SGR becomes hot potato ahead of August elections

Naivasha Inland Container Depot

A truck is loaded at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot in January. Politicians from Mombasa and Nakuru counties have differed over the declaration by DP Ruto that he will reverse directives that have seen port activities transferred to the Naivasha dry port.   

 The transfer of port services has become a hot topic in both the gubernatorial and presidential campaigns in Mombasa and Nakuru counties.

Leaders from Mombasa have been supporting the return of port operations as their Nakuru counterparts push for more investment in the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD).

United Democratic Alliance (UDA) leaders led by former Senator Hassan Omar have accused President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the depressing Coastal economy by moving port activities to Nairobi and Naivasha.

Mr Omar and his troops, including Nyali MP Mohammed Ali, said Mr Odinga, President Kenyatta, Governor Hassan Joho and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir have no intention of addressing the port issue since they are beneficiaries.

The Jubilee administration, in 2019, issued a directive for all cargo haulage from the Mombasa Port to be strictly via the standard gauge railway (SGR), which killed several businesses in Mombasa.

Mr Omar and Mr Ali said the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leaders have no proper plan terming it “hot air”. The former senator said they plan to publish details of the SGR contract between the Kenyan and Chinese governments, saying such contracts ought not to be secretive.

 “Deputy President William Ruto has an agreement with Coast MPs that if he wins the presidency, he will within the first three months issue an executive order to return ports services to Mombasa,” said Mr Omar in an earlier interview.

DP William Ruto vows to reverse SGR decisions that have 'impoverished' coastal people

Yesterday, Mombasa lobby Fast Action Movement, led by chairman Salim Karama said any leader seeking support in the coast must commit to restore the stolen economy.

Dr Ruto, on Wednesday promised to reverse a decree by President Kenyatta on the SGR that operationalised the Naivasha dry port. He said the administrative decisions that relocated core functions of the Port of Mombasa to the ICDs in Nairobi and Naivasha crippled the coast economy as clearing and forwarding agencies and truckers relocated.

The DP’s remarks sparked outrage from Nakuru leaders, who termed it planned economic sabotage.

Led by Governor Lee Kinyanjui and Nakuru West Member of Parliament Samuel Arama termed the remarks unfortunate and an orchestrated plan to economically marginalise the devolved unit.

“We are shocked and dismayed by utterances attributed to a section of leaders of the Kenya Kwanza team, promising that the Naivasha dry port and railway will be terminated should their coalition win.

“This statement is yet another indication of the contempt with which some national leaders hold Nakuru County,” said Mr Kinyanjui.

“Nakuru si Kenya? (Nakuru is not part of Kenya?). Instead of engaging in conversations on how to enlarge the national cake and reach everyone, we are entertaining retrogressive policies targeting certain regions for short-term political expediency. The remarks are unfortunate and retrogressive,” the governor added.

Former Industrialisation Chief Administrative Secretary Lawrence Karanja also termed the remarks unfortunate and misplaced.

“For a person who wants to become the President of Kenya, such remarks are very unfortunate and uncalled for. He should instead tell Kenyans how he intends to grow the economy in all parts of this country,” said Mr Karanja.

Mr Arama warned Dr Ruto against making remarks that can divide the country.

“Why should a presidential candidate want to marginalise other areas because of politics. His remarks are retrogressive and barbaric. We take this statement as a direct affront to the interests of Nakuru County and will confront it with all the force necessary,”said the lawmaker.

Since 2018, importers based in the capital and upcountry have been collecting their cargo from the Embakasi ICD, where it is delivered by rail from the port.

Last year, the government launched direct SGR cargo freight from Mombasa to the ICD in Naivasha, a move aimed at speeding up movement of goods. Cargo destined for neighbouring countries is now transported by the SGR from Mombasa to Naivasha, where transporters pick them for onward delivery.

On Wednesday Dr Ruto and his lieutenants termed the Naivasha dry port a private entity, constructed on a private farm and with little economic value to the country.

“It was never the intention of the government of Kenya to build the SGR to impoverish the coast. It was meant to make the port much more efficient, better and improve fortunes of the people at the coast. Unfortunately, a few people took it (SGR) hostage and ended up with programmes that benefit a few people to the detriment of the coast people,” said the DP.

The dry ports have eliminated the high cost linked to delays at the Mombasa Port and created a sense of ownership among landlocked states, which have been given spaces at the ports.

In 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta, officially launched Phase 2A of the SSGR from Nairobi to Naivasha. The line was an extension of the Sh327 billion Chinese-funded SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi.

The Sh150 billion line has four passenger stations – Ongata Rongai,  Ngong, Mai Mahiu and Suswa – and one inter-change station at Nachu. It cuts through Nairobi, Kajiado, Narok and Nakuru.

Cutting across a number of notable landmark features, including Ngong Hills, the Nairobi National Park and the Great Rift Valley, the meandering railway has put Maai Mahiu town on the global map.

The SGR opened room for investment opportunities as firms seek to reap from the economic zone.

The government has invested Sh6.5 billion in the ICD, including a seven-kilometre link to the Mai Mahiu-Narok road, internet and electricity connections, a business block, perimeter wall and floodlights.

Land for the planned Naivasha Industrial Park has been designated as part of the Special Economic Zone in Naivasha.

With these multi-million projects, the area, which was previously sparsely populated due to the harsh weather conditions, is expected to become a hive of activities.