LAPSSET LAUNCHED IN LAMU
Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Gen. Salva Kiir of Southern Sudan were joined by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Menes Zenawi in the formal ground breaking ceremony yesterday at Lamu, jointly laying a foundation stone and committing their respective countries to one of the largest infrastructure project ever in Eastern Africa.
The new port in Lamu will according to plans be linked by a highway and a railway to Northern Kenya, before a branch is leading off towards Ethiopia while the main routes continue to Southern Sudan.
This will give Kenya a competitive advantage in trade with the two neighbouring countries, as it can offer not just a safe export route to a new sea port but also facilitate the sale of Kenyan manufactured goods to Southern Sudan and Ethiopia. Southern Sudan in addition has plans to construct an oil pipeline to Lamu from their production fields, to make the present pipeline which runs through hostile Northern Sudanese territory to Port Sudan redundant, further cementing ties with Kenya as close cooperation partners, and a signed Memorandum of Understanding between the two East African countries has turned the contractual negotiations over these plans on solid ground.
In their keynote addresses did Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki assured Lamu residents that their rights would be upheld and respected, including the issue of title deeds to those hitherto staying on ancestral land without the modern instruments of ownership in place, while Gen. Salva Kiir of Southern Sudan promised a long term and mutually beneficial partnership as his government continues to suffer of hostile intent and purpose from the regime in Khartoum, now set to be replaced as the main trading and route partners by Kenya.
In neighbouring Uganda though apprehension is growing over the establishment of these new road and rail links, as it will offer a geographically direct route between Kenya and Southern Sudan, making the current detour via Kampala in the long term redundant and giving Kenyan manufacturers a competitive advantage due to lower transportation costs for goods shipped to Southern Sudan. Presently Uganda is a key trading partner for Southern Sudans business community and while access from Kampala to Juba is shorter, easier access to broadly cheaper goods from Kenya will very likely impact on trade volumes once the new highway and railway are completed in a few years time. Uganda is also pursuing a different strategy for the oil and gas reserves, intending to process and refine locally and export value added white fuels into the region, while Southern Sudan seems set to export crude via the new port in Lamu.
The multi trillion Kenya Shilling project is set to kick off next week with the start of the first construction phase for the harbour, where it is understood an initial three cargo berths are to be created in addition to a state of the are crude oil loading terminal.
Tourism stakeholders are both optimistic as well as cautious over the Lamu developments and while some fear that the UNESCO World Heritage Status may in the medium term become unsustainable with the new developments springing up all over the Lamu area, others especially the stakeholders in Lamu itself are hoping for a boom in business. Said one regular source in a mail overnight: This is the start of a lot of improvements here in Lamu. We are due to get a good tarmac road to Malindi, linking us to Mombasa. Our aerodrome is going to be improved for even better services and maybe even to handle small jets. The inflow of visitors, delegations and expatriate workers will bring a lot of business for the hotels and resorts here, for transport, for guides. The only thing we are concerned about is that our environment is protected, because the mangrove forests and swamps and the old Lamu town are of critical importance. We need a clean environment to promote Lamu holidays and any pollution is going to be very bad for us, so my colleagues and I hope government listens to good advice from the environmental consultants.
It is expected that airlines already licensed to fly on the Nairobi to Lamu or the Mombasa / Malindi to Lamu routes will in due course add flights and use larger aircraft while new applications are expected to be filed with the Kenya Civil Aviation in due course to be ready when boom town Kenya goes underway.
Watch this space.