The desolate ports that have cast a pall on lake economy

The situation of backflow of water in Lake Victoria at Homa Bay Pier on August 30, 2022. [James Omoro, Standard]

Rose Langa, who sells, fish on the shores of Lake Victoria, will never forget how her business prospered when ships used to operate in the area in the early 1980s and early 1990s.

Ms Langa who is a well-known fishmonger at Homa Bay Pier market used to buy fish worth Sh5000 in the morning and sell the entire stock before 4pm during those good times.

At times, she could finish selling her stock and buy another one which she could sell again and finish before the closure of business at dusk.

During that time, ships were operating in Lake Victoria between Homa Bay town and Kisumu city, Homa Bay and Mbita town, Homa Bay and Kendu Bay town, Kendu Bay and Kisumu.

Like other business operators in the area, Langa argued that the existence of vessels significantly contributed to economic growth in the area. The ships enabled the movement of people and goods into and out of the area.

"We used to sell a lot of fish. Other products also moved fast from the shelves. The business was flourishing here," Langa said.

However, when the ships stopped operations in the early 1990s. This culminated in the decline of business.

"Today, I cannot sell even a quarter of the stock I used to sell when ships were operating. We are appealing to the government to revive shipping," Langa stressed.

The ships stopped operating in the area due to what was described as decreased water levels and the destruction of feeder ports where they used to land.

For many years, the feeder ports have continued to wear out.

An example is the Homa Bay feeder port which is currently dilapidated. The feeder port also known as Homa Bay pier can no longer support the docking of a ship as it used to do more than 20 years ago.

The poor state of the port also creates a risk to people who can now easily drown in the lake.

Even though local communities want ship operations to be revived, this cannot be done due to the desolate state of the feeder ports.

In an effort to salvage the situation, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) began an initiative focusing on rehabilitating the feeder ports.

On Tuesday last week, KPA board of directors' chairman Joseph Kibwana, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, her Deputy Oyugi Magwanga and County Commissioner Moses Lilan, toured the feeder ports in Homa Bay County to assess the situation with the aim of reviving shipping in the area.

Kibwana said they had sent their technical officials on the ground to assess the situation of the feeder ports.

Upon completion of their assessment, the technical officers will inform KPA management of what needs to be done to redeem the lost glory of the feeder ports.

"We are going to start rehabilitating the feeder ports in Homa Bay after receiving the assessment report from our technical staff," said Kibwana.

"Our main objective is to rehabilitate the feeder ports to enable the people of Homa Bay to benefit."

He said their intention is to ensure efficient movement of large vessels like ships and ferries from Kisumu to Mbita via Kendu Bay and Homa Bay towns through Lake Victoria.

Wanga said the project will enhance economic development in her county. She said opening Lake Victoria for transportation by large vessels will enable many people to earn their livelihoods. This will occur through trade.

"We are going to experience economic development when ships begin ferrying cargo and passengers in our county," said Wanga.

She added that shipping will also support the agricultural sector by enabling farmers to transport their produce easily to other counties.

"We are going to collaborate with KPA to promote this project so that it comes to fruition," Wanga said.

Lilan said rehabilitating the feeder ports will reduce accidents in the lake.

"We lost ten people at Homa Bay Pier last year. Rehabilitating this place will reduce such accidents," Lilan said.

He added that even security challenges in the lake will be enhanced through rehabilitation.

"We experience difficulties in accessing some parts of the lake because the piers are dilapidated," Lilan said.

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