New SGR directive sounds death knell for Mombasa economy

By Ernest Cornel, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI)

Mombasa economy is increasingly getting shattered – and the latest government directive to rail port cargo via SGR to Naivasha for clearance is sounding death knell, Okoa Mombasa has said.

Mombasa relies on the Port and logistics sectors to survive. But the government has deliberately been killing its economy by transferring port operations to well-developed counties like Nairobi and Naivasha.

Again, without public participation, Transport Minister James Macharia on May 22, 2020, ordered transit cargo destined for the hinterland will be cleared and collected from the Naivasha Inland Container Depot (ICD). The order takes effect from June 2, 2020.

“Naivasha will be a transhipment centre. Instead of driving all the way to Mombasa, another 600 kilometres, they will be picking cargo from Naivasha,” Macharia told The Star, one of the mainstream newspapers.

Macharia in 2019 made similar directive requiring port cargo be hauled to Nairobi ICD via SGR, triggering dozens of non-violent weekly protests, which police broke up using teargas and wooden batons.

“Mombasa is now completely bypassed on cargo handling. Thousands of truck owners and drivers will no longer be needed to haul cargo. We are staring at massive job losses and a battered economy,” Okoa Mombasa member, Khelef Khalifa, said at a media briefing on May 28, 2020. He’s also MUHURI’s chairman.

Since the first directive, hundreds of clearing and forwarding firms in Mombasa packed up and moved to Nairobi or wounded up. Many local container freight stations shut. Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. 

The economic situation is getting worse – and the government seems not to care.

Uganda has already declined to Macharia’s directive of picking cargo from Naivasha ICD.

“Therefore, it is our considered opinion that the use of Naivasha ICD which is part of our long term regional infrastructure development should remain optional,” a communiqué from Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transport, Edward Katumba-Wamala, dated May 22, 2020, reads in part.

State ‘secret’

Kenya Transporters Association (KTA), which commands over 15,000 trucks, called for a free market.

KTA, a member of Okoa Mombasa, said SGR must compete with other modes of transport like trucks.

“Don’t suffocate people with your mode of transport,” Dennis Ombok, KTA’s CEO, told the government at the presser.

Putting cargo on SGR cost 50 per cent more than trucks, a factsheet by Okoa Mombasa shows. For instance, trucking a 40-foot container from Mombasa to Nairobi is Sh80,000, inclusive of the last-mile charges. There is no container return fee. But SGR costs Sh120,900 to transport a similar container.

The government has declined to disclose contents of the contracts it signed with Export-Import Bank of China for SGR’s construction. It says details are state secrets.

The information is believed to be among the reasons the government is forcing cargo haulage by SGR, so are to repay the unsustainable Sh327 billion loan.

Okoa Mombasa filed an Access to Information request seeking the release of agreements, contracts and other documents relating to the SGR. But all government responses have been evasive, focusing on why they cannot release the documents, it said. Okoa Mombasa has set up a new page tracking all the responses.

Political project

Khalifa said the Jubilee regime signed the contracts to get political points during the 2017 elections. President Uhuru Kenyatta hoped to endear himself to the electorate through the project, which he termed as “outstanding” and “transformative”, Khalifa said.

“Uhuru launched the Madaraka Express (SGR) much earlier so that he could show the country he had done something,” Khalifa said. Uhuru used the train as a political tool after its launch on May 31, 2017, three months to the general ballot.

Khalifa said Coast will sabotage the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) if the government will not stop killing Mombasa economy, a backbone of the region.

He faulted elected politicians for sidelining electorates and not working for their interest.

“Any politicians who support BBI will be considered a traitor,” Khalifa said.

“Every economic development in this country has not been for the interest of the Coast.”

About Okoa Mombasa

Okoa Mombasa is a group of workers unions, businesses, civil society organisations and other individuals that have come together out of concern for the livelihoods and wellbeing of the residents of Mombasa. MUHURI is a member.

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