We can make Lamu Port first port of call in Africa

President Uhuru Kenyatta at Lamu Port to operationalise the first berth of the seaport. Treasury CS Ukur Yattani (L) and Governor Fahim Twaha. [Courtesy]

May 20, last week, was a big day in Kenya’s history. As the Indian Ocean waters roared softly, Lamu Port roared to life. On hand to witness this epic birth was President Kenyatta Kenyatta.

The President and his entourage cheered on as MV CAP Carmel, a 204-metre Singaporean ship became the first vessel to dock into the port. It had sailed from the Port of Dar es Salaam, on its way to Salalah in Oman.

Lamu Port is a big deal, not just economically, but literally. Because its depth is 17.5 metres compared to Mombasa’s 15 metres it can handle bigger ships with capacities of up to 12,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Mombasa Port handles ship with capacities of up to 10,000 TEUs.

In addition, Lamu’s berths are a whopping 400 metres, compared to Mombasa’s 300 metres. Evidently, this is a big port that will handle big vessels.

The question is, will it generate big profits in increasingly bigger fashion? Yes, it can.

However, for this to happen we must build an efficient team for the port to conquer the world, specifically the ports in Durban, Eritrea, Somaliland and Djibouti port, which are our biggest competitors. Our port operations have been dogged with myriad inefficiencies.

Failure to address the team element at this crucial stage may amount to simply changing the forest and introducing the same monkeys. We must not cower in fear at the fact that Ethiopia seems to be edging towards the Somaliland, Djibouti and Eritrea ports.

Currently, 80 per cent of Ethiopia’s trade flows through the Eritrea and Djibouti ports.

To make matters potentially worse, Ethiopia is said to have already acquired a stake in Somaliland’s Berbera Port project and is acquiring a stake in Eritrea’s project.

Indeed, business is cutthroat and that is why we need a world class team devoid of previous laxities to make Lamu Port the first port of call for East Africa and beyond. 

Actually, we need to dispatch seasoned, talented marketers from the public and private sector to set camp not just in Ethiopia, but also in South Sudan, Mozambique and Zanzibar.

These countries are currently being served by ports in Durban, Djibouti and Yemen. We need to overpoweringly turn the tide of trade from these established competitors to Lamu Port.

According to UNESCO, Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa.

Lamu has been trading with far flung markets in Europe, Persian Gulf and China for centuries.

As such, Lamu is simply regaining its rightful place as Africa’s leading seaport trade hub. But we must shed off all manner of human capital inefficiencies to adopt the footsteps of leading global Ports.

Two years ago, I visited the Port of Singapore and was amazed at the team’s inspiration and commitment to excellence.

Since 2015, it has been ranked as the world’s top maritime capital. Considering that vessels from this Port sail to 600 other ports in 123 countries, it’s no wonder that it’s the world’s busiest transshipment port.

Singapore’s maritime industry has created nearly 200,000 jobs and accounts for at least 7 per cent of their GDP.

This success is not accidental but a result of conducive government policies, a highly competent workforce and a superb hinterland transport network that enhances port operations.

Hence, Singapore has been ranked second in the World Banks’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report.

Likewise, Lamu Port can lead Kenya to prosperity. For this to happen, just like the official launch of the port I humbly suggest that President Kenyatta deliberately returns to inaugurate a world class team to manage the Lamu Port.

Negative politics, ineficiencies, nepotism and other maladies should not be part of the brand new Lamu Port. It can be done, but only if we think green, act green!