The endorsement of the Lamu Port by the Executive in July provided the beginning of what could be a major transformation of the economic and infrastructure map of Kenya, and in deed for the wider region. This will be a grassroots project that apparently has been discussed and studied since 1975, but which has now been given the political and official green light to proceed.
The executive requires that all relevant branches of the government be involved in the implementation of the Lamu project, and that finances be made available. It is anticipated that this project will attract substantial interest from international investors and multilateral funds in the form of private ventures and private-public sectors partnership consortium.
An official from the Prime Minister’s office aptly remarked that the Lamu project will be a “game changer project with major multiplier effects”. The initiative has major strategic, socio-economic, infrastructure, and in deed regional trade implications. It comprises seven components (Lamu port, highway, railway, oil pipelines, refinery, resort cities and airports). It links Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia, while opening up the corridor to counties in northern Kenya for economic development.
One can visualize the integrated Lamu corridor project as a new axis parallel to the existing Mombasa-Nairobi-Kampala corridor, with Lamu, Isiolo and Juba as the key component ‘cities’. Other towns directly on the corridor include Ijara, Garissa, Marsabit, Moyale, Maralal, Lodwar, Lokichogio and Nakodok.
The implementation of the project will span over many years to 2030. However, it is building of the port that will be the ‘project opener’. This, we understand, is already being prioritized for early implementation. Without a port there can be no corridor. Concurrently, there must be a highway (or railway) to evacuate and feed the port for without this infrastructure the port will be of no consequence.
Again, essential support amenities like power, water and the Lamu metropolis can only be developed concurrently with the port. Strategically, Kenya needs a second port since the one at Mombasa is gradually becoming limited as we progress towards 2030.
Lamu has a harbor (Manda Bay) with more superior marine geometry than Mombasa. Thus, it can accommodate larger ships and provide an easier and safer approach for ships.
The current plan is to immediately build three berths (for container, general, and bulk cargo) to handle transit and local goods to and from South Sudan, southern parts Ethiopia, and the northern Kenya including the upper Mt Kenya.
Of interest is the planned capacity for the Lamu port to handle exports of livestock to the Middle East from the pastoralist regions of the three countries. Oil from South Sudan has been a major justification for the proposed port as the newly independent state strategically seeks an alternative and cheaper infrastructure to export its crude, which is exported through Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Ugandans may also end up choosing Lamu as the obvious export routing for their crude oil, as the Mombasa port is limited by the maximum size of crude oil tankers it can handle. Further, a pipeline routing from Lake Albert to Lamu appears a shorter and more direct route with an easier and empty terrain.
While we talk of crude oil, if the ongoing oil prospecting in Turkana County turns out positive, then Lamu will be the most direct export outlet. Incidentally, the Lamu port master plan includes a crude oil export marine jetty that can handle crude oil vessels with a maximum capacity of 200,000 tonnes, justified initially for South Sudan crude oil exports. With crude oil exports passing through Lamu it was easy to justify a refinery at Lamu to complement the overburdened Mombasa refinery. As more towns and opportunities open up in northern Kenya.