In May, the Chinese snub of President Uhuru Kenyatta over the Sh380 billion loan to extend the standard gauge railway (SGR) from Naivasha to Kisumu hurt deeply.
It took the President three weeks to regain composure over a guarantor turned tormentor.
The China rebuff hurt deep given the hype that made SGR loan the only reason the President and his cohort Raila Odinga had gone to China.
Then, Kenyans legitimately questioned the maleficence audacity in Cabinet Secretary James Macharia’s Transport behemoth ministry shuttling the President to Beijing for a phantom initialling of a non-existent loan facility.
Nonetheless, there was also legitimate concern by SGR critics that there was no sense splashing Sh14 billion into Kisumu infrastructure absent the SGR extension to haul goods and people past Naivasha.
The missing logic was how Kisumu would become the enviable modern port, hub and gateway for inter-East Africa trade it was being showcased to be, without the missing Naivasha SGR limb.
This misgiving was lent credence by the unfortunate PR disaster of CS Macharia intimating development of Kisumu Port was conditional to the extension of SGR from Naivasha.
But that is water under the bridge and assiduousness has won the day; it is better to prepare Kisumu Port for future hinterland trade than retain its moribund state.
Kisumu is set for the unveiling of a Sh3 billion refurbished port, which involves a ship assembly yard.
That is not all; Sh3 billion Special Economic Zone (SEZ) industrial park sprawl on 1,000 acres in Muhoroni - to employ 25,000 at peak - and Kisumu International Airport will also be upgraded for cargo haulage.
This has not come without shrill local objectors that have decried the demolitions and eviction of squatter-traders from Lwang’ni beach and Kenya Railways land.
Bar any unmitigated exigencies; the hullabaloo against locating assets in Kisumu will be eased by the multiplier benefits of a thriving maritime economy through this unprecedented massive infrastructural investment in a single city in Kenya.
If this can be pulled off, Kisumu will not only be a boon for the western lake section of the country, but also the entire East Africa region.
What needs to be rebutted is the notion that viability of “Kisumu Port Project” is only conditional to SGR reaching the city.
The opposite is viable; a thriving and vibrant Kisumu Port will be the magnet that attracts the SGR extension from Naivasha.
The port is an immediate boon to Lake Victoria counties of Kisumu, Vihiga, Busia, Migori and Homa Bay, and their nine affiliates in the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB).
It therefore behoves these counties to develop a stream of feeder trade products that will increase vitality at the Port.
The LREB ought to leverage the Sh14 billion investment in Kisumu to “revive the SGR dream”.
The completion of the Naivasha-Kisumu SGR line should precipitate lobbying for automatic extension to the Uganda border via the towns of Luanda in Vihiga, Butere in Kakamega and Malaba in Busia counties.
The LREB counties should also embrace the Kisumu SEZ as a boon for agricultural produce value-addition and exports via the port to the EAC region.
Immediate beneficiaries from SEZ and an efficient port are the agriculture dependent Western, South and North Rift counties.
The closeness of a county like Vihiga has a comparative advantage over developments in Kisumu to revamp its wasteful and unproductive peasant agriculture to more profit-oriented commercial agri-business and horticulture.
The county should intensify the ongoing pace of capitalising residents with rain water harvesting storage facilities for irrigation, and supply of fingerlings, chicks for poultry, dairy cattle and Ovacado seedlings.
The bane of fish and maize produce will be boosted in value addition and marketing across Lake Victoria.
Fish will be sold to SEZ canning establishments while maize is offloaded to SEZ millers.
Producers will no longer depend on the goodwill of corrupt government agencies to set prices and buy their produce.
They will benefit from market-driven supply and demand commodity pricing. The 14-member LREB should see to that.
Most of the LREB counties have huge untapped potential for horticulture, and an upgraded Kisumu Airport to handle cargo direct to international markets is an appetiser that should get the LREB counties salivating.
Current uncertainty by LREB members is therefore not good for potential investors at the SEZ and Port.
Ambiguity will undermine the confidence of investors interested in taking advantage of a full-fledged port.
But the interim absence of SGR links should be seized as an advantage for LREB traders to feed and evacuate cargo because Kisumu Port has a hinterland that stretches to DRC.
The LREB should also headline lobbying for increase of port viability through an EAC initiated “Road and Belt Project” around Lake Victoria.
The road will be crucial for revamping lake haulage outlets at Homa Bay, Muhuru Bay in Homa Bay, Asembo Bay in Siaya and Sio Port in Busia counties in Kenya to compete against Musoma, Mwanza and Bukoba ports in Tanzania, and Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja in Uganda.