When elephants fight it is the grass which suffers goes the saying in Africa but here the grass is Kenyas crucially important aviation industry, as the countrys airport authority, responsible for the main hub in Nairobi and other airports across the country, descends further into infighting and what appears to be systematic anarchy.
At the core of the relentless fights over contracts and tenders is the plan to build a major new extension to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, often referred to as Project Greenfield, which includes the construction of the long overdue second runway for the airport but also a range of new terminal facilities, able to cater for traffic increases deep into the century.
The Minister for Transport, embattled and hugely controversial Amos Kimunya, no stranger to being lambasted by parliamentary committees and already removed from cabinet before, had locked horns over the tender award for the project to a Chinese company, which he wanted cancelled. Utterances in the direction of his President, who is reportedly keen to lay the foundation stone for the project before he leaves office, to the effect that he, Kimunya, did not care or bother who breaks ground, raised the heat and his dismissive attitude towards a legal opinion by the Kenyan Attorney General over the dangers of cancelling the contract made further headlines in the local media, as well as waves in cabinet, which is now in its final countdown toward the March 2013 general election and appears ever more divided along party lines and in pushing for personal interests.
With Kimunya told to hold his horses until cabinet as a whole has reviewed the various positions submitted, he nevertheless went ahead and appointed a new committee comprising sections of the board of KAA thought loyal to him and in a surprise action did the KAA board then suspend the authoritys CEO Stephen Gichuki, sending him on compulsory leave to facilitate yet more investigations, aka doing their masters bidding.
Gichukis tenure, as was his predecessors, were marked by both achievements as well as intense controversy and squabbles with airlines, in particular over a major electricity outage at Mombasas international airport, then followed by a series of similar failures in Nairobi which has a huge financial impact on the affected airlines. KAA is also under pressure to deliver on the completion of the ongoing expansion works for a new adjoining terminal building, linked to the present terminal, creating more aircraft parking spaces and generally uplifting standards and operational efficiency in running East Africas premier aviation hub. Added mishaps, like a boiler explosion in Nairobi or a fire in the newly restored VIP lounge in Mombasa added further pressure on KAA before at least two known contempt of court charges were brought against Gichuki and the KAA over the willful destruction of an entire housing estate on disputed land adjoining the JKIA perimeter.
Said a regular and usually very outspoken aviation source from Nairobi overnight: You are aware of my feelings about the professionalism of KAA. They should sack all those useless bureaucrats, the same with the KCAA by the way, and bring in a new breed of professionals unsullied by the dirty game of politics and corruption. What vested interests does that minister have and I hope parliament exposes those and gives him marching orders again. All we in the industry see is more delays while they fight over the spoils of multibillion Shilling contracts and trying to make a quick buck on the back of those. Every day the second runway is delayed we are at risk to se JKIA close down when there is an incident on the runway. The cost of diverting planes and the subsequent delays in the schedules of all airlines, especially of Kenya Airways, is massive. Every day we suffer the congestion in the terminal, the apron or in car parks is a day lost because passengers are not happy with what they find when they arrive, depart or transit in Nairobi. It is time to acknowledge that the political games are putting the entire sector at risk and because we so depend on the airlines to export our produce, to bring tourists and visitors, can we afford to just stand by the sidelines and watch this?
Acting CEO is now the KAA Deputy CEA Matthew Wamalwa while Gichuki is pondering his fate and misfortunes for an indeterminate period of time, however long the investigations may take. Watch this space.