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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga at the Kisumu Pier in January. An ongoing upgrade of the Kisumu Port will be completed in August. [File, Standard]

But local business community questions decision not to allocate more funds to project in this year’s budget.

Ongoing renovation of Kisumu Port at a cost of Sh3 billion will be completed by August 15, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said on Friday. 

Overhaul of the decades-old, rusty boat deployers (ramps for lowering boats onto the lake), the dilapidated and poorly equipped workshops and the disused dry dock, currently used as a berthing for 100-foot towering wagon ferry MV Uhuru, have been ongoing since last month. 

Weekly visits

Other changes in the plan include installation of container cranes to boost loading and offloading, resulting in improved cargo turnover. 

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With an envisioned jump in activity following similar projects in Uganda and Tanzania, renovation of the port is setting the ground for competitiveness. 

Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Félix Tshisekedi and AU envoy Raila Odinga are expected to inspect the port as they jointly launch the construction of an industrial park in Muhoroni. 

The facility, whose completion is expected to signal economic viability for the sidelined Standard Gauge Railway extension to Kisumu, will sit on 1,000 acres, with 500 acres already identified in Muhoroni. The government said it had set aside Sh500 million for its design and planning in the last fiscal year. 

Matiang’i said top government officers would monitor progress of the ongoing works with weekly visits by cabinet secretaries. 

“The President is keen on seeing this port revived to reignite its potential and restore lost glory. It is for this reason that we have deployed Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Railways (KR), Kenya Navy and the National Youth Service (NYS) here to help fast track it,” he said during an inspection tour. 

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Kenya’s giant ferry wagon MV Uhuru, which has been grounded for nearly two decades, is expected to roar again when the Presidents visit the port in August. KPA officials said restoration of the 100 metre long twin engine-propelled ferry would be completed in a week’s time, ready to sail again. 

According to Raila, the multi-billion shilling projects in Kisumu - including the port and an industrial park - are part of efforts to revive the Mombasa-Lagos Trans-African Highway which traverses Uganda, South Sudan, DR Congo and Central African Republic in the region.

Last month, Raila led a group of line ministers on a tour of the port. 

Prospects for the port’s revival are however dim after the government postponed SGR extension to Kisumu. And with the revival of the Nakuru-Kisumu metre gauge railway also ruled out in favour of the line to Malaba over cost implications, it remains to be seen how the government plans to keep the port busy. 

Last year, the port moved a paltry 13,500 tonnes of shipments as lack of cargo, poor handling equipment and hyacinth sunk it into a disused harbour for rusting old vessels and one or two stranded ferries. 

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This could not be compared to the performance of the Nairobi Internal Container Depot, which since the launch of SGR haulage from Mombasa, received 257,972 containers destined for the region, up from 30,459 in 2018. 

Failure by the Treasury to allocate Sh2.5 billion needed to complete refurbishment of the port in the new budget has also cast doubts on commitment to revive it, even as the President and his ministers keep a keen eye on its renovation. 

Fresh anxiety

In his budget presentation, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said Sh55.8 billion will be used in the SGR phase II from Nairobi to Naivasha, with no mention of the extension to Kisumu. 

There has been hope that the government will fund the Naivasha-Kisumu line after the State failed to get a loan from China. 

The local business community said the failure to fund the Kisumu line would be a blow to the much hyped rehabilitation of the Kisumu Port, which as remained moribund  since the closure of the old Kisumu-Nakukru railway 10 years  ago. 

On Thursday, there was fresh anxiety and hopes over the proposed construction of the Sh14 billion new modern port in the lakeside city as a team from the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU), toured the facility. 

Kisumu port Uhuru Kenyatta Fred Matiang’i

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