Residents stare at bleak future as CFSs collapse
In the last eight years, Wendy Wambui Miako, a resident of Bamburi, Mombasa County, has known Container Freight Stations (CFSs) as her bread and butter.
A CFS is a facility where freight shipments are consolidated and staged between transport legs. They are typically located in proximity to an ocean, port, or airport where cargo containers are transported to and from.
Because of CFSs, Wambui, 38, says she has lived a good life: house in a up-market estate and children attending a good school, thanks to the handsome salary. But today, she is jobless. Wambui is among thousands of people in Mombasa who have been affected by the government directive that all Nairobi-bound cargo be evacuated using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
Born and raised in Mombasa, the single mother of three was employed at Makupa Transit Shade CFS in 2012 where she worked as front office operator from 2012 to 2017 before she moved to Boss Freight Terminal limited CFS for a more lucrative customer care job.
Part of her duties have been to provide gate passes, issue invoices as well as clearances and release of cargo from the CFS. She says life has been good until the SGR cargo train was introduced in 2017 and the CFS sector started showing signs of struggle amid fears of job losses.
“Before the introduction of SGR, there were plenty of opportunities. In our case we had more than 100 employees, excluding casuals. We used to have a lot of work because the cargo volume was high. But when the SGR was introduced, almost 80 per cent of the cargo was to be moved to Nairobi via rail, leaving Mombasa with only 20 per cent whose clearance is done at the Port,” she recalls.
This, she says, rendered CFSs almost irrelevant given that virtually all its roles were taken over by the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi (ICD).
“The company maintained us until last year when it issued redundancy notices and laid off more than 30 workers while 40 resigned. In my case, I had to resign due to the tough conditions given by the company, including being asked to take a 50 per cent pay cut,” she says.
The bitter truth
Wambui, who left in January, says the harsh reality of being jobless had started to bite. While she has little money the company gave her as severance pay, it will not last long.
“I have to adjust considering that I have rent and school fees to pay. I need to sit down with my children and explain to them the bitter truth. It is a very difficult situation,” says Wambui.
Her first born is in secondary school, the second born, who is 12, is in primary school while her last born is two-years-old. When Wambui joined the sector, she says, CFSs were only five in Mombasa and the number had risen to 22 by the time she left. Edward Odhiambo, a clearing agent at Trans Africa, says the clearing sector has not been spared the impact of SGR’s disruption.
He says the sector started feeling the impact when the government started ignoring details on the destination of shipments as captured in the bill of lading — a legal document issued by a carrier to a shipper that gives particulars of the goods being carried — and instead redirecting the shipments to the ICD in Nairobi.
Referring to a bill of lading dated June 2018, Odhiambo, who has worked in the clearing and forwarding sector for 12 years, explained they were supposed to clear the cargo at Boss Freights CFS as per contents of the document but they ended up clearing the cargo at ICD and paid three times the normal rate.
“In CFS we used to get 60 free days and paid Sh80,000 only…at the Port you get only four free days and end up paying Sh300,000 per month,” he says. “This is very costly for the business and has resulted in a decline of volume of cargo and the time for clearance has gone up. Besides, there is additional cost as a result of port storage which is very costly compared to CFS,” he adds.
According to Odhiambo, who is a customs declarations manager at the firm, before SGR, Trans Africa used to handle a minimum of 10 containers in a month but now it handles at most five.
“Clearance time has also gone up. Nowadays we take a minimum of five days to clear at the ICD while back then it would take a maximum of two days,” he said. The challenges, he says, had resulted in a huge decline in profits for the company which has also been forced to offload most of its staff to stay afloat.
“We used to be seven but we have been scaled down to three,” he says, adding that most clearing firms in Mombasa are contemplating closure.
Dennis Okech, one of the agents who lost his job, says he was forced to go back to his rural home in Siaya. “Initially, I thought the threats about job losses were mere politics, but when the sack came I accepted the reality and moved on,” he told People Daily in a phone interview.
Unlike Okech, who has accepted the reality, Ken Otieno, another agent who lost his job, is not ready to discuss his situation.
At Compact Freights Systems, another CFS located in Miritini Mombasa, the situation is no different as more than 50 workers were fired last year.
A study by University of Nairobi titled “Assessment Report on Socio-Economic Impact of operationalisation of the Standard Gauge Railway on The Port City of Mombasa” indicated that SGR had badly affected the local economy.
According to the study, which was commissioned by Mombasa County Government, the County’s contribution to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had declined by Sh126 billion in two years.
The study, carried out last year, says Mombasa’s Contribution to GDP had fallen from Sh332 billion in 2016 to Sh206 billion in 2018.