KPA bullish on port business despite fiery political dispute

Mombasa Port

Cargo trucks queue at the main entrance of the port in Mombasa on June 16.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It’s full steam ahead for port operations in Mombasa, says the state agency responsible for managing the facilities, despite political turbulence regarding cargo transport from the coast to the hinterland.

The incoming administration, according to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) General Manager (Operations) Sudi Mwasinago must ensure it sustains the progress made so far in expanding port infrastructure and social amenities.

His comments, made during an exclusive interview with the Nation, come amid a back-and-forth between leading presidential contenders Raila Odinga and William Ruto, who head the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party and United Democratic Alliance (UDA) respectively.

Deputy President Ruto’s UDA is also part of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, a coalition of 12 parties. Port business is one of the main sectors driving Coast region’s economy and the different perspectives taken by the leading presidential contenders have generated more heat than light ahead of the August 9 polls.

The disagreements centre on the transfer of port operations from Mombasa to inland container depots (ICDs) in Nairobi and Naivasha and the introduction of the standard gauge railway (SGR) freight services .

Critical and strategic

While DP Ruto has promised to return port operations to Mombasa within his first 100 days in office, Mr Odinga has backed transport through the SGR.

Mr Mwasinago, in charge of   marine, container and conventional cargo operations, as well as ICDs and inland waterways said the port and SGR are critical and strategic national infrastructure.

He said measures are in place to enhance efficiency at Mombasa port to make it more productive and competitive globally.

“Despite what is being said by the politicians, we’re fully guided by the authority’s strategic plans on port infrastructure expansion. We’re here to fulfil the objectives of that plan,” he said.

KPA lacks a substantive Managing Director, with Mr John Mwangemi serving in acting capacity since last year following the resignation of Dr Daniel Manduku on graft accusations.

The government plans to increase the volume of cargo ferried to the hinterland through the SGR freight service. Some additional 500 wagons will be bought to meet rising transport demands, according to Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC).

Mr Thomas Ojijo, KRC’s Coast perations Manager, told Nation the plans had been approved.

KRC operates 10 freight trains from Mombasa, nine to Nairobi and one to Naivasha.

Mr Ojijo said 1,620 wagons that are currently in use are not enough. He said rail transport is energy and time-efficient, cost-effective, saves road maintenance costs, and reduces safety exposure on roads.

Nairobi ICD manager Paul Bor said linking of the SGR and metre-gauge railway will increase the trin’s cargo volumes.

Residential areas

Once SGR operations are fully integrated with the metre-gauge railway and the Nairobi commuter train service, he said, passenger and cargo numbers will increase significantly, leading to a drop in import costs and lowering prices of goods and services.

The Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone Authority will be established in July as part of efforts to turn Mombasa into a regional logistics and manufacturing hub.

The centre will comprise an export-processing zone, industrial parks, free trade zones and other auxiliary services such as tourism, meeting, conferencing and exhibitions.

It will also have zoned residential areas for workers.

The zone is one of the components of the Mombasa Port Development Project—a series of projects that seek to expand the capacity of the port and enhance logistics along the Northern Economic Corridor connecting landlocked countries in Eastern Africa to the coast.

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