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The proposed Lamu Port inched closer to reality after President Kibaki hinted that the multi-billion-shilling project was finally about to start.
The proposed Lamu Port inched closer to reality after President Kibaki hinted that the multi-billion-shilling project was finally about to start.

Although there has been no disclosure about whether funding has been secured for the project, the President’s comment that he would soon be taking part in a groundbreaking ceremony suggests that the government is keen on seeing construction of the port get underway.

The President’s unfailing enthusiasm about the port project would appear to indicate that this is undoubtedly one of the high-profile projects he wants to be part of his legacy when he leaves office next year.

“The feasibility study for Lamu Port and supporting infrastructure is now complete. I look forward to soon undertaking the groundbreaking ceremony for the project,” President Kibaki said in Mombasa a week ago when he visited the town to open the Agricultural Society of Kenya show.

Main gateway

Stressing that the Coast region remains the principal gateway to Kenya and eastern and central Africa, he said this important role has made it necessary to allocate more resources to the country’s ports and harbours.

“This is the reason we are placing emphasis on the new Lamu Port to complement the work of the Port of Mombasa,” the President said.

Other projects underway in the region are the dredging and expansion of Mombasa Port, which will enable it to handle larger and more ships, and the improvement of the road network and expansion of airports in the region.

That Lamu Port has become one of the President’s pet projects was evident in yet another visit to the region to open a two-week conference for Kenya’s ambassadors.

President Kibaki mandated Kenyan ambassadors to aggressively market the proposed second transport corridor that will serve Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Huge capital investment

And it is for a good reason. The construction of the Lamu port and its six other components requires a huge capital investment of over $16 billion (Sh1.4 trillion) — more than Kenya’s annual budget.

Several countries, including Canada, Germany, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, have made inquiries since the government declared its intention to construct the corridor about three years ago.

The corridor has immense economic potential and would open up large sections of the country’s North Eastern and Eastern provinces that have for years received scant attention in terms of business opportunities.

“I urge you to focus some energy on promoting investment in this project in your respective areas of accreditation, as it is expected to play a major role in catalysing Kenya’s progress towards the achievement of our economic goals,” the President told the envoys.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga added his voice to underscore the importance of the project when he addressed the 52 ambassadors after their three weeks in Kenya.

Japan Port Consultants have already finalised a one-year feasibility study on the development of the port and Lamu-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor.

The corridor is expected to open up the South Sudan and Ethiopia markets.

With the anticipated entry of South Sudan–and even Sudan–into the regional economic block, estimates indicate an unrestricted demand for cargo rising upwards of 32 million tonnes per year — far above what Mombasa Port can handle.

But Lamu is closer to Addis Ababa and only 1,400 kilometres south of Juba in South Sudan.

The only other viable port option for Juba is Port Sudan in Sudan on the Red Sea, but it is 4,000 kilometres away.

Historically the southern region of Sudan has relied on Port Sudan. After the loss of access to Eritrea’s Red Sea ports in 1998, Ethiopia has relied on the port in neighbouring Djibouti.

The lack of good roads connecting Kenya and Ethiopia, whose population exceeds 80 million people, has hampered trade between the two nations.

Other components of the Lamu Port project include a super highway that would connect Lamu to Addis Ababa and Juba.

The three regions would also be connected via a standard gauge railway line. It is envisaged that a merchant oil refinery would be constructed in Lamu and connected by an oil pipeline between Juba and Lamu to refine crude oil from South Sudan before shipment.

Three international airports would be built in Lamu, Isiolo and Lokichoggio–three important points along the new transport corridor.