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Francis Muthaura appointment not popular in Coast

By DOMINIC ODIPO | January 6th 2014


Could the implosion of the Jubilee Coalition government inadvertently start from the sleepy far northern coast resort town of Lamu? This sounds like a foolish question, but there are times when only such dumb questions manage to get to the heart of the matter.

Remember Isaac Newton asking himself why that apple fell to the ground? His attempt to answer that question led to the discovery of gravitation, without which modern physics would probably not exist.

Who should chair the management board of Lapsset? Should it be the most qualified Kenyan, or should it be a native of the coastal region? Lapsset, as you know, is both a mouthful and a handful.

In full, it stands for the Lamu Port and Lamu – Southern Sudan – Ethiopia Transport Corridor, and is by far the largest development project ever initiated by any Kenyan government since independence. When complete, it will comprise a modern port at Manda Bay, a standard gauge railway line to Juba and Addis Ababa, a road network, oil pipelines to South Sudan and Ethiopia, an oil refinery at Bargoni, three airports and three resort cities: Lamu, Isiolo and Lokichogio.  More money will be spent on this project than that which will be spent by all the six counties of the Coast region: Taita Taveta, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu, over its implementation period.

Up to now, nobody knows how much the entire project will cost.

We are still in the realm of estimates, with the latest being $23 billion, which due to changes in interest, inflation and exchange rates could easily double or triple over the duration of the project. This means that there will be billions of shillings tied up in this project, which is why the appointment of the board chairman is raising so much dust.  The simple question is: should it be a man from the Mount Kenya region or a local who has the final say on how these billions are spent?

That is the heart of the matter, and that is why the indigenous coastal people appear to be complaining about the appointment of Muthaura as the chair of the Lapsset board.

There is no doubt that, given his diplomatic background and his stint as the Head of the Kenyan Public Service, that Muthaura is qualified to chair this board. But this is not a matter of qualifications alone.  It is a matter of political sensitivities. The coastal people probably see this as their best chance to eat something under the Jubilee government.

The situation has been made worse by the fact that the current managing director of the Mombasa-based Kenya Ports Authority also hails from the Mount Kenya region. In effect, the bull has been slain in their backyard, but they are being denied the opportunity to begin skinning it, and that is the problem for the Jubilee government if it insists on Muthaura remaining as the board chair.

In fact, if the Jubilee government does not tread carefully on this Lapsset business, it might as well say goodbye to the coastal vote come the next General Election, and open a very wide corridor for the opposition.

But if the Jubilee government thinks it can survive the next General Election without the coastal vote, then it can appoint whoever it wants to run the Lapsset project, though it needs to remember that all choices have consequences. Politically, it ought to make more sense to appoint an indigenous coastal with strong Jubilee connections to chair that board. Not somebody from the Mount Kenya region, whoever he is.

For the same reasons that we would expect the head of the Kerio Valley Development Authority to come from the Kerio Valley, we should expect the head of the Lapsset project to come from the Coast.

In a democracy such as the one we are trying to build in this country, the feelings and sensitivities of the indigenous people need to be taken into account. There must be somebody from among the Taita, Duruma, Giriama, Digo, Chonyi, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Pokomo or of Arab extraction from Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, or Lamu itself, who can chair this board in place of Muthaura.


The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.


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