Elevating our ports to commercial nerve centres
Wednesday, October 9th, 2019
My tenure at the Kenya Ports Authority has been hugely illuminating. Every so often, I entertain thoughts of all manner of unexplored possibilities that I believe would expand the role our ports play in enhancing our economic interests.
Yes, my learning curve has been steep, but equally rewarding. Unbeknownst to most Kenyans, the Port of Mombasa alone is an economic behemoth.
It is an awe-inspiring commercial hub with massive potential. Add the upcoming Lamu Port and Corridor alongside other national ports’ ecosystem and you get a whole bigger picture of our ports’ economy.
Over time, I have particularly appreciated that a well-functioning port can actually change our economic fortunes tremendously.
But this can only happen if will instil efficiency and good governance in our operations. Efficiency because inept port systems punish and are likely to scare away importers, exporters, shipping lines and travellers.
On the overall, the foremost quest we must not lose sight of at any one time is how to progressively accentuate the strategic role sea and lake ports play in an economy like ours.
The focus on the Blue Economy in our policy framework in recent days is informed by the gross underutilisation of our “blue” resources.
All too often in this part of the world, seaports and ports along lakeshores tend to be appreciated in exclusion of the rich hinterlands they serve.
Hardly is much thought spared for the massive economic-bound networks ports are linked to.
Sadly, ports tend to be viewed as commercial enclaves that exist primarily to serve insular mercantile ends for a select few.
This dim perspective is misguided. Such a view is oblivious of the immense significance and complex interplay of resources, services and commercial facilitation that, in the first place, necessitate the establishment of ports.
In my view, for Kenya’s ports to play their rightful role in the economy, it is crucial that we start treating them as strategic national investments, and protect them from hit-and-run vendors out for an overnight kill and all shades of fly-by-night freebooters.
To move our ports to the next level, three imperatives as crucial.
First, especially given our unique and privileged geographical position, is how we attract more sea-borne commercial activity in our ports. This would mean greater revenue.
Thankfully, as the construction works at the Lamu Port continue apace, the Mombasa port is on a modernisation and expansion mission.
The modernisation involves the redesign of docking wharfs to enable the discharge of cargo from multiple vessels at a go.
This will increase our discharge throughput while substantially cutting down on the time ships take to offload.
The expansion is reclaiming the sea to create more docking space for bigger vessels in anticipation of the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone.
The second imperative rests upon our ability to improve the quality of our port infrastructure. Already, the port of Mombasa has upgraded its infrastructure phenomenally.
Additionally, the construction of Kenya’s first-ever Cruise Terminal is underway. The modern, world-class infrastructure of the Lamu Port promises to give Kenya a first in the region.
Add that to the ongoing work along the shores of Lake Victoria and the challenge shifts to the entrepreneur keen on making use of Kenya’s new era port infrastructure.
The third imperative has to do with our port’s performance index in logistics. We have reviewed our operations over the past few months with a view to establishing the gaps we need to address.
KPA’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan pinpoints these gaps and the work of transforming KPA is firmly afoot.
Clearly, the future of KPA holds a great promise for our economy. The writer is Managing Director, Kenya Ports Authority