Work has started on Kenya’s new deep draft "World Class" Port which has received extensive media exposure this weekend.
Where is it?
The northern Kenyan coastal town of Lamu
What’s it all about?
Well, if you build a port, the ships will come. If you build a railway, the trains will run. If you build a pipeline, the oil will flow. If you build all of the above, as intended by the new Ethiopia-Kenya-South Sudan axis, then you might just revolutionise the lives of people in East Africa forever.
What’s it costing and why?
Underlying the construction of an estimated $24-billion port, which officially started on Friday, the port section alone taking 4 years, is Kenya’s vision of the future, a bustling hub of trade in the pre-colonial era, restored to its former glory as East Africa’s premier centre of commerce.
• Replacing fishing trawlers and dhows will be huge ultra-large crude carriers and cargo ships waiting to take East African oil and manufactured goods to the markets of the world.
• Leading to the port are standard gauge railways from Ethiopia and South Sudan, giving both land-locked countries a lifeline to the sea.
• Fibre optic cables take high-speed low-cost Internet to the heart of Africa
• A massive pipeline from South Sudan keeps the oil flowing – to the tankers.
• Border controls are all but eliminated, making the movement of products and people across East Africa effortless.
As visions of the future go the leaders of the countries concerned Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia were certainly enthusiastic at the ground breaking ceremony last week, the beginning of an optimistically estimated four years of construction for the port itself.
So what are the objections?
• Environmental, as the construction will inevitably eat into the area’s mangrove forests.
• Local land rights, with residents concerned that they will be forced off their land to make way for the new development. Already there have been some allegations of profiteering, as those in the know bought up land years ago at a pittance, ready to sell it at vastly prices now. To allay these concerns, the government has pledged to build a technical college in the area and provide at least 1,000 jobs to locals.
• Lamu’s proximity to Somalia. The area is currently within o an FCO "non-essential" travel warning zone and thus a no go area for international shipping.
• Lamu is a world heritage site, famed for its old African-Muslim architecture. Critics are worried that much of this will be wiped out by the development.
So what happens now?
The most obvious problem is funding. Rumours abound, perhaps private equity firms and/or the Chinese. Certainly the Kenyan taxpayer will be footing some of the bill, with an initial $30-million invested at this stage.
Will it work?
It’s still very early days in the life of Lamu’s new port. There’s enough regional support for the project, it’s been well planned in terms of communications and transport linkages and, while money to complete it will be difficult, it is feasible, especially with South Sudan’s oil at the center of the plan.
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