A ray of hope as Kisumu port now ready for commissioning
After a long wait mired in uncertainty and last-minute cancellations, the multi-million-shillings Kisumu Port is expected to be officially commissioned this month.
The project has not only been dogged by the uncertainty about its commissioning but also its costing and viability, with some people saying it could be another white elephant despite President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s push for the blue economy facility.
Latest reports by the government indicate that after months of rehabilitation and face-lift the Lake Victoria port is 98 per complete and only 2 per cent of final touches are to be completed before it is officially flagged to become operational by President Uhuru and at least three other heads of state from the East African Community (EAC) member states.
Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said it is still not clear whether Uhuru would be accompanied by his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, Tanzania’s John Magufuli and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame during the commissioning of the port expected to open up the western Kenya market and further boost regional trade.
He said although Kisumu Port is the largest, Uganda’s Port Bell in Kampala is critical in receiving transit cargo from Kisumu as well as from industrial city Jinja Port, adding that there are aldso Tanzania’s Mwanza 1 and Mwanza 2 ports that form vital linkages in transport terms of the Lake Victoria’s Blue Economy programmes.
One of the factors that triggered criticism about viability of Kisumu Port was the fact that Uganda’s Port Bell and Jinja Port including Tanzania’s two ports at Mwanza, had been abandoned and left to decay and rot but it has emerged they too have been refurbished and some of the works are ongoing.
Kisumu Port is part of Lake Victoria’s port network which also includes Mwanza, Musoma, and Bukoba in Tanzania and Entebbe and Port Bell in Uganda.
Another criticism was railways connectivity to these ports, especially Uganda’s 8-kilometre stretch from Port Bell to Kampala’s railway yards for onward transit but the World Food Programme (WFP) and Uganda Railways Corporation confirmed it had been refurbished and WFP used it to transit its humanitarian cargo to the interior parts of the country.
Macharia said on the Kenyan side there was also the question of the state of centuries-old railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu and uncertainty still hanging over the government’s plans to extend Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line from Naivasha to Kisumu in its Phase Two of the project.
This would mean that imported cargo from the ports of Mombasa and Lamu, transited over the SGR cargo to the Inland container ports in Embakasi, Nairobi and the Naivasha Dry Port could be transported by road to the Kisumu Port for onward transit to their destinations, mostly in the landlocked countries.
Kenya Ports Authority Managing Director Manduku confirmed that the refurbishing works on the Kisumu Port have been completed and the facility is ready to start handling cargo, with the critical focus being on cargo shipments to the landlocked countries in the region’s interiors.
He described petroleum products which are ferried by pipeline from Mombasa’s Kenya Oil Refinery to Kisumu and Eldoret depots in real time as critical component if not a backbone to the regional states’ economic development and will be priority number one as the port begins operations.
Manduku said contrary to widespread media reports, Kisumu Port has been refurbished at a cost of Sh700 million and not Sh3 billion and identified some of the completed works as concreting of the port yard, construction of the quayside, repairs of the linkspan, repairs of the dry dock and rehabilitation of all buildings.
“We are just waiting for the official opening ceremony. Anytime the visiting heads of state confirm availability. We are ready,” Manduku said during a recent tour of the Kisumu Port.
A World Bank report commissioned by the Uganda government to find out the viability of transport business around the Lake Victoria in 2016 blamed the dwindling fortunes around the lake basin region for lack of railway links.
The rail and ferry network on Lake Victoria was in a serious state of disrepair that most cargo were transported by road around the lake.