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How the handshake has conspired to kill Mombasa economy

COMMENTARY
By Gabriel Dolan | November 3rd 2019

The five ferries that traverse the Likoni Channel are a death trap and you take your life in your hands every time you step or drive on board one of them. Three of the ferries do not meet any international safety standards according to a report by Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, tabled in Parliament this past week. In the past three years, a whooping Sh600 million has been pumped into the rusting death machines yet it might as well have been dropped in the Indian Ocean for all the difference in safety it has made. 

The ferries of course are symptomatic of the rot that characterises the state of the once renowned Coastal city. The tourism industry is in ruins with peak season reduced to a few weeks in December when Nairobi moves to Mombasa. Kibarani dumpsite got a face lift that is appreciated by visitors but the tons of garbage have now been transported to residential areas with VOK, Bombolulu a major health hazard to thousands of nearby residents. 

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia’s reluctance to rescind his edict that all imported containers be transported on the SGR has left thousands jobless and led to the relocation of many large businesses to Nairobi and Naivasha. The side effects of course of this action have left many smaller enterprises from food sellers to askaris also losing their only source of income. 

This is all happening in a period when the country hails a constitution that promised to devolve services and opportunities to enhance development and address economic impoverishment at the local level. Yet, what we are witnessing is quite the opposite. The SGR project has centralised exports and imports in Nairobi and reduced Mombasa to a ghost town. Nobody was consulted nor were alternatives listened to as the government treated with contempt the constitutional mandate to arrange public participation. 

What is most worrying and revealing is that those who are set to lose the most over the illegal SGR directive are the drivers, brokers, clerks at CFS  and those who can’t afford to pay rent or school fees. The well-heeled always find other means through their political connections and move off to Naivasha, Nairobi or Athi River where they acquire land and resume business. Apart from Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, no politician has come to the defence of the afflicted. Besides, after one of the recent protest marches, demonstrators marched to the Mombasa governor’s office and denounced him for his indifference to their plight.

They too are aware that the governor’s family transporting business, has reportedly been granted favourable terms to transport their goods on the SGR. Granted, they are not the only company to benefit from this lucrative deal. However, when the elected representative of the city’s million plus residents takes care of the family interests before those of his constituents then where do you turn to? 

What the whole scenario does reveal is that there is no opposition to Jubilee left in the country. The only challenge to the ruling party is from within its own walls. The handshake may have removed the threat of street violence but is silent when other protestors are deprived by the police to publicly demonstrate their displeasure over the SGR illegal order. Meetings with Raila Odinga have provided nothing but promises to date for those most affected. With the imminent release of the BBI report it is unlikely that the plight of the suffering in Mombasa will be given any serious attention for the foreseeable future. Makes you wonder whose interests the handshake or the BBI really serves. 

It is disgraceful however that the poor are made to pay for the mistakes of the powerful. When challenged the powers that be cite the Dongo Kundu by pass and the expected Industrial zone that they claim will provide thousands of jobs when completed.

As of now this appears like a pipe dream and cannot in any case repair the damage done by the SGR to the economy nor address the neglect that is evident all over the second city. Amid the depressing news one must, however, admire the courage and tenacity of the Mombasa protestors who have shown a gritty determination in their struggle. Besides, they are not likely to give up and sooner or later they must get the justice they deserve. 

- [email protected] @GabrielDolan1

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