President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday made another quiet inspection of the Kisumu port where Sh3 billion renovation works are underway to revive maritime trade.
The visit, declared private and the media barred from covering, came just two days after Opposition leader and African Union Infrastructure development envoy Raila Odinga toured the facility.
It was the third time the President was visiting Kisumu port after promising to revive it to ensure Kenya increases stake in regional maritime trade.
Yesterday’s visit came as renovation works hit a high gear with dredging of the port area to allow it berth bigger vessels also beginning in earnest. Raila was not in yesterday’s entourage as he was said to have travelled out of the country.
The President landed in Kisumu after a two-day visit to Tanzania and made an extensive tour of the port accompanied by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and his Transport counterpart James Macharia among other government officials.
Overhaul of old rusted 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, has been on since May.
The ferry is among vessels being refurbished to kick start trade. Other planned changes include installation of container cranes to boost loading and offloading of cargo.
With envisioned jump in activity following similar projects in Uganda and Tanzania, renovation of the port is expected to make it competitive in the region.
After an inspection of the port area including dredging of lake and the roll-on roll-off facility used to load MV Uhuru in its glorious days, the President proceeded for a short trip on the lake aboard MV Uhuru’s small old rusty tugboat.
The tugboat is a small but powerful recovery vessel used in the rescue of the larger 300-foot ferry.
Sources at Kenya Ports Authority said the tugboat was powerful enough to drag two stalled MV Uhurus from deep ashore to the safety of the harbor.
With one of Kenya’s finest pilots on the wheel, the President, his aide and security as well as technicians overseeing the renovation boarded the boat and made a trip about 150 metres onto the waters.
He then inspected MV Uhuru which roared to life a week ago before examining the port’s dry dock workshop, where the boat deployers are undergoing a makeover. He concluded his tour with a stopover at the marine school, where CS Magoha had earlier on visited.
The President then retreated to the State lodge. The World Bank-funded school, put up at cost of Sh80 million, is expected to produce personnel who can drive revival of the port into a busy trade and transport corridor.
Across the region
The school is expected to be a lifeline for the port, which has remained under-utilised for nearly 10 years for lack of qualified personnel. It will train seafarers, engineers and coxswains across East Africa to end the culture of relying on foreign experts to help run the industry.
The security was so tight that this writer was detained for about 15 minutes after they questioned why he was taking notes near the venue.
He was later released and ordered to leave the venue.
Eager to prove that his handshake with the President was paying dividends, Raila has been pushing for speedy revival of key viable industrial sectors that stalled decades ago.
Among these is the ongoing Sh3 billion rehabilitation of the Kisumu Port, Kisumu Breweries, while plans are on course to revamp the sugar industry, fishnet factory, and the defunct Kisumu Cotton Mills among others.
His quest to have SGR extended to Kisumu saw the Government pledge Sh3 billion towards establishment of an industrial park to step up feasibility questions raised by the Chinese financiers.
According to Raila, the multi-billion shillings 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.
Kisumu port is expected to catapult the lakeside town into a regional commercial hub. Other leaders at the port were Kisumu Deputy Governor Mathews Owilli and Lake Region Economic Bloc CEO Aballa Wanga.
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