Jaindi Kisero: Spend enough money on Mombasa port or else. . .

The idea of making clearance of cargo at the port of Mombasa a 24-hour operation makes a lot of sense.

If you can get all cargo-clearing departments, all those multiple government authorities involved in processing cargo, and all container freight stations to work for 24 hours a day, you will have solved half of the congestion problem at the port.

But you will still have to follow it up by reviewing lengthy procedures in the processing of transit cargo, scanning and verification, and police escort for the cargo.

In the medium term, one of the most urgent things that needs to be done is to give the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) more land and space.

I still don’t understand why the process of acquiring 30 acres of land belonging to the Industrial Commercial and Development Corporation (ICDC) is taking so long.

Several years ago, politically well-connected operatives in the former regime of President Moi forced KPA to donate this land to ICDC to develop a soya bean project.

Funded by expensive supplier credits from a European financier, that project stalled many years ago amid obsolete equipment and a huge State-guaranteed foreign loan that took the Government several years to clear.

Why can’t the Government just give the order that this land should revert to its former owners?

I gather that the KPA board has been negotiating with ICDC for an outright purchase. Apparently, ICDC is insisting that KPA pays for the equipment as well.

The question we should be asking is whether public interest will be best served by allowing the ICDC to own that land and the obsolete equipment on it, or by the Government ordering that the land be returned to KPA to build a new container terminal.

Secondly, there is an urgent need for KPA to come up with a long-term strategic position on container freight stations in its overall plans of easing congestion at Kilindini Port.

The authority badly needs to bring on board more of these private sector players if it wants to reduce the traffic around the port area.

The success of operations such as the Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd in providing quality handling is enough proof of what private capital is capable of doing in the cargo clearing services.

The recently built Bossfreight Terminal at Mariakani is yet another example of efficiency levels which the private sector can bring to bear in providing some of these services.

Bossfreight is a facility exclusively handling vehicles, and that makes it possible for users to clear their vehicles in one place during which the vehicles come out complete with number plates.

The point here is this: If KPA can’t come up with a well-crafted policy of sharing some of the responsibilities with private freight firms, it will be impossible to increase the flow of international capital into the business.

In this regard, the Government needs to review the 10-kilometre rule for building container freight stations, as this will make it possible to put up these facilities on easily affordable land.

I do not agree with those who say that the Mombasa port faces a major threat of cargo diversion to Dar es Salaam Port right now. Currently, Dar es Salaam is facing major problems. It lacks capacity to handle additional cargo.

The real future threats to Mombasa are the recent developments taking place in the road and rail links in what is referred to as the Central Corridor – those that connect Dar es Salaam with the hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi via a road network stretching 1,500 kilometres.

At the height of the post-election violence, both Uganda and Rwanda sent ministerial delegations to Dar es Salaam to discuss alternative sea routes and passage for their imports, especially petroleum.

During these visits, the two countries signed memoranda of understanding seeking to make Dar es Salaam the seaport of choice for the hinterland countries.

Tanzania has also recently awarded tenders for two major dredging contracts, which is expected to increase ship turn-around time and also make room for large ocean-going vessels.

Presently, there are plans by Rwanda to build a railway link between Kigali and Isaka in Tanzania. As a matter of fact, the tender to build the link was awarded in January.

When the Kigali-Isaka link is completed, it will definitely trigger an increase in Rwandese and Burundi cargo passing through Dar es Salaam, especially because Rwanda is also expanding its container terminal in Isaka on a 14-acre piece of land.

The evidence may be anecdotal, but if we do not spend enough money on improving the quality of services at Mombasa Port, we will gradually lose our comparative advantage as the hub of economic activity in the region.

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