The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) corridor project got its biggest boost yet after it was adopted as an African Union project.
It will be redesigned to link the Sh32 billion Lamu port on the shores of the Indian Ocean to the Douala port in Cameroon, on the Atlantic Ocean.
The project will be implemented in two phases — starting with the Lamu-Isiolo-Addis Ababa-Djibouti route before embarking on connecting Lamu to Kribi/Douala via Juba and Bangui.
The announcement has given Nairobi the much needed boost for its flagship multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project that has dragged on for years.
Speaking during the signing of a memorandum of understating between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan in Mombasa, AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development Raila Odinga said the organisation had adopted Lapsset as a continental project and this would now see it get implemented under the AU.
“This project will now not only connect Kenya with Ethiopia and South Sudan, but with other West Africa countries once it is completed. As an AU project, it will link with other continental corridors such as East Africa Northern Corridor, East Africa Central Corridor and provide a land bridge through the African Great Lakes region,” Mr Odinga said
The three countries signed the MoU that will now help the project to facilitate its infrastructure development and funding. Attending the three-day meeting were prospective financiers of the project, the African Development Bank (AfDB), a boost for the project that has so far been funded only by Kenya.
“The new regional project implementation programme will assist partner countries to hasten the development of the project and this commitment will attract more financiers to bring this project to a success. In the past, each country has been funding its own projects, but the MoU will facilitate crowd funding,” Mr Odinga said.
The three countries — with AfDB, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU-Nepad) — agreed to form a representative steering committee to coordinate implementation of the corridor.
They also agreed to initiate dialogue between Lapsset footprint states towards a shared approach and establishment of an institutional mechanism for implementing the project.
“We mandate the existing representative technical committees supporting this initiative to continue with the dialogue and engagement to enable implementation of the roadmap,” their joint communique reads in part.
Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia noted that the Lamu port project was now a regionally accepted project, with the MoU and the current tangible deliverables giving the project an opportunity to attract more investors.
“The project has been adopted by the AU and this will give it an upper hand in crowd funding apart from the usual independent countries’ budget allocations. Since its launch, each country has been funding its projects single-handedly, but now we shall fund as a region,” Mr Macharia said.
Launched in 2012, the project has been delayed by cash constraints and lack of political goodwill, slowing down its implementation. In 2015, Lapsset was admitted to the AU Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, under Nepad and subsequently to the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative project under the AU Commission. Once completed, it will offer the county its second-largest corridor after the Northern Corridor.
The project adoption by the AU gives the programme sufficient mileage and exposure to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and attract more financiers compared to its status during its launch eight years ago.
“During the adoption of the project in our recent meeting, lack of infrastructure was cited as a major impediment in doing business and this project will create a link from Lamu port and help ease trade by reducing the distance through an efficient land transport system,” he said.
Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Melos Alem, who witnessed the signing of the document, denied claims that his country has dumped the project to concentrate on connecting with Eritrea ports, Assab and Massawa, which are closer to Ethiopia compared to the Lamu port.
“We are a large country and need infrastructure to make business cheaper, that is why we are investing on Lapsset corridor. Already, we have tarmacked more than 500 kilometres from Moyale to Awasa. Our presence here should send a clear signal that we are for the project,” Mr Alem said.
Besides the Eritrean ports, Ethiopia also has the option of using ports in Djibouti and Hargeisa in Somaliland.
“We also need to understand that southern Ethiopia, with a population of close to 50 million people, will be best served by the Lamu port in comparison to the Eritrean or Djibouti port that Ethiopia is currently using,” Mr Alem said.
Kenya has already completed the first berth of the Lamu port under the Sh2.4 trillion Lapsset project, which also comprises link roads from Kenya to Ethiopia, a pipeline to Kenya’s northern region, and international airport in Isiolo town, which is also complete.
In the original plan, the project comprised a 32-berth port, transport hubs for rail, a highway and international airports in Lamu, Isiolo and Lodwar, an oil pipeline from South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia to Lamu, an oil refinery and three resort cities in Isiolo, Lamu and Turkana.