Ray of hope for region as new Kisumu port set to be opened

Lakeside residents hope there will be a tint of optimism in the New Year. Courtesy.

After a long wait mired in uncertainty and last-minute cancellations, President Uhuru Kenyatta is set to finally commission the refurbished Kisumu Port. The President while fielding questions from journalists in Mombasa after his address to the nation said he will be in Kisumu in a few weeks to open the port. “We are still focused on the Blue Economy. We have rehabilitated the port of Kisumu and hopefully in a few weeks’ time, we will be there to open it,” said the President. Although the head of state did not divulge the exact date, sources indicate that it could be early February.

The launch will end months of disquiet among Kisumu residents many of whom lost property following demolition of their structures to pave way for expansion of the port. After the announcement by the President, residents whose hopes had been dampened after three postponements of the port opening, expressed their eagerness. Last week, Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o announced that the President would open the port on January 14 (yesterday), but this was quickly cancelled by government officials.

The facility is billed as the biggest handshake project in Nyanza following the historic handshake between Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Kisumu County officials say the facility will open business opportunities and transform the town into a regional economic hub in western Kenya and East Africa. Prof Nyong’o was hopeful that the opening of the port would revive the economy of the region. “We are optimistic the port will boost the economy of this region,” he said. Before expansion, operations at the facility had been underwhelming with only a handful of vessels docking at the port, with the situation made worse by the stubborn water hyacinth weed which had paralysed business. A giant wagon ferry MV Uhuru has been renovated and is among the vessels expected to increase activity at the port.

As the port awaits official opening, reports indicate that operations at the facility have already begun, with MV Uhuru said to have started shipping oil to neighbouring Uganda – the first  consignment being 22 wagons loaded with 894,000 litres of diesel last December, according to port authorities. Initially, there was confusion over the exact cost of revamping the port. It was earlier reported the project would cost Sh3 billion, but later reports from DCI indicated the actual cost was Sh700 million. With its expansion, the government is eyeing enhanced bilateral trade with its neighbours along the lake basin. Although the over five-month delay had dampened the spirits of many locals, especially those whose property was flattened during the upgrade, the announcement of the launch is a sign that things are looking up. “We are hoping that its opening will open for us new business opportunities,” said Josephine Anyango, a hotelier.

The port is touted to have the potential to create thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly – in shipping, logistics as well as lake transport. Questions, however, remain whether the port will live up to its expectations. According to the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industries, 10,000 residents were rendered jobless following the demolitions. The popular fish joints along the lake, Lwang’ni, relocated to Dunga while traders along Akamba Bus Park have moved to the main bus stage.