Kenya’s pillar for economic growth rests on the infrastructure and trade policy regime. For the past two decades, particularly with the publication of the Kenya Vision 2030 in 2008, great emphasis has been laid on infrastructure development. Major highways and airports have since been developed.
One of the main projects envisaged in this plan is the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project intended to create a new trunk, including railway, roads and airports, linking three countries and with the objective of promoting regional trade. As conceived, it offers great promise for Kenya.
However, the project has been moving in fits and starts for several years, largely due to lack of funding. Notably, it was rolled out at a time when the government was also involved in other major infrastructure projects such as the standard gauge railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Nairobi and the hinterland.
The new development, where Lapsset is being taken up and upgraded into a continental venture, is a milestone. The project is being incorporated among projects being undertaken by the African Union (AU) and will extend to West Africa, up to the Douala port in Cameroon. Cutting through the continent, it will link the Indian Ocean in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
In 2018, Africa’s Heads of State launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), ostensibly to pursue that goal. Underpinning this was the concern that the continent had lagged behind due to trade and policy restrictions. African countries hardly traded among themselves. Contrastingly, individual nations traded in a big way with Western and Asian states in an arrangement that was skewed against them since they exported cheap raw materials, yet imported expensive finished products.
The irony of intra-Africa trade is manifest in policies and services. Few airlines fly across the continent. Visa requirements are constricting and made worse by political hostilities. Africa’s economic blocs are struggling and are yet to make an impact on the national economies. While African countries are inward-looking, Europe, the Americas and Asia are the opposite. The European Union, for example, is a vast bloc that has exploited its unified struggle to thrive in trade, infrastructure and social services.
Placing Lapsset at the heart of the continental infrastructure development plan is worth support because of the promises it heralds. But we are alive to the AU’s shortfalls, including financial and technical, which perennially undermine the continent’s progress. It should fundraise and mobilise resources to accomplish Lapsset and other projects it has earmarked. That is the surest path to economic prosperity and, ultimately, political stability.