Mombasa’s anxiety about Lamu plans

There’s growing worry in Mombasa about the plans to transform Lamu island into a mega-port serving Sudan and Ethiopia.

lamu_port_railway_graphic

Diversion of shipping and transport from Mombasa will mark the death of this 1,000 year old city whose ideallic location on East Africa’s coast has been its economic mainstay.

The construction of new roads and railways linking Lamu with the interior is viewed as an example of misplaced priorities considering the dilapidated state of the existing railway line after decades of neglect.

If the Lamu plan becomes a reality, highway towns such as Mariakani, Maungu, Voi, Mtito Andei, Makindu, Mlolongo and Athi River will wither as vehicles get diverted into the bushlands of northern Kenya. Nairobi will also suffer from the loss of business generated by transit traffic.

Meanwhile, transportation experts argue that its cheaper to rehabilitate the Mombasa port, roads and railway links than building new ones in remote areas. In any case, the experts argue, new infrastructure will still have to be maintained.

The economy of Mombasa is completely dependent on both the old and new harbours. The Old Port of Mombasa is the original Arab port. It still handles small vessels plying traditional routes to Zanzibar, Pemba, Somalia and the Middle East.

Kilindini harbour was developed by British colonial authorities in the 19th century to handle large steamships. This is the point where the first plates of the Kenya – Uganda Railway were laid in 1895. The railway was meant to link Mombasa with the Buganda Kingdom, which had allied itself with the British.

Since then, the Kenya – Uganda Railway contributed to the building of the modern Kenya and Uganda states. It opened the interior to trade and settlement. By the 1950s, Kenya had the largest number of European settlers outside Southern Africa. Growing trade resulted in the railway spreading out to Nyeri, Nyahururu, Rongai, Magadi, Eldoret and Butere.

A parallel road transport industry developed over the years, especially after the highway from Mombasa was tarmacked in the 1960s by the government of President Jomo Kenyatta. Today, road transport handles at least 90% of the cargo between Mombasa and the interior due to corruption and mismanagement of the railway.

Regardless of the means of transport in use, the people of Mombasa have turned the port into their honey well. More than 70% of employment in Mombasa is totally dependent on the port. This includes transport companies, clearing agents, travel agents, hotels, manufacturing industries, the service sector, electricity and water supply, the oil industry and local government tax collections.

The tourism industry, which makes up the remaining portion of Mombasa’s economy, is also dependent on the port of Mombasa. Numerous cruise liners and naval vessels that arrive at Kilindini bring into Mombasa thousands of visitors willing to spend wads of foreign currency. The extensive road and railway links from the interior also feeds into this traffic, resulting in the flow of tourists from the Maasai Mara, Mount Kilimanjaro and Nairobi.

There’s no doubt that the port of Kilindini is in urgent need of expansion. Congestion causes delays, which pushes up costs and makes imported goods more expensive. Sometimes, there is so much congestion at Kilindini that ships have to drop anchor in the high seas while waiting for space to become available. Congestion at Kilindini has been attributed to poor management.

Since the early 1980s, there have been plans to expand the port into neighbouring areas. Unfortunately, the plans have never been implemented even as the Kenya Ports Authority makes billions in profits. Instead, the government has tried to de-congest the port through administrative measures that have only worsened the problem and created channels of corruption.

The enactment of container freight stations (CFS) is shrouded in mystery as prominent personalities monopolize the lucrative business. The chances of an ordinary person being awarded a CFS contract is next to impossible.

As political influences paralyze the port, Kilindini harbour is rapidly being overtaken by trends in ship construction. Kilindini cannot handle modern-day giant ships. The sea bed at Kilindini was last dug up by the British in the early 1960s. Since then, the flow of garbage from Mombasa Island and Likoni are filling up the harbour, making it difficult for ships to navigate through the coral reef.

Mombasa only requires dedicated management to reclaim its lost glory as the leading port of East Africa. Mombasa residents are therefore surprised to hear that the government wants to spend colossal amounts of money in building another port hundreds of kilometres away.

If the Lamu project comes into fruition, there will be massive business losses in Mombasa. Employment opportunities will decline and the city’s economy will collapse. Many of the thriving industries that contribute to the coastal economy will cease funtioning.

In short, the port of Mombasa will die out. People will leave in droves seeking better opportunities elsewhere, perhaps at the new Lamu port. What will become of Mombasa? It will be left as a ghost town of deserted buildings, rotting factories and empty hotels. Drugs and crime will be the natural consequence to this sad state of affairs.

Mombasa has survived 1,000 years of Arab, Swahili, Portuguese and British rule. Mombasa has survived floods and droughts, opulence and poverty. Mombasa has risen from the ashes after invasions from both land and sea.

Marauding African tribes, Arab swords and Portuguese cannons have all contributed into what Mombasa has become today: a thriving, multi-cultural phenomenon that has won the admiration of the entire world. Its no wonder that people from across the world want to settle in Mombasa.

It will be unfortunate if an independent African government kills Mombasa. Let us hope that common sense prevails.

Advertisements

Raila succumbs to ODM job promises

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, must be ruing that day in December when he promised top government jobs to the ODM rank and file.

“The government is very big and there are enough jobs for everybody in ODM,” said Raila in Kiswahili when he was running for the presidency. ODM aspirants who had lost the party primaries would be employed in the civil service, diplomatic corps, judiciary, security services and state-owned corporations.

