SMEs roar back to life as port operations return to Mombasa
Next to the 1.2-kilometre road linking the Port of Mombasa and the new Changamwe interchange, Titus Maina, a local carpenter cum mason, is busy putting up a temporary business structure.
This is one of the first signs that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that had collapsed are slowly creeping back following the partial return of port operation.
Maina has been contracted by Anthony Mwashighadi, a local businessman, to reconstruct a makeshift mechanical spare parts outlet, on a mission to resuscitate the business that had closed down for almost four years.
For Mwashighadi who runs multiple small businesses along the road, the mandatory railing of cargo from the Port of Mombasa to Nairobi had literally killed the local economy and he was forced to close down his businesses.
He, however, says the directive by President William Ruto to revert the port operation services to the port city of Mombasa has rekindled hopes of economic revival.
Money to spend
Mwashighadi explains that before SGR came they were doing their businesses on the other side of the road, adding that the place was busy and businesses around were booming because truck drivers on transit had money to spend.
“They would need food, refreshments, spare parts and more besides. So I put up a spare parts outlet, an eatery and a pool table. Truckers were my main clients. But shortly after 2018, everything was shattered,” he adds. The situation was further compounded by a project to expand that road that saw the new road drift further from businesses, a situation that piled misery on the owners.
In June 2018, the government introduced plans to have cargo arriving at the Port of Mombasa transported on the Standard Gauge Railway for clearance at the inland container depots.
The June directive, according to the businessman, came with massive disruption of small businesses around Mombasa port, forcing multitudes of residents to leave and seek their livelihoods elsewhere.
Mwashighadi points to one of his closed businesses in the middle of a trail of other abandoned kiosks across the road. At the door, step is a rolling carpet of dust that crawls and hugs the door posts and latches, a confirmation that multiple years have gone by since the businesses were last opened. But that was then.
Now, a different story is taking root. Following President Ruto’s directive that the clearing of goods and other operational issues be reverted to the Port of Mombasa, operators of SMEs are confident of better days ahead. “Finally trucks are slowly coming back to our roads, and as you can see we are slowly resuming. That’s why you can see we are busy fixing structures to go on with our businesses,” Mwashighadi says.
Another resident, John Wambua, is a happy man. Since he left his rural home in Kitui County and moved to Mombasa after finishing High School 15 years ago, he says he has relied on transit trucks for survival.
“I normally sell things like reflectors, chains, water and things that truckers need. On a good day, I would make between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500. In 2019 I had to switch to other jobs like working on a construction site. I had to send my family back home. But now I am happy that our lifeline is back,” says Wambua who reckons the business is picking slowly.
In Changamwe mainland and beyond, Container Freights Stations (CFS) that were badly hit by the 2018 cargo clearance directive have started roaring back to business.
One such facility is Interpel CFS, which has handled 30 containers since Kenya Ports Authority began implementing President Ruto’s directive on reversion of Port Operations.
Interpel Manager Gabriel Mwamba says CFS operations are finally going back to normal, adding that some members of staff who lost their jobs have been recalled.