One of the biggest and most ambitious projects in Kenya, the multibillion-dollar Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor, expected to transform logistics in a host of neighbouring countries, is coming under fire from locals who say they have not been consulted. They also fear the port will ruin Lamu, a UN World Heritage Site. Wanjohi Kabukuru has the details.
Concerns are being raised over the $16bn Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET). This bold project, encompassing a futuristic modern port at the town of Lamu on the northern coast of Kenya; a standard-gauge railway line to Juba in South Sudan with a branch line to Ethiopia; an oil pipeline linking Lamu with the oil fields of South Sudan; an oil refinery; a superhighway connecting to Ethiopia and Sudan; an international airportand several resort developments within Kenya, has begun on a very sour note. In June 2010, three months after being contracted to conduct a feasibility plan, Japan Port Consultants (JPC) were paid some $6.2m of the total $48.7m as contract fees for the nine-month feasibility study work. This move was said to have angered the Chinese, who are keen to undertake the entire project.
Locally, Mohammed Sheikh of Shungwaya Welfare Association said: All we want is transparency in this project. We want it to be done right and with all concerns addressed fully."
LAPSSET is not new. The project was first conceived in 1972 and French engineering consulting firm Renardet was commissioned to undertake a viability study. Owing to the costs involved, the country--independent for just nine years--decided it could not finance it. Aanalysts are now wondering why dusting down the 39-year-old plans should cost $48.7m.
More questions were raised when the Kenyan government cancelled an international request for expressions of interest (EOI) from bidders seeking to construct the first three berths at Manda Bay that was put out to tender in September 2010.
" This is a major project and to many of us here in Lamu, it will completely redefine our lifestyles," says Mohammed Ali Baddi, a Lamu resident. "But our question is simple, why is the government afraid of involving us? As residents of Lamu we have on occasions demanded sight of the full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) but no one in government wants to show it to us. What will happen to the rich marine life of dugongs [sea cows], turtles, dolphins...