It is because of this promise that rumbles are being experienced not only in the civil service but within the ODM party. Its obvious that some people currently in top public positions will have to give way to political appointees. On the other hand, its also rather obvious that there are only limited positions to be distributed among ODM hopefuls.

Matters are made worse by the fact that ODM is in a coalition with President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya. They are all eyeing the top jobs in order to reward their own followers.

Its largely because of delays in awarding government jobs that ODM is experiencing a crisis. Indeed, the Grand Opposition of legislator Abaabu Namwamba is a product of politicians disappointed at being left out of the cabinet. Amidst growing dissent, ODM is moving fast to assuage discontent within its masses.

With impending retirements and reshuffles within the public service, the party may have found the opportunity to deliver on its December promise. Top jobs at the Kenya Revenue Authority, KenGen, Posta among other large state-controlled organizations are up for grabs. The party also wants to appoint permanent secretaries, diplomats, military commanders and judges. Already, ODM friendly lawyers are lobbying for the removal of Chief Justice Evans Gicheru.

Recent changes are a pointer of things to come. Kenya Ports Authority’s Abdullah Mwaruwa was retired last month and a replacement is yet to be found amidst lobbying that the job should be taken by someone from a coastal ethnic group.

At the Rift Valley Railways, South African Roy Puffet, was fired and his seat given to ODM backer, Mr Brown Ondego. Meanwhile, the government declined to extend the contract of a Canadian chief executive at the Kenya Power and Lighting Company. Mr Don Prescott’s job went to a Kenyan from the president’s ethnic group.

Last week’s debacle at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) over its chief executive provided a glimpse of the tussles within government over political appointments. Labour Minister, John Munyes, used corruption allegations to dismiss NSSF Managing Trustee, Mrs Rachel Lumbasyo. The Labour Minister immediately appointed Mr Fred Rabong’o in her place.

The decision was met with uproar by NSSF’s staff. While Mrs Lumbasyo had spent years at the corporation before her appointment as Managing Trustee, Mr Rabong’o is a public relations consultant with no known experience in pension funds administration.

NSSF’s board of trustees, consisting of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) and the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) immediately rejected the appointment by Munyes. The situation became complicated because a Managing Trustee in NSSF cannot make decisions without the approval of COTU and FKE.

The matter went to Raila’s office at Treasury Building and it was resolved that Mrs Lumbasyo complete her term at NSSF. However, almost immediately, Raila overturned the consensus and sent Mrs Lumbasyo packing. Raila instructed Munyes to recruit a new Managing Trustee in coming months. Canvassing for the job among the pool of political appointees is in high gear.

Within the same week, the government swept out the command of Kenya Prisons and replaced it with outsiders. The new prisons commissioner, Mr Isaiah Osugo, was an officer with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He will be assisted by former Administration Police commandant George Macgoye. Reaction from prison warders has been muted so far. The warders went on a mutiny several months ago protesting poor housing and corrupt leadership.

The Kenyan people are concerned that politicians are sacrificing merit and technical ability for the sake of pleasing their cronies. Truth is that the ordinary Kenyan is unlikely to get a civil service job any time soon. Majority of people whose names are being floated for top government jobs are individuals who were in public service since independence and who were previously fired for mismanagement.

It is these same individuals that are responsible for Kenya’s downturn as indicated by depressing economic and social statistics. State corporations took a downward plunge from which recovery has been difficult, if not impossible.

A large percentage of candidates being mentioned for political reward appointments have been implicated in corruption scandals that led to the collapse of strategic organizations. The irony is that these individuals are extremely wealthy and they don’t really need their old jobs back.

It appears that political appointees will get their wishes while qualified and hardworking citizens stagnate in the morass of unemployment. For such is the state of Kenya.

Kenya – Uganda Railway: A short history

The Kenya – Uganda Railway was built by the Imperial British East Africa company back in the 1890s. Construction of the line began at the Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa in 1895. Around 1900, the line arrived at the present site of the city of Nairobi. Indeed, Nairobi owes its existence to railway engineers who drained a vast swamp, thus enabing the construction of permanent buildings. Indian labourers began commercial activities to cater for railway crews and colonial administrators. The railway arrived at Port Florence (Kisumu) around 1901.

Eventually, the British Government took over the territories of Kenya and Uganda from the Imperial British East Africa Company. In 1920, Kenya became a colony of the Crown under direct administration of the Colonial Office in London.

The railway was expanded from Eldoret to Kampala, bypassing the use of ships on Lake Victoria from Kisumu. Additional branch lines were built from Nakuru to Nyahururu, from Nakuru to Rongai and from Konza to Magadi. The invasion of Ethiopia by Italy during World War 2 forced the British to build a railway from Nairobi to Nanyuki in order to supply its forces. British troops forced the Italians out of Ethiopia and restored Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne.

After independence in the early 1960s, railway and port operations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were administered by a single body: the East African Railways and Harbours. The break up of the East African Community in 1977 marked the beginning of the end for the region’s railway system. Each of the three East African countries took up running its own system. In Kenya, railway and port operations were split between two state-owned corporations: Kenya Railways and Kenya Ports Authority. The railway became starved of funds.

In Uganda, civil war between 1979 and 1986 paralyzed railway transport which is yet to recover to this day.