New road could derail Kenya's Lapsset plan

Somaliland President Musa Bihi (centre, right) and other dignitaries launch the Berbera Road in the unrecognised state's capital Hargeisa last Week. [Dominic Omondi, Standard]

Somaliland will build a 250km road, from its port city of Berbera to Ethiopian border, in what is likely to provide a mixed bag of fortunes for Kenya

The groundbreaking of the dual carriageway is set to deepen trade relations between Somaliland and Ethiopia, particularly following the upgrading of the former’s port to handle containerised cargo.

It comes just days after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed  presided over the official opening of a two-day Kenya-Ethiopia Trade and Investment Forum in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The two leaders committed to the implementation of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor, also known as the Lamu Corridor.

Landlocked Ethiopia, with its huge population and fast-growing economy, is critical for the success of the Lapsset project.

However, the revamping of the Berbera Corridor - a shorter and more efficient route for Ethiopia - is likely to scuttle such plans.

The proposed road is expected to increase trade volumes between Ethiopia and Somaliland by 30 per cent.

However, Somaliland, which is keen to win Kenya’s support in its bid for recognition, says its upgraded Berbera Port would work in collaboration with the port of Mombasa.

Somaliland President Musa Bihi, who presided over the groundbreaking ceremony last week, said the project would result in the creation of jobs for the youth in the Horn of Africa nation that has fervently been searching for international recognition as a sovereign state for the past 30 years.

This is after it broke ranks with the war-torn Federal Republic of Somalia.

With its pursuit of recognition through the United Nation’s General Assembly and the African Union not bearing fruit, officials in Somaliland have turned to trade as an alternative means in what they describe as “recognition through trade.”

“We have good relations with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Everyone is welcome to trade with Somaliland,” said President Bihi.

“We (Somaliland) have offered to share areas we are strong in, especially in livestock trade and we invite traders at the Mombasa port too to explore their areas of strength and work with Berbera port,” added Somaliland envoy to Kenya Bashe Awil Omar.

The cost of building the new road was not immediately clear, but Somaliland officials estimated it to be in the upward of $500 million (Sh50 billion).

Without direct flights between Nairobi and Hargeisa, business between the two states has been difficult.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade and Industrialisation Peter Munya and Somaliland’s envoy to Kenya Mr Omar in a meeting last year said plans were underway to have direct flights from Nairobi to Hargeisa.

So far, Ethiopia Airlines provides two flights that fly directly to Somaliland between Addis Ababa and Hargeisa.

Fly Dubai also has flights between Dubai and Hargeisa, bringing business people to Somalia from all over the world.