Coast leaders push for bigger stake as State plans to modernise, expand ports

Investment, Trade and Industries CS Moses Kuria and Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir are entertained by traditional dancers during the ground-breaking ceremony for the County Aggregation and Industrial Park at Miritini on Monday, September 25, 2023. [Charles Omondi, Standard]

Leaders from the Coast region should be involved in the plans to modernise the ports of Mombasa and Lamu to guarantee jobs for residents and a share of the revenue for host counties, according to Governor Abdulswamad Nassir.

Modernising and expanding the ports is part of a raft of measures President William Ruto is taking to improve efficiency and give Mombasa an edge over its biggest competitor, Dar es Salaam.

The measures also include making the port operate on 24 24-hour basis.

The Mombasa county chief also sought to clarify that leaders from Coast are not opposed to the plans to modernise the ports.

"The door is open for talks on planned leasing out of services at the Port of Mombasa. We would to remind those behind the plans that the port and the ocean are the only key natural resources that the people of Mombasa have," said Nassir who spoke in Mombasa on Sunday.

Unlike in the past, when Coast leaders rejected the idea of privatising, leasing, or concession of the port services, Nassir said they support efforts to expand, modernise, and enhance efficiency at the port.

"However, we insist that Coast leaders must be involved in all those plans. No one is refusing development. Also, no one is against the progression of the city and the region at large. However, we will not allow someone or some people to decide to sideline us in what is going on. We want to know what is in these plans for our people," he said.

He added: "All that Coast leaders want to know is the region's stake in the ongoing development projects at the Mombasa and Lamu ports."

Nassir, who was accompanied by his deputy Francis Thoya, and Jomvu MP Badi Twalib said: "We will not allow anyone to keep us in the dark on these projects as the residents wallow in poverty."

They said the Coast will not allow the national government to sideline them or have decisions arrived at somewhere else and imposed on the people.

"All Coast leaders must be fully involved," said Nassir who spoke at Jomvu where a section of the region's leaders and residents had gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony of a Sh500 million industrial park, an event that was presided over by the Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry, Mr Moses Kuria.

A cargo ship loaded with containers at Port Mombasa on June 19, 2022. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

"I am sending you to tell them that I will not sit back today or tomorrow and allow people to make plans about our resources and assets without our input, and then impose them on us," Nassir told Kuria.

“Today means my first term, and tomorrow means my second term. Maybe they will be able to do what they want, and even impose their stooge when I'm gone after my second term." 

For a long time, the governor said, the people of Mombasa have not benefited from the port, and that they are determined to ensure this does not continue happening.

Meanwhile, Nassir said his government has contributed Sh250 million towards the construction of the aggregated industrial park.

He said the county would construct modern abattoirs and a cold storage facility for horticultural products exported throughout the port.

“The industrial park will provide thousands of jobs. We shall put a marshalling yard for loose cargo and petroleum products. We have already advertised for the projects,” he said.

Mr Kuria said it was wise for leaders to come together and discuss how to handle projects that benefit the citizens in the region.

“You know how the economy is. Let us create new bonds and foster development. I agree that leaders should sit down and agree, and speak,” said Kuria.

Kuria said that he has sourced for investors to extend the Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) by 11 Kilometres along the Dongo Kundu bypass for Sh150 billion.

“We have secured funds from the African Development Bank and have agreed to extend 11 km to Dongo Kundu at Sh150 billion. In Takaungu, we will have another industrial park, and we are also extending to Lamu Port,” said Kuria.

He said the government has given Nassir a license to put up an economic zone to help in value addition.

“Since time immemorial, you haven't benefited from your mnazi. This park will help you gain money through value addition,” said Kuria, adding that the park is expected to employ about 50,000 people.

Mr Thoya said it was ironic that politicians from the Kenya Kwanza who claim that Azimio would auction the port of Mombasa are the ones now supporting the leasing of its services or have maintained a studious silence.

“We were promised benefits from the port, but we are not seeing any. We want to know what our share is. The same persons who warned us that the port is being stolen are doing so now,” said Thoya.

Badi said that the port should benefit Mombasa residents just like the way Narok benefits from Masai Mara and Taita Taveta benefits from Tsavo.

“We can't accept our port to be sold against our will. The port is our land for tilling. In Taita Taveta and Narok counties, they are getting a cut. We also need a share from the port,” said Badi.