Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a construction deal for the first berths in a proposed multi-billion dollar port on August 1st.
The planned US$24 bn Lamu port project, due to be finished by 2030, is intended to serve much of east Africa, with oil pipelines to South Sudan and railways to Ethiopia and Uganda from the Indian Ocean coast.
But the area has been hit by a recent wave of deadly attacks, largely claimed by Somalia’s Al- Shabaab militants but which Kenyatta has blamed on “local political networks”.
Kenyatta said he had approved a $480m deal with a Chinese company for the first phase of construction of three of the 32 berths planned for the flagship project.
“The signing of this contract… is a major milestone,” Kenyatta said in a statement, claiming it would make Kenya the “most attractive transport and logistics hub” in the region.
The project, known as LAPSSET — the Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor — includes not only a giant seaport to complement Kenya’s hugely overstretched main port in Mombasa, but also a railway, airport and refinery project.
Kenya has set aside $50m “to immediately commence” building by state-run China Communication Construction Company, Kenyatta said.
Officials said construction at the port — which has seen little activity since it was formally launched in a ceremony in March 2012 — would begin as soon as September. The port alone is projected to cost $3 bn.
Under the plans, the port will be able to handle some 24m tonnes of cargo a year from giant container ships, as well as provide infrastructure to support oil discoveries made in Kenya’s arid north.
“Our country must develop the additional transport and infrastructure capacity to harness the immense mineral wealth that our country is now discovering,” Kenyatta added.
The port zone is close by the UNESCO-listed tourist island of Lamu, once popular with high-paying visitors and Hollywood celebrities, but now off limits according to most travel warnings issued by Western nations.
Kenya’s Mombasa port currently serves the landlocked nations of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But the port is overstretched and businesses complain of delays to clear cargo, a particular problem as it is facing growing competition from ports in neighbouring Tanzania.