Kenya: Kisumu Port Project Shrouded in a Pall of Secrecy, Uncertainty

25 September 2020

When President Kenyatta visited Kisumu last month, one would have expected him to be received by Governor Anyang Nyong'o and other top national government and county officials.

Or, at least, to have these officers join him on his inspection tour of the Kisumu port, which has been undergoing a multibillion-shilling facelift in the past two years.

It turns out, however, that Governor Nyong'o was not only unaware of the President's August 30 visit, he was also away in Nairobi. Prof Nyong'o's handlers and other state officials in the city were also not aware of the visit.

It was not the first time Mr Kenyatta was quietly travelling to the lakeside city to personally inspect port infrastructure projects, sometimes with a scaled-down security detail.

Actually, the circumstances of the visit fitted perfectly into an established trend where Mr Kenyatta has quietly visited the site a record six times to inspect the upgrade works in a project he holds dear, alongside the Lamu and Mombasa ports in the Coast region.

The blue economy

The pall of secrecy surrounding the project is, however, raising eyebrows, with little or no information being given to the media on the status of the project, which has been termed key to jump-starting the blue economy in the East Africa region.

Change the fortunes

The county government, too, has been kept in the dark on the goings-on at the port, even as Governor Nyong'o expresses optimism that the outcome of the upgrade will change the fortunes of the lakeside city.

The port is said to have benefited from immense works, including the restoration of the giant Mv Uhuru and the construction of docking facilities.

Storage units and unloading facilities are said to have been built, alongside administrative and machinery installations. Roads have also been improved, according to state agencies involved.

It, however, remains unclear what percentage of this work has been done and at what cost, with the concerned state agencies maintaining confounding silence on the details.

In a recent presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) Managing Director Macharia Irungu said the Kenyan oil jetty was complete and ready for use, but that Uganda was still dithering.

Kenya is said to have completed its Sh2 billion Kisumu oil jetty by February 2018, which has since remained idle, with indications that it may not become operational until later in 2021, as it awaits the completion of the Ugandan jetty, critical to transporting fuel cargo for Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Early this year, Kenya Railways (KR) said bulk exports through Lake Victoria had resumed from December, with the first shipment of 22 wagons loaded with 894,000 litres of diesel.

KR Marine Operations Manager Mwalimu Disi said the refurbished Mv Uhuru has moved more than 17 million litres of fuel products to Port Bell and Jinja in Uganda in 17 commercial trips since December. The volume is expected to go even higher when the port if commissioned officially.

Presidential visits

However, 18 months and six low-profile presidential visits later, there is still no official communication as to when, if ever, the port will be launched.

More than three times, the government has put off plans to launch the refurbished port.

The initial launch date was August 14, 2019. Regional presidents were to attend the ceremony, but it postponed, with itinerary clash being cited as the reason. At least two subsequent launch dates in November and January also failed to take off.

Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho says, the Covid-19 outbreak slowed down this year's preparations to launch the mega project.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that, it will be launched next month.

Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya says the 14 counties in the region are banking on the port and the lake to spur economic growth.

It's because of that, he said, "that we engage the national government to make sure it revives the maritime economy so that we can trade easily with our neighbours."

The Kakamega governor said there had been concern over the delay to commission the project.

LREB chief executive Abala Wanga, however, says the main focus for the lake region is ensuring the port is able to deal with the projected demand.

LREB projects up to 5,000 jobs will be created after the port's official launch.

Old metre-gauge railway

The rehabilitation of the port infrastructure was accompanied by similar works in the seven smaller ports across Lake Victoria, namely, Muhuru Bay, Kendu Bay, Asembo Bay, Karungu, Sori, Port Victoria and Sio Port.

The President's latest visit came as the government embarked on the rehabilitation of the 217-kilometre old metre-gauge railway line from Nakuru to Kisumu at a cost of Sh3.8billion.

The railway revamp, which started last month, is expected to be complete in the next seven months, according to Defence Chief Administrative Secretary Peter Odoyo.

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