Why East Africa’s Mombasa port must compete globally

A ship loaded with cargo docks at Mombasa port. Mombasa port should be developed to compete globally. Photo by ISMAIL MUSA LADU

What you need to know:

Ismail Musa Ladu explores what it takes for Mombasa port to exploit its location to build one of the most advanced port network systems in the world.

Mombasa port, the major gateway of trade to East Africa, needs to obtain market share of global sea trade before attaining world-class status.
The port of Mombasa is among one of the top five container ports in Africa. Globally, the port according to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), is ranked 112, up from 120 the previous year.
For that, East Africa’s biggest port must keep up the pace with emerging global developments and strive to sustain a top position as a container port in the region and beyond.
Stretched along the Indian Ocean coast, port Mombasa has strategically aligned itself to increase investment in infrastructure development; modernise and develop Mombasa port to international standards.

Going by the KPA 25 year’s master plan, it is also expected that Mombasa port will progressively join the world performing ports through increased volumes supported by quality service.
Latest traffic forecast indicate that the container throughput will rise from 1.1 million twenty-foot equivalent unitS (TEUs) handled in 2014 to more than 3 million by the year 2020 and beyond.
Without regular services of the Mombasa port, regional analysts and technocrats predict East African economies would come to a standstill.

Analysts’ views
When interviewed, analysts and technocrats cited the 2007post-election chaos that broke out in Kenya as one of the grim reminders of what can befall East African Community (EAC) countries and its neighbours once port services are interrupted.
At the peak of the violence, the flow of imports and exports was tampered with, particularly those in transit.

For days, the port could not be accessed due to civil unrest that gripped the largest East African economy, following a disputed election.
As a result, Uganda, the biggest user of the regional port, was already feeling the pressure. A similar situation was evident in other EAC countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, let alone Kenya.

The knock-on effect was also felt in South Sudan, northern Tanzania, eastern DRC and Ethiopia where Mombasa is the gateway.
In an interview with Daily Monitor last week, Mr Isaac Shinyekwa, trade and integration analyst with Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), said Uganda’s traders whose goods transit through the same corridor, had difficulties in accessing the Mombasa port.
He said: “Remember Kenya’s problem then (beginning in 2007 spilling over to 2008), we had chaos here. A litre of fuel then was costing more than Shs7,000. All this was because we couldn’t access the port and have Uganda bound cargo pass through without interruption.”

Dar-es-Salaam port would be handier to the other regional countries beside Tanzania, but due to the cost involved, regional countries, including Uganda, prefer using the Mombasa port whose route is shorter and less costly compared to the Southern Corridor.
Worth noting is that all the five EAC countries have a long term vision to transform their societies from peasant to a modern and prosperous countries within two to three decades. Their aim is to have changed their societies from low-income to upper middle income countries by then.

For that to happen, EAC director for customs at the secretariat Kenneth Bagamuhunda, argues that port infrastructure is crucial in driving the regional transformation agenda.
Considering the investment Kenya has sunk into developing and expanding the port, the chairman of Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita), Mr Everest Kayondo, whose members are some of the biggest users of the port, said Ugandan traders are heavily reliant on Mombasa port with only five per cent of their cargo going through the Dar-es-Salaam port.

He wants to see the port of Dar-es-Salaam developed as well, saying it will lift some pressures off the regional port of Mombasa and act as an alternative facility.
The KPA management supports the development, saying the two ports complement each other.
Recently, there have been key changes to redirect the operation of the port.
Speaking at a media workshop held in Mombasa recently, KPA managing director Gichiri Ndua said efficient, accessible and reliable infrastructure will lower the cost of doing business; improve security; improve livelihoods; and the region’s global competitiveness.

He revealed that Mombasa port was ranked fifth in Africa and was the fastest growing port. With increased development and expansion, it is expected that Mombasa port will join world performing ports.
To keep up the pace with emerging global developments and to sustain a top position as a container port in the region, the port expansion and development project is costing about $1 billion.

The new container terminal will be constructed on a total area of 100 hectares and capacity to handle 1.5 million TEUs (containers) per annum on completion.
This terminal will provide an additional 900 metres of quay length and three berths of 300 metres each. Phase II will give additional capacity of about 450,000 TEUs. Construction is expected to commence by early 2017. Construction of phase III will give additional capacity of 450,000 TEUs.

World-class status
KPA figures show up to 1.1 million containers have been handled at the port and upon completion of the new container terminal constructed on a total area of 100 hectares, a capacity to handle 1.5 million TEUs (containers) per annum will be guaranteed.
According to KPA managing director, Mr Gichiri Ndua, implementing such key infrastructural development projects will transform the fortunes of the port and the region.

He argues that measures, among them superior security and enhanced technology, supported by coordination and interplay of other agencies responsible for various aspects of the transport and logistics chain, will deliver the promise of Mombasa port being a world-class port and a top container port in Africa.


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