Reconsider value of Lamu Port for region
The fanfare that accompanied the recent groundbreaking ceremony of the intended construction of a new port in Lamu and the Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset), commonly referred to as the Lamu Corridor, is still fresh in out minds.
Many studies have identified poor infrastructure and lukewarm intra-African trade as some of the biggest challenges to the continent’s competitiveness.
It is, therefore, not surprising that countries in this region are keen to break these historical barriers through joint infrastructure projects.
The political dynamics in South Sudan, with its rich oil deposits, and Ethiopia’s protracted tension in the north presented the much-needed incentive to commit to this project.
Yet it is ironical that projects like this have the potential to stagnate development. Apart from the possibility of underutilisation, the Lamu Port’s impact on the environment and domestic industry should be weighed against expected benefits.
As a signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity and related multilateral agreements, Kenya must exercise utmost restraint over initiatives whose environmental damage is predictable.
The economic benefits of Lamu as a world heritage site and the natural habitats that this project will inevitably disrupt far outweigh its projected revenue arising primarily from oil and unsustainable agricultural exports from Southern Sudan and Ethiopia respectively. In addition, we are yet to fully explore alternatives.
The notion that modern day development is achievable purely through mega projects is misplaced as it ignores the place of technology and, for Africa, the contribution of “small” industries at this stage in achieving sustainable industrialisation.
In any case, the problem for Kenya has never really been a question of infrastructure; rather it is their inefficiency to deliver in tandem with national economic planning due to institutional lethargy and corruption.
To a certain degree, this is the problem with the port in Mombasa, which consistently performs below par. I believe that, with technological modernisation and elimination of vested interests, the Mombasa port’s turnover can accommodate more than 10 times the expectations of Lamu.
If complemented with modern and well managed railways, there probably will be no need for another transport corridor.
Another factor to consider is the danger of cheap imports being dumped in our markets. Africa’s path to sustainable development has largely been frustrated by cheap imports that harm local industries.
Consequently, basic industries like textile and manufacturing have collapsed, leading to high rates of joblessness. African governments should give priority to supporting the revival of these sectors to allow value-added products for export before allowing competing imports.
Available statistics show that the East African Community and other Lapsset partners have not done enough to revive local industries that collapsed in the 1980s.
Unless these challenges are addressed, the Lamu Port risks turning into yet another route for dumping products into our markets once the Sudanese oil runs out. Support for local production ought to take priority over economically incoherent projects.
The writer is an advocate and doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong. email@example.com.