What you need to know:
- Kenya Ports Authority has called for bids from private firms to operate facilities at Mombasa and Lamu ports.
- A closed-door meeting convened by Coast Parliamentary Group chairman Danson Mwashako to deliberate on the matter failed to make headway.
Plans by the State to lease sections of Mombasa and Lamu ports are testing the unity of Coast region politicians as those in the opposition challenge their Kenya Kwanza counterparts to resist the move.
Under former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime, a rare unity emerged among politicians from across the divide as they resisted attempts by the government to allow private firms to manage key port assets.
The issue would later become a hot campaign topic of the Kenya Kwanza brigade led by President William Ruto, which castigated Mr Kenyatta and his allies in Azimio la Umoja One Kenya claiming that there were plans to sell the Mombasa port. They said that influential leaders in Azimio were to benefit from the privatisation.
One year down the line, with Kenya Kwanza now in government, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has called for bids from private firms to operate facilities at Mombasa and Lamu ports.
The facilities to be placed under private firms’ management are Lamu Container Terminal berths 1 to 3, Lamu Special Economic Zone, Mombasa Port’s berths 11 to 14 and Mombasa Port Container Terminal 1.
A closed door meeting convened by Coast Parliamentary Group chairman Danson Mwashako to deliberate on the matter failed to make headway on Monday. The meeting was attended by Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi (ODM), Matuga’s Kassim Tandaza (ANC), Kilifi North’s Owen Baya (UDA) and their Mvita counterpart Masoud Machele (ODM), among others.
“We have agreed to reconvene in two weeks after consulting with all stakeholders. Besides the port, we do not have any other significant economic activity here at the Coast. Before making any decisions regarding the privatisation of the port, we will conduct multiple engagements with stakeholders to determine the preferences of the Coast people,” said Mr Mwashako.
Over the weekend, Mr Mwinyi urged Coast leaders to put their political affiliations aside and speak with one voice to protect the region’s assets. He said that politicians in other regions have often put aside their differences on crucial matters that need their unity. He gave the example of the Western region, where the government reversed an earlier plan to privatise public sugar millers after sustained opposition from political leaders.
Leaders who are against the privatisation plans say it is unwarranted because, unlike other institutions, KPA has a clean record of profitability.
“Don’t make decisions thinking we will remain mum. We will speak up because nowadays we are informed. Before making such decisions, you must involve us,” said Mr Mwinyi.
Other opposition leaders who backed his sentiments are Mombasa Senator Mohammed Faki, Kisauni MP Rashid Bedzimba and County Assembly Speaker Aharub Khatri. The leaders also raised concerns about the fate of thousands of residents currently employed by KPA.
Mr Mwashako had earlier urged the government to convene a meeting with the region’s leaders to deliberate on the matter. He said that regional leaders will unite to ensure there is transparency in the management of key resources and infrastructure in the region.
“We will speak with one voice as Coast leaders on this matter. I urge Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen to find time and sit with Coast leaders including MPs to thoroughly deliberate on this matter. We do not want our port to be privatised and our people remain without any major asset,” said the Wundanyi MP.
National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula on Sunday encouraged opposition leaders to articulate their issues on the ports matter. He said the government is willing to accommodate and implement their views.
“Point out those issues. We know President Ruto is a listening and consultative head of state. I will relay the information you’ve passed through me to him. I will tell him about the port,” he said.
Reporting by Valentine Obara, Winnie Atieno and Brian Ocharo