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Lamu port on course despite discontent

By | January 5th 2012

Given the thousands of hectares it will occupy and the billions of shillings to be used, the Lamu Port project needs the consensus of all the stakeholders, otherwise it may never be realised, writes JECKONIA OTIENO.

For a long time, the development of Kenya has been along the Southern Corridor, but this is bound to change with the building of the Lamu Port. The port has trained its sights on South Sudan, which sees Lamu as a nearer gateway compared to ports situated along the coast of its northern neighbour, Sudan.

The port’s construction, which is at advanced planning stage, will open up the northern region for development. This area has been in a lull and is synonymous with violence resulting from cattle rustling and inter-community conflicts on land use between the pastoralists and crop farmers.

View of Lamu Island where the $3.5 billion (over Sh300 billion) port is to be constructed. [PHOTOS: /Standard]

Augustine Masinde, the director of Physical Planning in the Ministry of Lands, says the opening up of this underdeveloped part of Kenya is long overdue. He notes that three proposed resort cities in Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana have been identified for development.

"The construction of Lamu Port will ease the pressure on Mombasa. Lamu also has deep natural harbours, which would not pose much of a challenge to its building," says Masinde.

Deep harbour

Ethiopia is also expected to benefit from the port mainly because it is landlocked and has a frosty relationship with its neighbour, Eritrea.

The port will also be an important link between Kenya and the Middle East through the Red Sea since it is further north compared to the port of Mombasa. The fact that Lamu has a natural deep harbour is an important factor that contributed to the decision to build the port there.

The port, to be situated in Magogoni area nearly 30km north of Lamu Island, is currently occupied by the Kenya Navy.

To dispel fears that the port would destroy Lamu’s rich cultural heritage, government officials say the port is not within the island. The decision to build it a distance from the island was arrived at to stem any clash of interests with the locals who want Lamu to be promoted to a tourist town even as it maintains its ancient appearance. The navy base will be relocated.

Currently, the road that links Lamu to the rest of Kenya starts from Mokowe and branches off at Hindi shopping centre where one heads to Malindi while the other to Garissa. Both roads are in a sorry state.

This begs the question among residents of the wider Lamu whether the Government is serious about the port. One such resident is Ali Hassan who questions how a government, which knows how important Lamu is to the point that it wants to build a port, has failed since independence to construct a tarmac road linking Lamu to Garsen and Malindi.

"If the port is to be built, how will the equipment be transported if there are no roads?" questions Ali.

However, this notwithstanding, the plan is on and some groundwork has already started. The zoning plan covers Hindi and Magogoni areas. The 200-metre wide land to construct the road that connects Lamu to the northern corridor has been identified. The northern tarmac road will connect Kenya to Ethiopia through Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale. The Isiolo-Marsabit section of this road is almost complete while the section from Marsabit towards Moyale is yet to be done. A branch from Isiolo will connect Kenya to Nakodok in South Sudan through Lodwar.

According to a feasibility report by the Ministry of Lands, the port will take 9,000 hectares of land on the mainland, 18,000 hectares of water and a further 5,000 hectares of inner sea.

Rampant insecurity

Coming with the port will be an oil pipeline connecting Kenya to South Sudan and a railway line that cuts across the Southern Corridor.

The Lamu Port will not only connect the sea to Kenya’s landlocked neighbours in the north, but will also offer the pastoralist communities in the dry northern areas a market for their cattle.

A pastoralist, Athman Omar from Tana River, says he hopes the project will benefit people like him who always have to drive their animals long distances in search of markets, mostly to Nairobi or Mombasa for export.

Most of Kenya’s development is concentrated along the dormant Kenya-Uganda Railway, which was completed in 1902, to open East Africa to the outside world. Some of the country’s best infrastructure and major towns are concentrated along this railway line. Towns like Machakos, Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Kericho, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamaga and Mumias fall on this Southern Corridor.

On the contrary, the northern part of the country is massively underdeveloped, with just countable towns like Garissa, Marsabit, Lodwar and Isiolo among others witnessing a little growth.

Masinde notes that underdevelopment of the northern frontier has contributed to the rampant insecurity. Therefore, he believes that once the Lamu Port is fully operational, there will be a drop in insecurity because the area will be accessible.

Masinde states: "Once roads are built, there will be no problem of transport and the towns built in these areas will offer economic activities, which will ensure there is a drop in conflicts brought about by poverty."

It is expected that the inception of the county system of government will also ensure competition, as each county will strive to offer the best for its residents.

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