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Planned Sh70b road raises hope for Lake Victoria economic revival

By Dalton Nyabundi | Oct 7th 2018 | 7 min read
By Dalton Nyabundi | October 7th 2018

Fishermen at Nyanguena Beach in Nyatike sub county off load fish from their boat on 2nd September 2018. [Photo by Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Plans to build a 470 kilometre road along the shores of Lake Victoria to stimulate its economic vibrancy could start soon, we can reveal.

The design of the Sh70 billion road running from Bumala at the Busia border with Uganda to Muhuru Bay in Migori County border with Tanzania is complete and has been approved. The feasibility study and design was done at a cost of Sh300 million.

Once the Government receives a report detailing the number of people to be displaced by the road, the National Lands commission is expected to do valuation of the project-affected parcels and compile a register for compensation as the Government scouts for funds from development agencies such as World Bank or the African Development Bank.

Each of the sections will take up to three years to complete, according to summary papers on the project. The Government is rooting for one-off funding to have the phases run concurrently, highly placed sources intimated.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in his visit of the region later this month is expected to highlight the project mooted three years ago as part of Jubilee flagship projects.

The road will pass through Siaya, Kisumu and Homa Bay.

It is expected to accelerate free flow of goods and services across five counties while providing connectivity to the rest of the country's national road network, thereby spurring growth economic growth in the region.

It could also catapult the western Kenya tourism circuit onto the global tourism map since it extends spurlines into destinations such as Rusinga Island, Ndere Island National Park, Kit Mikayi as well as key historic attractions across the region.

A design seen by the Standard shows that project to be undertaken by at least six contractors will run very close to the lake, passing through major beaches like Sio Port and Port Victoria in Busia; Usenge, Uhanya, and Asembo in Siaya and Kaloka, Paga and Dunga beach in Kisumu.

Paga beach in Kisumu West has been identified as the location for the proposed Sh13.7 billion new Kisumu Port, to be built as part of extension of the Standard Gauge Railway to Kisumu. The road is therefore likely to play a crucial role in revival of maritime trade on Lake Victoria.

From the Kisumu port the road will run along the lake to Korando, near the Kisumu airport, from where it will branch off and lead into Kisumu City Kisumu-Busia Highway at Otonglo market.

Authorities who are not allowed to speak to the media explained that due to the swampy nature of the Nyando Plains, from Kisumu town the road will follow the established Kisumu-Nairobi road, branching off at Ahero town towards Katito. Here it will veer off the road leading to Kendu Bay, heading back towards Homa Hills along the shores again to the Kendu Bay pier and stretch to Bay town.

At the Mbita junction, it will turn towards Sindo, Sori, Karungu and Muhuru Bay beaches.

Kenya National Highways Authority Nyanza regional director Felix Osongo intimated that from the design the road will be one of the least disruptive as it mostly runs in lowly inhabited lakefront rural settlements.

“That report is not yet out but we do not expect a lot of disruptions in settlements and, especially, public amenities like schools. The lands commission will evaluate the affected parcels and compensation done by the Government, it is not part of the project cost,” he said.

It towns, he added, the road will follow established road networks, thus “even in areas in town where we might need to upgrade existing roads, the current road reserves will cushion the project from additional costs.”

The project comes at a time when new reports by the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute have reevaluated the value of Lake Victoria’s fisheries to be about Sh40 billion annually. This is more than thrice the Sh12 billion collected from the industry, according to the report.

The introduction of nearly 4, 000 fish cages on Lake Victoria have shored up earnings from the lake as effort (number of fishermen on the lake) also went up in the last three years, according to Kemfri director Dr Kristopher Aura.

Plans to construct the road coincide with a resolve by the East African Community to exploit Lake Victoria as a cheap, safe and efficient transport corridor for general cargo.

The resolve is contained in the deliberations of the 14th summit of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects held in Nairobi in June.

The EAC heads of State want to leverage Lake Victoria as a crucial transport corridor in the shipment of general cargo into and out of the region

This signals a return to the triangular trade between Kisumu, Jinja (Uganda) and Mwanza in Tanzania. Trade blossomed before the collapse of the old railway line terminating at the Kisumu pier.

