Gilbert Langat: Founding Shippers Council CEO takes final sail

Britam Holdings Group Managing Director Dr Benson Wairegi and Gilbert Langat then CEO of Shippers Council of East Africa during the launch of Britam's marine insurance portal at a Nairobi hotel. [Courtesy]

The logistics and transport industry last week laid to rest a man many sector players termed a titan who tirelessly pushed for the easing of barriers that cargo owners, both exporters and importers, faced in moving their products on roads and through ports. 

Gilbert Langat, who died December 28 and was buried Friday at his Lessos home in Nandi County, was also recognised as a campaigner for the northern transport corridor, which is a gateway to Kenya and the region.

The trade route has in the past, however, faced criticism as laden with barriers and also faces stiff competition from Tanzania’s Central Corridor.

He was born on January 1, 1972 and died four days away from his 52nd birthday. The family said he died after battling a long illness that led to kidney failure and required him to do regular dialysis.

GL, as he was known among his friends and colleagues, was the founding chief executive of the Shippers Council of East Africa (SCEA), a lobby for large cargo owners (both exporters and importers.

Together with his team, the late Langat grew SCEA from a small outfit that was at the onset run from a borrowed office and whose personnel at the time consisted of just the CEO and one part-time staff. Over the years, SCEA has grown into a regional body and an authority on local and regional shipping and logistics matters. 

“The Shippers Council of Eastern Africa has grown from a small corner office at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Westlands, to a formidable institution now based at the Kenya Ports Authority Inland Container Depot,” said SCEA Vice-Chairman John Msafari in eulogising Mr Langat. 

“Gilbert was a true ambassador of the port of Mombasa and the Northern Corridor. He acknowledged that our development hinged upon the efficiency and competitiveness of the port and the corridor, and it pained him when stakeholders did not take responsibility for their failures and omissions.

“He was excited when key sector players signed the Port Charter and committed to the KPIs (key performance indicators) aimed at improving port efficiency. As the chair, he monitored the performances and engaged various players on their commitments and roles.”

The council started as the Kenya Shippers Council (KSC) in the early 1970s but remained dormant, and it was not until the early 2000s that different players agreed to breathe life into it. 

The council, according to sector players, was vital due to frustrations and surcharges that they faced doing business through the available transport services at the time.

According to a brief by the SCEA, the council was initially registered as a society in September 2004, by the Kenya International Freight and Warehouse Association (KIFWA), an umbrella organisation for clearing and forwarding companies. Its control was later that year transferred to cargo owners in line with the stated goals of KSC to represent the interests of the cargo owners.

KSC was officially relaunched as a representative of cargo owners on October 25, 2006 and started operations in June 2007, run by the chief executive and one part-time member of staff. 

It had an eight-member board made up of the leadership of the five founding associations namely KAM, East Africa Tea Trade Association (EATTA), Kenya Coffee Traders Association (KCTA), Fresh Produce Exporters Association (FPEAK), and the East Africa Cement Producers Association East Africa (EACPA).

It was housed at KAM from June 2007 to June 2010.

It is through this that Langat and his team grew, transforming it into a regional body that was in 2013 rebranded into the Shippers Council of Eastern Africa.

“As a Board (of SCEA), we have lost a gem. A trusted and dependable employee. GL was always a step ahead of the industry – a visionary leader. He was highly knowledgeable and a depository of data and information, which he used to advocate and convince the authorities and inform decisions,” said Mr Msafari

“Word has it that if you got any government appointment in the area of trade facilitation, transport, and infrastructure, your first brief was to get hold of Gilbert.

Mr Langat was on Friday eulogised as a mentor by some of the people he took under his wing at SCEA and other organisations that he worked with as an advisor or as a director on their boards of directors.

“We never had dull moments. Solving members’ challenges, meeting trade facilitation service providers, and meeting government officials was fulfilling in your presence,” said Agayo Ogambi, a senior official at SCEA and one of those whom Mr Langat mentored in their professional growth. 

“I feel orphaned. Who will shield me in the rough seas? I am not sure whom I shall run to when faced with work-related challenges.”

The late Langat, a graduate of Moi University, started out selling insurance initially as a salesperson for Madison Insurance and later as a branch manager in Eldoret. He branched out to logistics and worked with Kifwa before moving to SCEA – then operating as Kenya Shippers Council — in 2006.

“Under his leadership at the Council, Mr Langat helped to foster collaborations that have been key in improving trade facilitation. This was achieved through working together to find solutions to the challenges of customs administration. Mr Langat was a phenomenal leader who exhibited brilliance and dedication to create a lasting impact,” said the Commissioner of Customs and Border Control, Kenya Revenue Authority Dr Lilian Nyawanda.

Mr Langat served as a member of the Kepsa Transport Sector Board, where the lobby said he contributed to policy reforms in the sector. 

“We honour this great leader for spearheading the establishment of the Shippers Council of Eastern Africa (SCEA) in a space where the supply chain function was fragmented and formal logistics performance management systems were not common,” said Kepsa Chief Executive Carole Kariuki.

“In the shipping and logistics industry, he will be remembered for his contribution to the industry’s milestone achievements, including improved legal and regulatory environment, harmonisation of East African Community (EAC) transport and trade policies and procedures, adoption of best practices by shippers and regulatory authorities and adoption of ICT in transport and logistics systems.”

Mr Langat was also the advisor to the Mombasa County Government on port affairs. 

“Gilbert’s work helped open minds and bring people together, blending national patriotism with pragmatic governance of county affairs to capture our attention and ignite our imagination on the possibilities of the port of Mombasa,” said Mombasa Governor Abdullswamad Sherrif Nassir. 

Aside from being the chief executive of SCEA and advising Mombasa County on port affairs, he was the Chair of the Mombasa Port and Northern Corridor Community Charter (MPNCCC) and a board member of the National Standards Council (NSC), where he was also Chair of the Technical, Trade and Permits Approval Committee of the Board of Kenya Bureau of Standard (Kebs). 

He has in the past served as a Director of Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha), Kenya Trade Network Agency (Kentrade) and Member of the Executive Committee and Board of Northern Corridor Transit Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA).