A battle for the control of South Sudan’s imported cargo at the Port of Mombasa is raging between traders and authorities from the country sucking in local government authorities.
This follows a directive by the South Sudan Customs division of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) to have the country’s imports hauled by the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from the port to Nairobi Freight Terminal and cleared by six clearing and forwarding firms.
The arrangement which was made in April this year and implemented early this month has sparked strong opposition by South Sudan manufacturers and traders who claim the decision would raise their cost of operations.
They have complained that the container freight station (CFS) that is operated by a private company would not accommodate all the South Sudanese cargo imported through the port and want the order rescinded until their country builds its own inland container depot at Naivasha where they have acquired land.
Although the cargo has already started being moved to the Nairobi terminal, South Sudan minister of Trade and Industry Mr Kuol Mawien has written to Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary Mr James Macharia seeking to have the plan differed until his country develops the Naivasha facility for storage of all its cargo.
“The government of South Sudan is in the process of acquiring the land title deed of the Naivasha land designated for South Sudan Inland Container Depot (ICD). Therefore, our goods will remain in Mombasa until the Naivasha project is developed for storage of all South Sudan cargo,” he said in a letter to CS Macharia dated June 13, 2022.
Mr Mawien said that a letter from the South Sudan Commissioner of Customs to Kenya’s Commissioner of Customs and Border Control for the transfer of South Sudan cargo from the port to the Nairobi freight terminal dated April 14, 2022, should be withheld until the matter was resolved.
The minister observed that the letter had caused a lot of confusion and complication between the ministry of Trade and Industry and that of Finance and Economic Planning in Juba.
On Tuesday, South Sudanese traders protested against the directive on cargo haulage to Nairobi in a Mombasa hotel claiming it would make their operations costly if not rescinded.
On June 13, this year, the Association of South Sudan Manufacturers (ASSM) wrote to the Trade and Industry minister expressing disappointment at the cargo haulage order noting that it would raise transport by US$1500 (about Sh175,500) per container following double handling in Mombasa and Nairobi as well as rail charges.
ASSM chairman Mr Adam Kubanja argued that most traders and manufacturers in South Sudan have invested in trucks to transport cargo but they were now being forced to pay extra costs for transportation by rail to Nairobi.
Mr Kubanja noted that the security for the containers from the vessel berth to loading on the train to Nairobi was not guaranteed by the South Sudan government and any damages in the process of handling the containers from arrival to Nairobi would be on the agents.
“We expect congestion and delays of between five to seven days in Mombasa as the containers wait for the rail transportation to Nairobi. This will greatly affect the free days given by shipping lines and subsequently extra charges per container,” he argued.
He noted that the agents hold revolving deposits with the respective shipping lines as a guarantee for the containers and were bound by the guarantee forms holding them responsible for any delay, damages, and losses until they return safely to the stipulated depots.
“All containers to South Sudan cannot be handled by one container freight station (CFS) as planned. This will cost delays and extra charges.
“We have not received any communication on the possibility of container nomination, which is currently not being done and this container will certainly be on storage charges,” he argued, adding that extra charges would trickle down to consumers in South Sudan.
Meanwhile, Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) national chairman Mr Roy Mwanthi also protested at the directive on South Sudan cargo, saying it would deny Mombasa CFSs, truckers, and clearing agents business.