In recent times, Kisumu has been a high-profile development arena receiving the highest possible government attention and resources specifically targeting the port upgrade. And this is the way it should be, not just for Kisumu but any part of Kenya that has significant value-adding economic opportunities.

In the 1970s, Kisumu was a booming regional economic and logistics hub whose growth was frozen by bad regional politics and poor national economic governance. At the end of a busy railway line from Mombasa port, Kisumu was connected by an efficient cargo and passenger lake transport system to the Lake Victoria ports of Mwanza, Musoma, Bukoba and Port Bell.

The entire logistics chain was under the East African Railways and Harbours (EARH), which belonged to the old East African Community (EAC).

When the EAC collapsed in 1977, Tanzania unilaterally closed all its borders with Kenya, thus severing all the land, air and lake transport links with Tanzania. By the time Tanzania opened the borders in 1984, it was already too late for Kisumu port which was by now a ghost port. Trade transactions with Port Bell were already minimal as a result of political chaos in Uganda in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The poor economic governance sweeping across Kenya in 1980/90s led to the collapse of the lake region flagship cotton and sugar-based agro-industries. Kicomi textile mill closed as most sugar factories started to wobble. Then the hyacinth weed came from nowhere in the early 1990s and this choked out of existence the once-prosperous commercial fishing.

It was Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) pipeline extension to Kisumu in 1993 that returned some vibrancy to the town as fuel export trucks destined to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania flocked the town. Otherwise, Kisumu has survived the times as a centre of local commerce mainly feeding local consumption.

Narrating Kisumu economic history should help to advise how best to re-engineer the socio-economic development of Kisumu and the wider lake region. Aspects that have historically worked will need to be revisited and revived. It is also important to accept that significant regional geopolitical and infrastructure changes have since taken place and these may have shifted economic opportunities available to Kisumu.

I see Kisumu and the lake region being segmented into a number of economic drivers which include the port transport infrastructure and regional logistics; regional trade; commercial fishing; tourism; and above all cash-crop agriculture to feed agro-industries. The revamped port has to fit in a wider development plan that includes these economic generators.

In respect of the revamped port transport logistics, the onus will be on Kisumu to find ways of re-integrating itself into already existing transport systems across the lake, knowing that Mwanza, Port Bell and Bukoba have always been in business as these never closed down.

Without doubt, regional political diplomacy and private business efforts will be crucial in marketing and putting real value to Kisumu port. When SGR lands in Kisumu it will be a ready opportunity for Kisumu transit logistics.

Moving to regional trade, it would be important if the Lake region creates its own baseload exports of manufactured goods and agricultural produce instead of entirely relying on transit trade and logistics. It would be a pity if Kisumu were to merely receive imports from our neighbours without balancing with exports produced in and around Kisumu. Agro-based industries have to be part of Kisumu economic revival.

I am not quite sure what potential still exists for commercial fishing around Kisumu, but this will need to be explored since it is a key employment and food security contributor. However, a sustainable solution for the hyacinth weed problem must be found.

The message I have endeavoured to drive above is that the port of Kisumu is just one of the many economic enablers that should be addressed to uplift the Lake region, and these enablers will need to be concurrently developed.

Further, Kisumu must vigorously market its port capacity. Finally, it will take both the national and county governments to deliver integrated development of Kisumu and the lake region. The port upgrade will definitely catalyse this development.

This article was first published on Business Daily on August 27, 2019

Load More Related Articles
Load More By Nyakach Denis
Load More In Development

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Check Also

The Multi-Billion Shilling Kisumu Port to be Finally Launched

The lakeside City of Kisumu is set to host 4 African Presidents for the mega launch of KSh…