State in Sh15b plan to revive Lake Victoria

A dredger at the Kisumu Port that will be used to harvest water hyacinth that is chocking Lake Victoria. (Collins Oduor, Standard)
Efforts to revive Lake Victoria’s blue economy will cost over Sh15 billion, it can now be revealed.

The four-pronged project comprises dredging and removal of water hyacinth from the lake, modernisation of the Kisumu port, restoration of the old metre-gauge railway from Nakuru to Kisumu, and construction of a ship assembly yard.

A marina, whose establishment is expected to catapult the re-planning of Kisumu city to face the lake in a gradual cascade, is also part of the project.

The project is being implemented by Uganda-based Chinese maritime company Mango Tree Group, which has offered similar services in the neighbouring country. It is funded through the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.

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Kisumu City manager Doris Ombara, whose docket is among those implementing the grand scheme, last week said several components of the project would run concurrently in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that the process be hastened.

Speaking on the sidelines of a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a Sh130 million ship assembly yard at Kisat Beach, Ombara said the construction of the yard marked the beginning of the project, whose output is expected to reposition Kenya as a dominant player in regional trade.

Four water hyacinth harvesters procured by Mango Tree will be the first vessels to be assembled at the yard, which is expected to eventually churn out 60 ferries and ships.

The machines will be brought in parts and assembled at the yard, Ombara said.

“Together with an existing harvester (bought by the National Government at a cost of Sh81 million), the five machines will clear 17,000 acres of the weed in between eight to 10 months,” she said.

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The dredger brought in by Mango Tree from Uganda will concurrently dig the Kisumu port area and an 80-metre wide, 63-kilometre long shipping channel to enable the harbour berth larger vessels envisioned in renewed trade. Dredging will take a year.

Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), which took over management of Kisumu port in 2017, is expected to sink millions of shillings into modernisation of the port as Kenya Railways moves to revive rail transport to the port.

Construction of the Sh13.7 billion new port on the lake and the extension of the Standard Gauge Railway to Kisumu at a cost of Sh380 billion is not part of the four-prong project.

Kenya Maritime Authority, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), KPC and Kenya Railways have been drawn into the project, which could help KPC’s efforts to recoup the regional oil transport business lost to Tanzania.

KPC built a Sh1.7 billion jetty, whose commissioning has been set for June when Uganda launches a similar project.

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The Kisumu County Government, which is eyeing the project to fuel the success of its own economic ambitions, including successful hosting of an Africities conference in 2021, has also stepped up efforts to reorganise the lakeside town to exploit its full potential.

“Turning the town to face the lake presents us with the biggest opportunity to realise Kisumu’s full socio-economic potential. We have already procured the services of city planners, including one from France, to help us zone the town afresh,” said Ombara.

This will see industrial ventures on the Obote Road stretch bordering the lake relocated to a new commercial zone on the outskirts of the current town centre.

Ombara said talks were ongoing with owners of the businesses, which include a flour mill, a bakery and several warehouses, to turn their premises into tourist facilities and move the commercial businesses elsewhere.

“We have also opened talks with Kenya Railways and KPA, which jointly own over 300 acres of land currently in disuse or underused, to lease them to us on a long-term basis or cede the land, so that we can use it for facilities that conform with our plan to maximise potential,” she said.

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A Hindu crematorium and a cemetery near the site of the shipyard are among prime lands the county is eyeing.

KisumuLake VictoriaBlue Economy