Imagine a situation where Kenya is trading with the whole world, producing world-class products and enriching its citizens; consumers enjoying cheaper products, and exporters exploiting expanded opportunities.
Away from dreamland, I believe a more open Kenya is indeed possible. According to the World Bank, there have been 15 economies over the last 50 years that managed to grow at the rate of 7 per cent a year for more than 15 years.
In doing so, they were able to move vast numbers of their citizens out of poverty. These countries have a few things in common, one of them is that they have embraced the world economy through trade.
Allowing free trade policies encourages international firms to invest. But in order to encourage free trade, you need efficient ports (and airports).
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Today, Asia is home to the top nine most efficient ports in the world. The most active ports are Shanghai and Singapore, which have an annual throughput of more than 30 million containers.
Rotterdam is the only non-Asian port in the top 10, but far behind, with a throughput of 12 million containers. No one would have predicted such a scenario 20 years ago.
Methinks this is the route that Africa, and Kenya in particular, should take to develop economically. Mombasa would be a natural candidate, but there is a whole lot of catching up to do. Mombasa is a congested port despite the small annual volume of 770,800 containers it handles.
Kenya’s exports in comparison with global export trade are tiny and many of them, such as flowers and tourists, do not even enter or leave by sea.
Here are some startling statistics to illustrate the magnitude of the challenge: The volume of goods Mombasa port handles in a year, Shanghai and Singapore ports handle in about a week.
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To import a container from Singapore, your goods will spend 19 days on the high seas (over 7,500 kilometers), but they would need 20 more days just to make it from Mombasa, by road, to Nairobi. Bringing a container from Tokyo to Mombasa would cost you less than bringing it from Mombasa to Kampala.
Recently, a World Bank team visited the port of Mombasa. Its stories reflect Kenya’s export challenges. These challenges revolve around the inefficiency at the port.
The question of delays in offloading containers is salient. For us to be a global player in sea trade, we need efficient ports.
Letter to the Editor from Mathew kipkurui.