Handshake projects rev up shipping, logistics in Nyanza

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga outside Harambee House, 2018. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

Nyanza residents are staring at better times if the momentum in development of projects seen in 2021 is sustained in 2022. This is as handshake projects initiated in the region begin to take shape.

Residents are upbeat that Nyanza would transform into an economic hub and feel plans to realize that dream is on the right trajectory as the national government moves to implement several multi-billion projects.

Most of the projects are targeted at improving shipping and logistics in the region as well as increasing the volume of the country’s exports.

And although some of the projects have had mixed reactions, the region is optimistic that 2022 will unlock more development projects even as the country heads to an election year.

In the region, a number of handshake projects initiated by the national government are now complete while others are at advanced stages. Some are however yet to kick off.

Among those that are now complete include the Sh3 billion rehabilitation of the Kisumu Port which is now up and operational as the government lays focus on it to increase exports to neighboring countries. Its completion has brought fresh hopes on the revival of the blue economy and exploitation of its shipping potential.

Although the port is yet to hit its full potential in terms of trade, it is witnessing increased activities as vessels dock to ferry various products to Uganda and Tanzania. It is among the major projects birthed by the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga in March 2018.

The upgrade has seen the port expanded to berth larger vessels, with the quayside stretched from 34 metres to 99 metres. Cargo handling equipment have been shipped in and the region’s largest boat assembly and repairs yard revitalized.

The major infrastructural development project stretched tax-payer’s money by about Sh3 billion with hopes high that it would be the key to unlock Lake Victoria’s blue economy potential after years of inactivity.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Burundi counterpart Evariste Ndayishimiye and ODM leader Raila Odinga at Kisumu Port during the launch of the Kenya Shipyard Limited (KSL). May 31, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Kenya is banking its hopes of regaining part of the market share it lost to Tanzania’s central corridor after the collapse of the facility in the early 1990’s on the revived port. 

And as part of the efforts to achieve that, the government is building another ship dubbed MV Uhuru 11 to increase options of transport to exporters and also complement MV Uhuru.

Uganda is also building another ship which it hopes to introduce in the route which will also spur economic growth and increase activities for the handshake project.

According to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), since the rehabilitation of the port, volume of cargo handled at the port has increased tenfold. Before the rehabilitation of the facility, the volume of exports was a paltry 285 metric tons per month but has now shot up to 4,600 metric tons per month.

A senior KPA official told The Standard that reintroducing passenger travel on the lake now tops their agenda for 2022.

“We want to revive the feeder ports and reintroduce passenger transport on the lake,” said the official.

But it is not the port alone, another handshake project that came into reality is the revival of the 216 KM Nakuru-Kisumu railway line.

Since mid-December, residents have been enjoying the return of the railway services.

Revival of the line was one of the projects birthed through the handshake and although many had been expecting the government to extend the Standard Gauge Railway to Kisumu, the revival of the Meter Gauge Railway has been welcomed by many residents.

While riding a train on the line recently, ODM leader Raila Odinga said that they will ensure that SGR reaches the region and traverse into neighboring counties to improve transport.

He described the rehabilitation of the MGR line as a game changer for the region’s economy.

ODM leader Raila Odinga flanked by Ethiopian ambassador Meles Alem and Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o during the flagging off of Kisumu Port dredging. January 23, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Another mega project that came into fruition is the 400 kilovolts Lessos-Kisumu power project that aims to improve power supply in the region and address the problems of frequent power blackouts. The power transmission line will enable electricity sector agencies to evacuate power from the geothermal fields in Olkaria for supply to Western Kenya.

The project is also interlinked with the port and the newly constructed railway station with an aim of providing power to the two mega projects for seamless operations.

Authorities have also completed the construction of a market dubbed Uhuru Business Park in Kisumu with the process of allocating space to traders now on course. The project will help resettle thousands of traders who were displaced within the city to pave way for the rehabilitation of the railway line and the port.

At Mamboleo, the construction of the new Jomo Kenyatta Sports complex is also complete and even hosted the Mashujaa Day celebrations.

Residents are optimistic that other projects including the construction of road projects including the Kibos-Miwani-Chemelil road would be complete. It is also the case for a cargo terminal at the Kisumu Airport, whose construction is planned for 2022.

But despite the progress, the fate of some of the projects that had been tipped to help spur economic growth are still hanging in a balance. Some are yet to go beyond the planning phases.

These include plans to construct a Sh70 billion ring road along the shores of Lake Victoria, which still remains a mirage despite its potential to unlock access to more beaches and landing sites.

In the sugar belt regions, plans to lease out five state-owned sugar factories is yet to bear any fruit even as the sector continues to crawl on its knees with a lot of the millers going bankrupt with farmers owed billions. This comes as farmers continue to decry about an influx of cheap imports.

According to Richard Ogendo, the secretary general of Kenya National Alliance of Sugarcane Farmers Organisations (KNASFO), some investors are flooding the local market with cheap imports.

“It is unfortunate that there is still cheap sugar coming into the country as our own farmers continue to struggle,” said Ogendo.

In the rice belt, farmers are also struggling to find market for their produce while at the same time feeling the pinch of the swelling waters of the lake.

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