The forgotten ports impeding Nyanza's blue economy

A rundown ship rots at the deserted Kendu Bay port in Homa Bay County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In the 1950s to the early 1990s, Kendu Bay port was the centre of Nyanza's maritime economy.

Today, it carries the aura of an abandoned small port left to decay. One derelict ship lies abandoned on the edges of the dock. 

The metals that were used to build part of the dock have also been vandalised. Most of the land around the pier has been taken up by a hotel.

Six large storage facilities that were used to store grains have been damaged. Stray dogs roam around the abandoned facilities.

The small port is among several feeder ports in the region that played a critical role in maritime transport and connected the region with ports such as Mwanza in Tanzania but are now abandoned.

That is despite the potential they have to transform the region’s blue economy and breathe life into the maritime industry.

Their conditions cast a huge doubt on the government’s commitment to transform maritime trade and transport within the counties bordering Lake Victoria, that once relied heavily on water transport.

Among the jetties in a poor state are Homa Bay, Mbita, Luanda Kotieno and Kendu Bay.

Their conditions worsened last year when the swelling waters of the lake destroyed the remaining infrastructure; authorities are yet to make any efforts to repair the piers.

This comes as residents remain optimistic that the vibrant water transport system that thrived in the region in the 1960s to early 1990s will return to help open the lakefront.

A waterbus company is among those that are hopeful that the government will consider the revival of the small ports to revamp the blue economy in Lake Victoria.

When Shipping and Logistics visited Kendu Bay jetty on Sunday, a few families had set up tents for a picnic; two men could be seen trying to cut off a huge metal from the dock.

A few meters away, some fishermen were fishing next to an old abandoned toilet that used to serve passengers in the past.

Vincent Ochieng, a 70-year-old fisherman, recounted how the small port was instrumental in the past.

“Some years ago, we would travel to Kisumu through the lake using the Kendu Bay pier. It was very effective and the price was affordable,” he explains.

Ochieng claims that they would transport various goods using small ships and passenger boats that operated between Kendu-Homa Bay-Mbita and Luanda Kotieno.

"Reviving the port can play a big role in opening up the region’s blue economy,” he said.

He is not alone. Maurice Oluoch, who had taken his family to see the abandoned pier told Shipping and Logistics that his family relied on lake travel in the 1980’s.

"My father used to work in Kisumu and he always relied on ferries that plied the route. I hope the government will revive the small ports,” he said.

Maritime transport and the blue economy in general was affected in the 1990’s following the invasion by the water hyacinth weed that blocked the lake.

With the revival of Kisumu Port, and the establishment of a shipyard in Kisumu, residents are optimistic that the government will now prioritise revival of the small ports dotting Nyanza.

They believe that revival of the small ports will also revamp tourism as well as ease trade.

According to National BMU chairperson Tom Guda, opening of the feeder ports will create more blue economy opportunities for the region.

“The projects will open the lake front. Once they are built, we will also be able to invest in eco-tourism and transport,” said Mr Guda.

Early this year, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) told Shipping and Logistics that plans are underway to revive the feeder ports.

Already, KPA experts have completed a survey of several feeder ports that dot the lake on the Kenyan side and plans are underway to begin their repair

The government intends to undertake dredging of feeder ports in the lake and improve their infrastructure to pave the way for a return of an efficient passenger vessel transport system.


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