The national government is racing against time to launch the multi-billion shilling Kisumu Port even as experts raise concerns on the sustainability of the project.
On Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta made an impromptu visit to the port to address the concerns.
As the Kenya Port Authority insisted the facility was ready for launch, the President took issue with the delay.
The port was supposed to be launched on August 15 but the ceremony was indefinitely postponed. State House spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo said there were no updates concerning the afternoon visit.
At the port, the President was taken through a guided tour of the revamped Sh3 billion facility. Security was tight as police restricted entry.
The press was also kept at bay. Sources said the President toured the main port, the Kenya Maritime Institute and the dry dock.
“He was briefed for close to two hours before he held another meeting at the Kisumu State Lodge,” a source told the Nation. Experts have however raised concerns that threaten the sustainability of the port.
The Nation has established that the ‘overlooked’ hyacinth menace and dredging that is yet to take place may prove to be a problem in the next few months and stall port operations.
In the envisioned revamp of the lake transport designed by the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), there were four components; removal and management of water hyacinth, dredging of the port and construction of a 63.1-kilometre-long canal into deep waters, complete with navigational aids.
The others were upgrading of the Port of Kisumu with a capacity to handle 4,000 containers, and resuscitating the Kisumu-Nakuru Metre Gauge Railway. Currently, only modernisation of the port is in progress.
The port upgrade has been fast-tracked by the Ports Project Implementation Team. It will be launched by President Kenyatta. Regional Heads of State have also been invited. Already, railway lines from the port to the Kenya Pipeline Company depot have been renovated, all the way to the docks.
Renovation of MV Uhuru is also complete. It is one of East Africa’s biggest cargo vessels that broke down 13 years ago and is set to resume operations to Uganda and Tanzania. It is currently in Uganda. Loading cranes have also been installed and speed boats branded.
Concerns have however been raised on the sustainability since the first two components are important.
Mr Obora Okoth, head of research and resource mobilisation in charge of maritime transport in Lake Victoria, says the issue has been underestimated.
“In about two to three months, the weed will be back, there is need to address the menace once and for all and not carrying out one component in isolation. This may hamper the full utilisation of the port,” said Mr Okoth.
Mr Okoth, who is a member of the Kisumu Port Project Implementation Team where he represents the 14 counties of LREB, said failure to dredge the port will affect navigation. Dredging was to take about 18 months.
Report by Victor Raballa, Rushdie Oudia and Justus Ochien’g