Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Kenya secures route to port to avert repeat of 2008 post-election crisis

By JOINT REPORT The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, March 2  2013 at  17:59

A section of the port of Mombasa. Kenyan government has also tapped into the private sector to enhance its security preparations. Photo/File
A section of the port of Mombasa. Kenyan government has also tapped into the private sector to enhance its security preparations. Photo/File  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya’s landlocked neighbours should have no cause for worry over the possibility of election violence disrupting movement of goods to and from Mombasa port if the government implements a raft of security measures it has planned.The focus for Kenya as it moves to safeguard its geostrategic position as the key trade route is securing the Northern Transport Corridor — from the port of Mombasa to the border points of Malaba and Kibish — which serves Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).Although most pundits are predicting peaceful elections in Kenya this time around, the turmoil and disruption caused to the economies of the region by the post-election violence of 2007-2008, have compelled authorities in Kenya to leave nothing to chance.A standby high level committee has been formed under the leadership of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Karanja Kibicho, to evaluate and make instant decisions that will ensure restoration of movement of goods within the shortest time possible, in case of any chaos.The government has also provided air and ground mobility units to the Kenya Police and the Railway Police to increase surveillance of the railway line to deter vandalism, as happened in 2007/08 when sections of the railway line were uprooted.

Other measures taken by the government to secure the transport corridor include placing the staff of the Kenya Railways and the Rift Valley Railways on call 24 hours; increasing efficiency at the Kenya Ports Authority to ensure goods leave the port in the shortest time possible; patrol of the highway by Kenya National Highways Authority and increasing efficiency at the weighbridges; provision of two helicopters for surveillance of the Mombasa-Malaba route; and surrender of parastatal vehicles to the police to increase their mobility.In addition, the Kenya Police said it has deployed 90,000 regular police officers and capped it with additional 23,000 special police officers drawn from paramilitary units like the National Youth Service, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Prisons.“We are fully prepared. We have been working on a pre-election strategy that ensures there is no room for suspicion over how elections are being prepared for, because any suspicion will trigger violence,” said Charles Owino, the acting police spokesman.The Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC), responsible for pumping oil from the port of Mombasa, said it has increased its stocks to ensure adequate supply across the region and has enhanced security at all its key installations.“We plan to operate as we normally do, day and night. We have enough stocks and we are assured of normal delivery,” said KPC boss Celest Kilinda.

Oil is a critical component of production and mobility in the region and any disruption of its delivery will hit the regional economies hard, reversing the gains made to slow inflation.The Kenya government has also tapped into the private security sector to take advantage of the sector’s relatively better mobility and response to public issues. Armed police officers will be attached to mobile units of private security companies to escalate policing.“We are co-operating with state security because we have adequate capability to respond to public safety situations and provide mobility to armed state officers,” said James Omwando, the chief executive officer of KK Security Group.The Northern Corridor handles 21.5 million tonnes of cargo every year, with 12.5 million tonnes destined for Kenya, and the rest in transit to other countries. Some 95 per cent of this cargo is transported by road because of the underperformance of the railway system.The railway system is highly vulnerable as its operations were grounded during the 2007/08 violence, when protesters cut off sections of the line, stopping wagons from transporting any goods.Any disruption of transport along the Northern Corridor would see Kenya lose out on one of its key strategic advantages in the region, as its East Africa Community partners seek the alternative Central Corridor, served by the port of Dar es Salaam.ALSO READ: Pay traders over chaos, EABC tells Kenya

Already, Tanzania, in order to strengthen the Central Corridor, has been building a dual carriage road network between Dar es Salaam and Burundi.Uganda has built wagons and ferries plying between Mwanza, Jinja and Kisumu.Kenya may have escaped blame for the 2007/08 disruptions along the route that drove inflation in some of the countries because of delays in delivery of oil and other essential commodities, as the violence was abrupt and the scale unexpected.But a repeat would project the country as not being concerned about the welfare of its EAC neighbours using the Northern Corridor.In addition to revenue losses, disruption of the transport route would further contribute to the decline of Kenya’s geopolitical importance and project the country as a failed state that cannot contain internal violence.The rising geopolitical importance of Tanzania in the region — by virtue of its Dar es Salaam port and the Central Corridor — is partly attributed to the post-election violence that exposed Kenya’s weak policing and intelligence systems, an image the country will be seeking to repair.The port of Mombasa handles most of the imports and exports for the landlocked countries. Uganda is the biggest regional customer for the port of Mombasa, accounting for 80 per cent of cargo. Tanzania, DR Congo and Rwanda account for five per cent each and Sudan 3.5 per cent.The port of Dar es Salaam has increased its market share in East Africa, handling 16 per cent more containerised cargo last year, thanks to road improvement, eating into Mombasa’s share.

Fearing a repeat of the post-election violence in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda had started making alternative plans to use the port of Dar as Salaam.The two countries prefer to use Mombasa for most imports and exports because it is more efficient compared with Dar es Salaam. For instance, only about 1 per cent of Ugandan imports are handled at Dar es Salaam and about 40 per cent of Rwanda’s.“Dar es Salaam port is a shorter route and less costly, but there is poor service delivery by the port authorities; we thus prefer the Northern Corridor, which is swift in clearing our goods,” said Theodore Murenzi, the president of the Rwanda Truck Drivers Association.Rwanda’s Minister for Trade and Industry Francois Kanimba said the country had taken contingency measures to use the Tanzanian port for most of its imports during the election period in Kenya.“It is true that changing of import and export routes is due to the fear that traders have that their cargo may be destroyed in case violence erupts in the aftermath of the Kenyan elections,” said Mr Kanimba.ALSO READ: Wary Rwandan traders to closely watch Kenya elections

In January, Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding with Tanzania to increase its use of the port of Dar as Salaam as the country seeks to create an alternative route to cushion itself from future disruption of the Northern Corridor.Under the MoU, Uganda will provide two locomotives and 200 wagons to facilitate cargo transportation from Dar es Salaam to Mutukula, the shared border point.President Yoweri Museveni last week urged Uganda traders to utilise the new transport corridor to avoid losses in case of violence in Kenya.It will cost Ugandan traders $1,200 more to transport a 20-foot-container through the Central Corridor than it would cost through the Northern Corridor, putting more pressure on consumers there.Some traders in Rwanda, Uganda and eastern DRC have stocked up on import requirements to last until early April, when the second round of presidential elections would be held in case there is no winner in the first round.In Rwanda, the stock-up is necessary because most businesses do not have political risk insurance, said John Bosco Rusagara, chairperson of the Rwanda Freight and Forwarders Association.

“We don’t have a political insurance policy to cover us in a foreign country because it is too expensive to afford and if one did, it would be way above the value of the cargo,” he said.Rwanda’s imports through Mombasa increased to 247,730 tonnes in 2012 from 216,306 tonnes handled in 2011, while exports were 12,508 tonnes in 2012, up from 9,787 tonnes the previous year, according to data from the Kenya Ports Authority.Uganda had transit traffic of 4.85 million tonnes in 2012, up from 4.38 million tonnes recorded the previous year.However, Uganda’s exports through Mombasa declined marginally to 346,193 tonnes in 2012, against 347,314 tonnes handled in 2011. South Sudan’s total traffic of 766,656 tonnes in 2012 was up from 417,033 tonnes in 2011 and 223,467 tonnes in 2010.
By Steve Mbogo, Mwaura Kimani and Alex Ngarambe

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