SGR cargo order a lie, leaders declare amid street protests

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 00:00 |
Police yesterday clash with protesters opposed to the directive to transport all cargo from Mombasa by SGR. Photo/PD/BONFACE MSANGI

Despite the government announcing it had suspended an order directing all upcountry-bound cargo to be transported through the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), officials at the Mombasa port are adamant there is no official communication.

Consequently, port officials said they cannot stop the decision to haul all cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi by train, based on “media reports”. 

A senior official said the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has not received any memo cancelling a notice issued by the entity and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) on August 2.

“We are still waiting for the memo from the Cabinet Secretary but in the absence of the letter, we cannot stop transporting cargo to the Inland Container Terminal through SGR,” said the official.

However, KPA managing director Daniel Manduku declined to comment on the matter.  

“Let me give a comprehensive statement on the matter later when I am through with a meeting,” Manduku said when contacted by telephone.

Street demos

Anxiety gripped the coastal town even as police arrested about 15 people for taking part in a street demonstration to protests against the SGR directive.

The demonstrators said the directive to have all imported cargo cleared at the ICD in Nairobi was still in force because those in charge of the SGR cargo-hauling section had not received official communication to stop.

The peaceful protest turned chaotic when officers from Nyali Police Station blocked the protesters from accessing Mombasa Island as they approached the Nyali bridge. 

Haki Africa executive director Hussein Khalid, Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri) official Francis Ouma and leaders of the Fast Action Business Community (FABC) were among those arrested. However, they were released in the evening on a free bond and ordered to report to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations on Thursday.

Addressing the media outside the police station, FABC chairman Salim Karama, who was accompanied by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, claimed the government was playing a hide-and-seek game with the lives of coastal people.

He said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia had misled Kenyans to believe that forced transportation of containers through SGR to Nairobi had been suspended.

“On the contrary, the directive to move all imported cargo through SGR is still in force even today. They have not stopped it, they are just playing with our minds and lives. They want to completely kill the economy of Mombasa,” said Karama.

“What we want is public participation. You cannot suspend a matter which itself is illegal. We believe they will still look for reasons to deny us our rights. The protests will go on every Monday.” 

Illegal directive

Nassir said there was no need of waiting for official suspension of an “illegal directive” that was issued by KRA and port authorities.

“They tried to selectively sideline us. This is the livelihoods of Mombasa people,” said the MP.

He was among leaders, who last week, met Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i and Macharia over the matter.

“How do you suspend something that has no legal basis. Since the Cabinet secretary said he has suspended it, nothing has happened on the ground. No cargo is going to the Container Freight Stations which have been nominated by shippers. Transport companies cannot access the port, we feel this is monkey business,” said Nassir.

Last week, Macharia announced that the government had suspended the directive requiring importers to use the railway to transport all containers from Mombasa port.

“We view Macharia’s statement as a tactic to slow down the surge in demonstrations against government decisions that have negatively affected  the Coast economy. We want him to withdraw it completely but not to suspend it. We will be on the streets until the deal is made clear,” Khalifa added.

The activists want the CS to explain why, even after he had told the National Assembly that he had withdrawn the directive, importers were being forced to use SGR.

A study by the University of Nairobi revealed that more than 60 per cent of employees working at the Container Freight Stations had been rendered jobless.

The Standard Gauge Railway, a flagship project of Vision 2030, is billed as the biggest transport infrastructure project in the country’s history and is expected to haul close to nine million tonnes of cargo and make a Sh5.08 billion profit in a year, averaging Sh424 million a month.

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