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The current suffocation at the Mombasa port has been long in the making. Since the early years of this government, professional advice has been consistent. Now promises of a magnificent Lamu Port are projected as a future solution to failings at our most important port. The Jomo Kenyatta Airport is an interesting construction sight.
When the Kibaki legacy is finally audited and engraved into our national history, many generous words will be said about the infrastructural changes initiated and completed during these years.
The overhauling of our national road network, the doubling of electricity account owners, and the completion of long abandoned public works, are both reminders of the wastefulness and abandon of the Moi years, and evidence of what can be achieved with focus and determination.
Yet, as I reflect on the momentous early years of the Kibaki government – years when I served as minister – the exciting experience of determination and commitment is often blurred by memories of drawbacks which continue to cripple the infrastructural revolution that we so embrace from that time.
From the beginning, government has been divided on the extent of change seen as tenable or necessary.
While one group saw the challenges of our rotten and dilapidated physical stock as an opportunity to launch projects of the new millennium, another, even more powerful group, was content to optimise existing facilities by rationalising their operations and undertaking few radical solutions.
This contest, which I can broadly describe as the competition between slum up-graders and slum replacers, permeated most collective dialogue on change; and has had a lasting impact on the output of government.
While it can be ascertained in most fields, including actual slum policy, the best illustration of this phenomenon can be seen in three major infrastructure projects: the port of Mombasa, the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, and Kenya Railways.
The current suffocation at the Mombasa port has been long in the making. Since the early years of this government, professional advice has been consistent.
ationalise the role of government, privatise services, outsource international management, look to compete with Durban by emulating best practices from places like Rotterdam and Singapore.
Vested interests have acted in a very strange way. Foreign study tours have become a permanent feature.
Privatisation is declared as policy and withdrawn in interpretation. Sacrificed at the shrine of political expediency.
Occasional improvement in operations is projected as an alternative to long term changes. Personnel placements are given more accent than systems overhaul.
Now promises of a magnificent Lamu Port are projected as a future solution to failings at our most important port.
The Jomo Kenyatta Airport is an interesting construction sight. The main debate that informed current construction work split government into two groups.
One group argued that while the old airport had performed beyond expectation, it was time for Nairobi to leap into a new league by constructing a state-of-the-art facility for inter-continental traffic with the old airport being converted into a regional hub.
Examples were marshalled from Johannesburg to Dubai and beyond. The other group insisted that there was much life left in the current facility.
All that was needed was to optimise the spaces available. Build another level on the existing building. Create a new unit between unit two and three, introduce plane parking areas serviced by buses etc.
Every time I pass through this key airport and see travellers cramped between rows of kiosks, with construction workers looking like rehabilitators on a conservation site, I shudder as I dream of what could have been.
Yet even before the slum-improvers have completed their project, we now hear a shift to embrace what they should have started with from the beginning.
A totally new configuration embracing international best practices is on the drawing board – before we have filled in the identified spaces.
Kenya Railways remains a significant national shame in a number of ways. We have not built a single kilometre of railway since independence nearly 50 years ago.
Our technology is so ancient that maintenance contractors have to open parts manufacture facilities specially to keep our museum technology running.
Government standoff has always been between those who wanted a standard gauge modern rail and trains, and those wishing to streamline the loony express.
No price for guessing who won. The method and product of privatisation we went through has left us increasingly short on promise.
We are now turning to the promised modern railway line out of Lamu as a magic wand to wish away failure to take bold decisions on what will always be the most important railway line for our country and its hinterland.
As we head into a change of government, let not the debate on agents of change be confined to implementation of a new Constitution.
Spare a thought for slum replacers. May be they could fit the missing link in the otherwise impressive infrastructure work of the Kibaki government.
Dr Kituyi is a director at Kenya Institute of Governance firstname.lastname@example.org
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