JKIA: Shame of entrance to East Africa's top economic hub

The entrance to the JKIA in Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

“It is not our fault, blame the past regime,” is the response of Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen when pressed for answers on the state of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

East Africa's busiest commercial and connection hub, JKIA, has hit headlines with news of a power outage, numerous complaints of customs officials harassing travelers, and recently, a roof leakage as a result of the ongoing rains which have flooded the ticketing area, leaving tongues waggling.

But in a rebuttal, CS Murkomen has come out guns blazing alluding that the current administration found the airport with dilapidated infrastructure and that the government is doing its best to have a new and modern terminal constructed.

"At the start of President William Ruto’s administration last year, we found dilapidated infrastructure at our airports, and even though we have done our best to address the problem, some issues remain because of previous long-term neglect,” said Murkomen in a statement on Tuesday.

“Much of the work done, especially in the last days of the previous government, was sub-standard," he added, pointing accusatory fingers at the previous regime.

According to Murkomen, the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) have been directed to sort out drainage issues at the busy airport, as the contractor repeats the works at the temporary terminal.

A day later, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua would come to Murkomen’s defense insisting the past regime was to blame for allowing substandard construction of the airport.

"I have seen some people castigating Murkomen when he talked about JKIA. Some people are just allergic to the truth,” Gachagua said.

He at the same time called on contractors to be held accountable for their jobs. "We need to look at the law, where professionals are held accountable for lapses and misleading the taxpayers by certifying shoddy jobs. I think that will help this country." 

Power blackout

One of the other major issues Kenyans have pointed out as ‘problematic’ at the JKIA is the recent power outages.

Transport CS Murkomen has regretted the occurrence terming it inexcusable.

"Regarding the recent power outage that took between eight and 20 minutes to resolve, the contractor has taken a long time to ensure an immediate changeover to the standby generator when there is such a blackout. Twenty seconds can be excusable, but not 20 minutes. We want an automatic changeover," he said on Tuesday.

The recent turn of events has raised questions about the state of the busy hub. Could it be negligence, incompetence, or the usual rhetoric of resolving issues the ‘Kenyan way?

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen is shown part of the roof at the JKIA under renovation when he toured the airport. The roof has been leaking heavily due to the rains. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

A leaking roof

Just this week, a video went viral on social media showing massive water leakages at JKIA. The undated video shows rainwater pouring on the hallways, probably from a leaking roof at the ticketing desk as passengers stood in awe.

The last time complaints arose on the state of JKIA, CS Murkomen swang into action, terminating the contract of Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director Alex Gitari and Fred Odawo, the Engineering General Manager, following a nationwide blackout that plunged JKIA into darkness for hours.

The CS has however been the target of criticism on social media and from a section of leaders with many shining a spotlight on his docket, while some call for his resignation for what they term as “incompetence” in handling the JKIA mess.

"Murkomen came to Nandi County two weeks ago and called me a fool. I thought he had finished all the work in the Ministry of Roads and Infrastructure. While he was busy insulting me, there were no standby generators at JKIA and the airport terminal roofs were leaking massively!" Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei captioned the video on X.

The Senator was referring to Murkomen's remarks weeks ago when he commented on the awarding of contracts under his docket. “Cherargei, I want to teach you something. If the President was using a brain like yours, we would not be having the country now. I’m telling you the truth,” Murkomen said.

The video of the leaking roof has since caused quite a buzz on social media with some Kenyans criticising the government for failure to act or hold those responsible to account.

"It's raining national embarrassment at JKIA. When it is normal for a system to be overwhelmed, radical changes are needed to improve the JKIA's image, from its leadership to electricity supply and maintenance," wrote Antony Irungu, an X user.

Another X user, Finnel Israel posed: "What is happening in Kenya?? First blackouts, then forceful confiscation of travelers' goods by KRA, then this? Where do the billions assigned to enable the smooth operation of such systems go?”

KAA in a statement, regretted the inconveniences caused during Saturday’s 8.00 pm power outage, as it outlined measures in place to alleviate the crisis. According to the authority, the backup power supply installation process is ongoing.

“The synchronization of the outstanding backup power supply is scheduled to be completed in the next 30 days in readiness for instant backup support in the event of any power interruption,” KAA stated.

JKIA has over the last month topped social media trends after the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) announced taxing travelers arriving into the country through the airport on items worth USD500 (Sh75,000) and above, causing a public uproar.

The alleged harassment by customs officials was also brought to play by a Kenya Airways pilot who lamented the ordeal he had to go through while his suitcase was frisked by the taxman.

"The amount of harassment we endure at JKIA is quite profound and shockingly archaic. My country trusts me to fly hundreds of passengers daily on a Sh18 billion plane and then humiliates me in front of my passengers and searches through my undergarments for a Sh10,000 item," he posted.

Some of the restricted goods collected by KRA customs officials at JKIA, Nairobi on November 7, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

JKIA arrivals/departures in numbers

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data in its 2022 Economic Survey, shows that the number of passengers handled at Kenyan airports predominantly through JKIA which is a flagship airport of The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), significantly rose from 6.7million passengers in 2021 to 10.2 million passengers in 2022.

JKIA currently handles around 126 passenger flights daily including 25 cargo airlines and services flights to 63 destinations with 32 scheduled passenger traffic airlines.

In 2018, JKIA was ranked the best airport in Africa and 38th globally by AirHelp, a German claims management company that promotes and enforces air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions globally.

The recent spate of complaints by travelers who have not shied away from documenting and sharing their ordeals online could hurt the number of tourists who flock to the country for its wildlife and beaches. 

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