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The world watched as Presidents Mwai Kibaki, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi symbolically started the project that set to cost about Sh1.5 trillion.
All three were categorical that the project, known as the Lapsset (Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor) would transform the lives of their people economically and serve as a unifying factor in the region.
The elaborate and colourful ceremony was held at Magogoni, a sea side location that has for centuries enjoyed tranquillity but which would henceforth hum and buzz with construction work and after completion, unending hustle and bustle of port side economic activities. (SEE IN PICTURES: Lamu port project launched)
The site was chosen because it has a natural deep, wide channel capable of accommodating large ships.
President Kibaki, in his off-the-cuff remarks that excited the crowd, allayed fears that the project would lead to loss of local land, saying nobody’s rights would be violated.
“Nobody will come to take your land and we are not telling you this because visitors are here. I am here to tell you that as a government, we want all residents of Lamu to join this venture,” he said.
He further emphasised that Kenya’s partner states like Ethiopia were keen on doing business with Kenya and not exploiting it.
An initial 1,000 youth in Lamu will be employed in the first batch of jobs created as the port construction gets under way.
“Those who are ready should come out even the day after tomorrow.” He said issuance of title deeds to residents of Lamu and other parts of Coast province would be speeded up.
He revealed that he had signed an MoU with South Sudan on the construction of an oil pipeline from Juba to Lamu and another agreement with Ethiopia to help Kenya tap into its sources of energy.
Mr Zenawi said the Lamu project will play an integral role in enhancing connectivity between the three countries.
“It is not hyperbolic to say we are making history today. We are making history because as countries wracked by poverty, this project reflects our commitment to chart our own economic development,” said the Prime Minister.
He said the project will play a critical role in meeting the transport needs of the region. Mr Kiir described the project as historic with the potential of transforming the lives of residents of three countries.
“ The cost of goods was higher in Southern Sudan than in any country in the region. We are working with friends and international partners to establish highways and transport corridors.
But much still needs to be done for South Sudan to become a competitive economy,” he said.
The project and, more critically an oil pipeline, would help South Sudan break free from the yoke of dependence on Sudan, Mr Kiir added.
He revealed that after his country stopped oil production due to lack of a conduit for export, it turned to Kenya and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop the pipeline.
“South Sudan will live up to its commitment to this partnership and it is our hope that all of us here will do the same.”
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the world was watching Africa with great expectations. Africa may be the global engine that will pull the global economy from the current economic slow down.
He said when the Mombasa-Uganda railway was launched in 1895, it was described as the Lunatic Express but the doubters were eventually proved wrong.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said the project had immense benefits for residents of Lamu while Transport minister Amos Kimunya, who was the master of ceremony, said the project had the support of all Kenyans.
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland