decisions on the mode they would want to use basing it on cost and efficiency," said Gilbert Langat, the CEO of the council.
On Tuesday, Mr Macharia said Kenya Railways was putting up a marshalling yard to help deal with parking challenges for the transit vehicles.
He also said he had held a virtual meeting with his colleagues in Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan to iron out the other challenges especially those resulting from the Covid-19 testing protocols.
"The Naivasha ICD is ready and it is so important for the country and the region especially at this time when we are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.
"The transport corridors have been the main transmission corridors for Covid-19 and this ICD will reduce the risk on the road by about 600km, which translates to 50 per cent of the risk," Macharia said.
Kenya has also given her neighbours 10-acre pieces of land at the ICD to build warehouses as well as a 30-day free storage period.
DN body text: Mr Macharia said using the ICD would also be cheaper by about Sh45,000 ($450) per container compared to the roads.
On December 17 last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the extended standard gauge railway (SGR) freight services from Mombasa to the Naivasha ICD, promising faster transportation of cargo to western Kenya and on to neighbouring countries.
The issue was agreed upon by the four Presidents from the East African Community last month during a virtual meeting.
The ICD would also help decongest the roads, reduce the number of accidents, as well as cut the amount of time it takes to transport cargo from Mombasa.
Kenya is counting on the creation of the economic zone on the remainder of the 1,000 acres the ICD is sitting on to create jobs and spur economic activity.
But making the ICD compulsory for clearance appears to have been the deal breaker.