Traders count losses as Kenya's poll impasse drags on

A journalist from an International organisation covers Kisumu anti IEBC protests on October 24,2017

Violent protests in parts of Coast and Western Kenya have had economic ramifications in the East and Central Africa trading bloc.

With the Nairobi-Kisumu-Busia and Eldoret-Malaba highways affected by running battles between police and protesters in the past one week, movement of cargo from the port of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo has been hampered.

The movement of goods along the busy Malaba highway was affected by violent confrontations between the police and protesters in Bungoma, which left one person killed, several others injured and businesses paralysed.

The blockades affected parts of Uganda and Rwanda that depend on fuel from the Kenya Pipeline’s Kisumu deport. Traders started feeling the pinch after roads in and out of Kisumu remained barricaded for days.

“I have not delivered any oil product to Kampala in the past one week. My truck is stranded in Kisumu. I tried to move last week but there were too many illegal road blocks,” said Jacob Kibugi, a transporter. “Our clients have been calling from Kampala and Busia but we could not risk moving because of the riots. I will leave for Kampala, first thing on Sunday.”

Also affected is movement of goods between Kenya and Tanzania since the Migori-Sirare Highway had been blocked at Migori bridge since Tuesday.

For a region that has been working hard towards economic integration, the disruptions of trade and business could work against the gains so far achieved.

According to an article on the TradeMark East Africa website, most commodities going through the port of Mombasa must travel along the Northern Corridor, a network of highways through Kenya to neighbouring countries.

“Each day some 4,000 light vehicles, 1,250 trucks and 400 buses carry more than 10 million tonnes of cargo to Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi along the network,” it reads.

And data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that more than 80 per cent of imports by Uganda and Rwanda pass through the port of Mombasa, and mostly head out by road via Busia and Malaba One stop border posts (OSBPs).

The Busia OSBP is the busiest in East Africa with an average of 250 trucks passing through this border every day following integration of services that reduced clearance time from two or three days to between 20 to 30 minutes.

Kenya Revenue Authority reports that it recorded a revenue growth of 300 per cent at the Busia-Uganda border over the past three years and is looking to net more with establishment of the one stop border post. KRA Western Kenya coordinator Kevin Safari said the post, opened in June 2016, had cut transit costs and delays, fueling traders’ confidence in the East Africa’s busiest corridor.

Economic damage

Although the Kenya Pipeline Company maintains that there is “sufficient stock and that all is well”, interruptions of this trade through blocked roads could have untold economic damage to the affected countries.

“The situation is worrying but it has not snowballed into a crisis. We are watching it keenly,” said an official at the Kisumu Pipeline depot, who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. The political crisis is also hitting Kenya’s economic base since its exports to Uganda alone account for more than Sh25 billion annually.

In the run up to the October 26 repeat poll, which was boycotted in several parts of Western Kenya, there was a total transport paralysis. Attempts by the electoral agency to have the election done in four counties in the formerly Nyanza province yesterday turned violent with businesses counting losses.

Huge boulders heaped up to one metre high, bridges closed with metallic bars grilled to their rails and bonfires stack in the middle of the road in Kisumu, Migori, Busia and Bungoma counties on Tuesday through to Saturday curtailed movement.

Postponement of the construction of the Sh15 billion Kenya Breweries Limited Kisumu plant over inability to move equipment brings into sharp focus the effects the protests are having on the economy.

The firm’s communication manager David Kimondo said they could not risk ferrying the high value machines in the current situation. The plant promises about 100,000 direct and indirect jobs including 25,000 for sorghum farmers.

Locally, the movement of raw materials such as sugarcane to the millers, quarry products to sites and finished products to various markets has been affected. Business premises have also faced challenges in restocking or getting supplies.

Trade with neighbouring counties, which some Luo Nyanza counties such as Kisumu depend on for food supplies, has also been curtailed.