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Blue Economy scorecard: How far are we?

SHIPPING & LOGISTICS
By Harold Odhiambo | July 14th 2021
A stalled ship at Kisumu old port in Kisumu County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Sometimes in late 2018, 10,000 delegates from more than 180 countries trooped to Nairobi for a three-day Sustainable Blue Economy Conference.

After a long slumber, Kenya had awoken to the potential that lay on its blue economy resources; and the riches that could be realised.

During the conference, bigwigs in the government’s maritime department waxed lyrical about plans to exploit the blue economy. 

Kisumu was one county they particularly targeted. A number of multi-billion shilling projects were tipped to transform Kisumu’s economy. They were to interlink with the Sh3 billion Kisumu Port.

To begin with, there was the planned revival of the 216km Kisumu-Nakuru Meter Gauge Railway.

Construction of a special economic zone in Muhoroni, as well as a Sh70 billion ring road to open it up.

A new 400 kilovolts Lessos-Kisumu power project was also mooted. None of these projects have seen the light of day so far. Construction delays have plagued them, casting a huge shadow over the potential of Kisumu’s blue economy.

At the same time, a number of private investors were courted by the government to chip in, on the economic agenda.

Plans by the investors to construct a cement factory, a mattress company and a tyre manufacturing plant are yet to be realised.

A visit by the Shipping and Logistics team to some of the projects last week revealed how contractors are struggling to keep up with their different timelines.

?At the new railway terminus, which was one of the incomplete projects that led to the postponement of the unveiling of the rehabilitated line, workers are racing against time.

The terminus is one of the projects that authorities are hoping will reintroduce maritime passenger transport in the revived port.

Already, the construction of a building that will host ticketing offices and passenger waiting bays is almost complete.

Noah Ndemo, a contractor tasked with delivering the project said it is 80 per cent complete. “By end of July, we should have completed it,” he said.

Prior to Madaraka Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to travel in a train to Kisumu as part of plans to unveil the rehabilitated line; that never happened.

Kenya Railway workers level a line at a stretch next to Kenya Pipeline in Kisumu. Completion of the rehabilitation of the line is integral to the success of the revived port. [Harold Odhiambo, Standard]

Another project that has also dragged on is the Sh16 billion Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu power project.

Engineers from the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) have been putting on a brave face as they labour to complete a tower at Kibos, a key component of the line.

The project is aimed at providing power to Kisumu Port. At the port, Kenya Navy engineers are racing against time to complete the construction of MV Uhuru 11, a sister ship of MV Uhuru.

Its completion however is likely to drag beyond August given the complex nature of shipbuilding, engineers who sought anonymity said.

The Ahero interchange project also limps. In the 1990s, passenger transport thrived in Lake Victoria. Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) now needs to repair several piers key to revamping maritime transport.

KPA also needs to rehabilitate jetties destroyed by the swelling Lake Victoria waters. Homa Bay, Mbita and Kendu jetties are some of those submerged in water.

At the Kendu Bay pier particularly, the road leading to the jetty as well as the pier itself are all completely submerged into the lake. Homa Bay too is badly affected.

The situation is a major setback for maritime trade with KPA now compelled to draw a new plan for the affected piers.

Before the water levels rose, several players in the maritime sector had been looking forward to revamping transport in the lake.

The players from both private and public sectors had shown commitment to tap into the blue economy.

Of note was a water bus company that had wanted to introduce water buses to ply the new lake routes.

The Kenya Maritime Authority too had intensified patrols to ensure that maritime safety is maintained.

A senior KPA official said the process of revamping transport in the lake will now have to delay a little longer.

Apart from the jetties, plans to construct a Sh70 billion ring road that traverses several beaches are yet to become a reality.

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.

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 that was passed in 2018 but is yet to bear fruit.

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