Lamu is about to be transformed, thanks to the construction of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project. The Lamu Port project is part of the Belt and Road initiative – a global infrastructure development strategy spearheaded by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this project will be the northern sector of Kenya; a region long marginalized and starved of development. The multibillion-shilling project is being undertaken by the Chinese Company, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
In demonstration of the government’s seriousness about the project, President Uhuru Kenyatta on 20th May, 2021 presided over the launch of the first berth of the Ksh310 billion Lamu Port, expected to be the largest deep-water port in Sub-Saharan Africa. The port is designed to have 32 berths, 29 of which will be financed by the private sector under a public-private-partnership arrangement.
Initiated in 2012 during President Mwai Kibaki’s administration in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030, the project would, however, never have seen the light of day without the personal oversight of President Kenyatta. Like many mega projects, it had many critics who preferred that the resources would have been better invested in sectors with immediate impact on livelihoods.
The President, while acknowledging the views of the critics, remained fully aware of the long term economic, social and environmental impact not just on Kenya but on the entire region and the continent. Significantly, the project will open up Kenya’s northern districts, a region that has long suffered the effects of economic neglect characterized by limited or nonexistent infrastructure.
The Al Shabaab Terrorist Network and its affiliates, which had turned the frontier into their playground, essentially took advantage of its difficult-to-access swathes of land and the people’s disillusionment with their situation. The project will see Lamu and Northern Kenya connected by rail and road to South Sudan and Ethiopia, solidifying Kenya’s position as the major trade and transport hub in East Africa and the region.
Ultimately, Northern Kenya will be connected to what is known as the Middle Belt of Africa, which runs from Dakar, Senegal to Lamu. There couldn’t have been a better gift to the people of Northern Kenya.
As works on the port progress, the construction of the 114km Garsen–Witu-Lamu Road which will facilitate movement of cargo in and out of the port is also moving at a good speed. This is the answer to those who suggested that the port is being built in the middle of nowhere without corresponding road network.
When completed, the port will have a carrying capacity of 12,000 to 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The true impact of the port on Kenya’s economy will be realized when cargo to and from the region starts coming in and out of the port. The port will serve as a key shipment area in East Africa and the Horn, competing favourably with Durban and Djibouti.
When the Port is completed as scheduled in October 2021, and with improved infrastructure, the face of Lamu will be transformed. We expect improved security in the area, thanks to better roads and ease of movement, which will be followed, quite naturally, by increased local and foreign investments and the multiplicity of jobs they will create.
Already, more than 1,500people from the local community have gained employment in the project. The port project has also facilitated skills transfer especially in oil and gas sector, civil engineering works and in vocational skills such as plumbing, welding, and carpentry among others.
The true impact of the port on Kenya’s economy will be realized when cargo to and from the region starts coming in and out.
The Chinese are equipping local engineers and technicians and other workers with technical and maintenance knowledge, skills that is not only necessary for Kenya’s future but will also give the individual engineers a competitive advantage in the search for similar jobs in the region.
The skills and knowledge transfer is one of the big harvests from our partnership with the company and the Chinese in general. It is up to the Kenyan people to consolidate and incubate these skills so that we can work alongside the Chinese on equal footing and ultimately reduce our reliance on foreign experts to build our infrastructure.
Business is already responding to the expected benefits from the port. There has been a notable increase rise in the number of local and foreign tourists in the area with the obvious beneficiaries being the tourism industry particularly transport and hospitality.
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Land prices in the region have similarly appreciated. While initially an acre of a land could be acquired for a measly Ksh100,000, the same piece is now going for five times the amount and there is every indication it is going to increase significantly when the construction of both the port and the Garsen-Witu-Lamu Road are complete.
The Lamu Port reflects the boldness and clarity of vision that Kenya requires to become a prosperous and newly industrialized, middle-income country by 2030.