Expectations high as new KPA boss Captain William Ruto hits the ground running
The newly appointed Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Managing Director William Kipkemboi Ruto has highlighted measures he seeks to implement to boost Mombasa Port’s standing as the hub of regional trade, in the face of growing competition from its neighbours.
Top on his list is projections of cargo volume growth by improving efficiency and expanding infrastructure. In an interview with Saturday Nation, Capt. Ruto acknowledged the task ahead in making sure Mombasa, Lamu and Kisumu ports increase volumes and become competitive to attract more users.
“I am confident that investment in Kenya's ports and logistics sector, including automation of systems, will continue giving the country a competitive edge over regional peers. We shall focus, in the coming days, on increasing volumes in Lamu Port since it has a bigger vessel handling capacity than Mombasa,” said Capt. Ruto.
“Port competition depends on the geographical location and the cost of the port and cargo movement. Different ports have different advantages, but at the end of the day, it depends on the efficiency of the port and that is what I want to do in Kenyan port facilities.”
Captain Ruto—who has filled the void left by MD Daniel Manduku, who resigned in March 2020—has come to the office at a critical time when both workers and different stakeholders are expecting an improvement to increase volumes after about three years without a substantive boss. During his first day in office this week, more than 7,000 workers welcomed Capt. Ruto.
They expect him to address a number of issues, including bonus payments pending for two years and suspension of overtime payments.
On operations, the government and stakeholders hope Capt. Ruto will revolutionise the sector to make the second commercial port in Lamu functional and fully operationalise the Sh3 billion rehabilitated Kisumu inland port. The two ports were opened by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta when KPA was headed by an acting MD.
With Mombasa port facing stiff competition from the port of Dar es Salaam, the new boss is expected to streamline operations to reduce different bottlenecks to maintain and attract more businesses. The port has an annual capacity of over 1.4 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and close to 35 million tonnes, making it a leading facility in the region.
In the past two years, the Port of Dar es Salaam has been increasingly offering competition to Mombasa, with an estimated 17.04 million tonnes of cargo handled.
On Lamu Port, Capt. Ruto will have a daunting task in making it attractive to traders, as the second commercial port, which has only handled a measly 1,821 TEUs and 213 tonnes of conventional cargo, has remained inactive since it was operationalised.
But in its master plan, KPA has remained steadfast over the years in facilitating global trade by providing efficient and competitive port services to make Lamu port a transhipment hub. Since the year began, the port has handled only 300 TEUs destined for Zanzibar cargo, ferried by French Liner CMA CGM.
The new KPA boss, besides working to fix problems at Mombasa, Lamu and Kisumu ports, will also have to take the lead in the construction of the Mombasa and Lamu Export Processing Zones and operationalise the Kipevu Oil Terminal.
Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association national chairman Roy Mwathi has asked Capt. Ruto to streamline operations at the port of Mombasa and the inland container depots Nairobi and Naivasha to reduce bottlenecks along the northern corridor.
“We are looking forward to Capt. Ruto to streamline the logistics sector to reduce the cost of transport, including reawakening of ports like Lamu and Kisumu,” said Mr Mwathi.
But as Capt. Ruto took over the office, which is known for political interference, he urged KPA chairman Benjamin Tayari to contain politicians to give him time to manage port facilities. “I know the position will have a lot of political interference, but I am lucky my chairman Mr Tayari is a politician and I urge him to handle any politics that might interfere with our day-to-day port operations.”
He pledged to create a friendly environment for KPA workers to deliver and increase volumes but cautioned that the staff must be disciplined.
Capt. Ruto promised to look into workers’ welfare—pending bonus payments and overtime payments, among other issues. “I understand there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and you have a lot of expectations from me, but my warning is every worker should adhere to their shifts and end absenteeism, which has been with us for many years,” said the MD.
Capt. Ruto dismissed claims of favouritism during his appointment, saying the recruitment process was highly competitive and he emerged top because of his experience.
He took over from Mr John Mwangemi, who was appointed on June 25, 2021, to head KPA in an acting capacity.