Dwindling prospects saw the grounding of Kenya's ferry wagon MV Uhuru, MV Umoja of Tanzania and Uganda’s MV Kabalega and Kaawa hauled billions worth of general dry cargo across the region, easing pressure on the roads.

In the deliberations EAC partner States are seeking joint investments to Lake Victoria inter-modal transport system.

The June reopening of Mwanza port which has been inactive for nearly 10 years and efforts by Uganda to overhaul Jinja and Port Bell have raised optimism for a return to the triangular trade. And Kenya Ports Authority has completed the first phase of renovations of the Kisumu pier in readiness for bigger trade.

The World Food Programme and Kenya Pipeline Company are among those optimistic that the resolve will live up to the potential of reviving trade on Lake Victoria which has proved to be time and cost effective.

A shipment of 18 train wagons of vegetable oil destined for World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Uganda in June marked the reopening of the Mwanza- Port bell link, WFP said in a statement.

“It is expected the new multimodal route to be plied by Tanzanian ferry, MV Umoja (sister ship to Kenya’s MV Uhuru) will ease transportation of exports and imports between Uganda and Tanzania at a much reduced cost and time,” WFP said in the statement on their website.

According to the UN organization, the route cuts transit time by over 50 per cent and costs by 40 per cent, helping get relief to landlocked countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

The reopening of the Lake Victoria corridor is expected to reopen a vibrant economic corridor for the EAC and will help attract public and private sector investment, according to resolutions of the June Summit.

Kenya is angling for a bigger share of the pie with the anticipated termination of the Standard Gauge Railway at a newly built sh13.7 billion port on Lake Victoria.

The KPA’s head of Lakes and Inland Waterways Javan Wanga told the standard that a series of stategiers, including returning the 1000-tonne MV Uhuru  to the waters, were underway to position Kenya as a vital player in the return to Lake Victoria trade.

The port, sitting on a 20.4 square kilometre of land and 67.8 square kilometres of water, will berth vessels of up 1,000 tonnes and have an initial port capacity of 600,000 tonnes annually.

The capacity will rise in the long-term to 800,000 tonnes as the docking bays are dredged further and more berths constructed, according to a working document titled Phase 2B Naivasha-Kisumu SGR and Kisumu Port.

With railway stations planned in Narok, Bomet, Kericho, and Kisumu counties, trade is expected to rise and ‘hidden’ tourist attractions in the regions boosted.

The Sh380 billion SGR project (Phase 2B) is in line with the counties’ integrated development plans to enhance access to markets at a lower cost for the agriculture-based economies.

Narok will be one of the biggest beneficiaries since the SGR is the first railway track to pass through the county. Narok is home to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Convenient and cheaper transport from Nairobi and Kisumu to the reserve famous for the Great Migration of the wildebeest could see more visitors to the park. Two sub-stations are planned in Narok and Mulot towns, making access to the reserve easier by rail and road.

Wheat is the main cash crop in the county that also grows maize and potatoes and the working document predicts that the stations will “transform market access to key towns, increase business activity and investment, increase revenue generation, and improve the overall quality of life for the people of Narok County”, says the document titled Phase 2b Naivasha-Kisumu SGR and Kisumu Port.

In SGR, Bomet County will have better transportation for tea and processed milk products. It will have intermediate stations in Mulot and Kabason townships. Crossing stations are planned in Bomet West, Sotik, and Ikonge.

“These stations are designed to enhance movement of people and goods linking them to the nearest town, Kisumu, and Nairobi cities.”

The railway is also expected to give tourism sites, including the Konoin caves and Itare and Chepkulo waterfalls, a new lease of life. The Mau Forest complex, which has a great tourism potential, is also located along the new line.

The complex, which stretches from Narok to Kericho, is home to the rare yellow-backed duiker antelope, the golden cat, the leopard, the African elephant, giant forest hog, Columbus monkey, potto, Sotik bush baby, and the greater Galago in the Trans Mara and South Western Mau conservancies.

It is also home to indigenous mosaic cedar and podocarpus forests with scattered grassy meadows in natural glades.

In Kericho, there will be intermediate stations at Kipkelion, Londiani, and Fort Tenan. The county, through which the Mau Summit-Kericho-Kisumu Northern Corridor road passes to join Kenya’s agriculturally rich region with the international markets, is home to tea, wheat, and pyrethrum.

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