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Deliberate push to impoverish Coast more political than legal

By Maina Kiai | Aug 11th 2019 | 4 min read
An aerial view of the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Mombasa residents must be wondering what they have done wrong to justify the tragic and immense hollowing out of their city by the Jubilee regime. I don’t think there is a precedent anywhere in the world, where the state has deliberately impoverished a region to enrich even more prosperous regions—in this case Nairobi and Naivasha--as the Jubilee regime is doing with Mombasa at present.

It smacks of discrimination, contempt and perhaps open greed that will certainly have unintended and disastrous consequences such as the recent crime waves in Bamburi. Worse, the continued impoverishment of Mombasa makes it a fertile breeding ground for Al-Shabaab.  

It all starts with, and revolves around, the decisions—taken dictatorially and with no heed to the adverse impacts on Mombasa--around the port. The first was the decision to take out a massive loan from the Chinese to build the SGR. Had the UhuRuto regime decided to simply upgrade the existing meter gauge railway from Mombasa to Kisumu into SGR, the cost would not have exceeded Sh100 billion, which was the original plan during the coalition government.

But perhaps motivated by the need to loot, the regime decided to build a brand-new railway line from Mombasa to Machakos (the “Nairobi” terminus is in Syokimau in Machakos) after taking a loan of more than Sh360 billion. I doubt that it actually cost that amount. Note that this loan happened soon after the 2013 elections which were incredibly expensive, and which included hiring the dubious Cambridge Analytica firm.

There was no public participation about this project, nor have we ever seen the contract even though we are the ones paying for the loan. It was simply implemented with lots of propaganda about how modern and fast the new railway would be. But alas, because there is only one railway line, with short diversions to allow opposite traffic to pass, and because the engines purchased can not be “bullet trains” it quickly became clear that the SGR could not compete with road transportation and make enough to repay the excessive loans.

So, again, with no public participation, the regime ordered all goods imported via Mombasa to be transported on the SGR to the Embakasi Inland Port Depot. Business people say that the cost by SGR is almost twice the cost by road which is why it was made compulsory, because the risk of default on the payments to the Chinese could mean that they take over a public asset. This move has been farcical in some respects, with reports of shipments slated for the Coast region being put on the SGR then transported back to the Coast by road! To keep the SGR busy, the Embakasi Inland Port was expanded and now jobs, businesses, and the informal economy that develops around ports has shifted from Mombasa to Nairobi, which is the richest county in Kenya! Talk of robbing the poor to enrich the rich.

Aggravating matters is the new inland port in Naivasha—which is the second richest county after Nairobi--reportedly on privately owned land, which will be even bigger than the one in Embakasi. It is not clear if this new inland port will be privately run or whether it will be leased to the KPA but already we have seen “donations” of land made to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Salva Kiir of South Sudan from the Naivasha property.

The second decision is the proposed privatisation of the profit-making Container Terminal 2 (CT2) in Mombasa and hand it over to the dormant Kenya National Shipping Line—which is supposed to be running ships not ports—and which now is 47 per cent owned by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which reportedly also includes two other opaque companies.  (Another Italian connection so soon after the Kimwarer and Arror dams’ scandal!) Port insiders say that the company will make an annual payment to KPA of about Sh3 billion. Note that KPA made profits of over Sh15 billion last year, mostly on the back of operations at CT2. 

Generally, privatisation arises when the state wants to dispose of loss-making companies. Yes, KPA could do with a lot less corruption and nepotism, and be more efficient, but there are many management tools available for just that, without giving away prized assets that will lead to job losses and massive profits for the owners. The sweetener that MSC will provide jobs for Kenyans is pure fiction. Just look at MSC’s employment figures of the last ten years!

Because this decision to privatise was made without participation and dictatorially and because there is no transparency about anything, rumors are running wild in Mombasa that all these decisions are to benefit a particular family that wants to own Kenya, and fast.  

Resentment and poverty in Mombasa are growing, and do not be surprised we start hearing that “pwani sio Kenya!”

These issues are more political than legal, and concerted efforts need to be made to challenge the “punishing of Mombasa.” Crucially, the ownership of KPA needs to be looked at so that the residents, the county, dockworkers and clearing and forwarding agents have a say in how it is managed, to avoid further impoverishment in future. 

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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