Ferry boss Gowa: cat with nine lives?

He admitted before MPs a global maritime body had declared three of six vessels unseaworthy

In Summary

• After the ferry tragedy pm September 29, President Kenyatta revoked the appointment of the entire KFS board.

• Gowa survived, albeit, hanging by a thread. 

As the sea calms after a mother and her daughter drowned last month, leading to national uproar and sacking the entire KFS board, one man, the captain, has weathered the storm.

The man is Kenya Ferry Services managing director Bakari Gowa.

In 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a surprise tour of the Likoni crossing channel and after a day-long meeting he fired MD Hassan Musa and two employees over mismanagement.

At the time, Gowa was the Finance manager. He was appointed in an acting capacity to head the parastatal and later confirmed.

On several occasions, Gowa has been questioned about tenders and procurement of ferries. KFS has six ferries, three have been declared unseaworthy by a global maritime body, but they are still in use.

Kenya conveniently withdrew from that respected maritime association and now applies local, more elastic regulations on seaworthiness.

Accidents do happen.
KFS managing director Bakari Gowa 

Recently, the DCI initiated a probe into the deaths of 35-year-old Mariam Kigenda and her four-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu. They died after their vehicle slid off the MV Harambee — one of the three unseaworthy vessels  — midstream on September 29. The ramps of the ferry were not completely pulled up.

The deaths, the state of the ferry and long rescue time of 12 days created a national outrage.

President Kenyatta revoked the appointment of KFS board chairperson Dan Mwazo and four other members in a gazette notice of October 16, 2019. This was only two months after they assumed office.

Gowa survived. Could he be the cat with nine lives? Or is it just a matter of time before his star also dims?


“Accidents do happen,” Gowa said at his first press conference 18 hours after the Likoni tragedy.

It was a disaster: the heartlessly wrong choice of words at the wrong time when the nation was clamouring for apology and condolences. 

Gowa was not allowed to address the media again concerning the Likoni tragedy and the retrieval of the bodies. Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna took over the role of updating the nation on the recovery operation.

During the long and tense recovery operation of the bodies, there was speculation that this was the last straw for Gowa.

This was not the first time he escaped a disastrous situation that could easily have cost him his job.

In February, then KFS chair Ramadhan Kajembe called a ‘crisis’ meeting to discuss issues concerning Gowa.

His tenure was coming to an end and speculation was rife that his contract would not be extended, but it was — for three years. His three-year term ended in June this year.

It has also been revealed that in June Mwazo had recommended the board sack Gowa.

This was revealed by Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi who chairs the Senate Committee on Transport that met KFS management at the Kenya Maritime Authority offices. Gowa was present. Shipping and Maritime Affairs PS Nancy Karigithu was present.

Gowa has continued to weather the storm even after the revelation that three KFS vessels — out of the total of six — were deregistered in 2007 but continue in service.

On Tuesday, he appeared before the National Assembly and confirmed that Lloyd's Register Group, an international maritime agency that checks the standards and safety of sea vessels, had declared the three vessels unseaworthy. They include the MV Harambee.

During a cross-examination by the Public Accounts Committee at English Point Marina in early September, Gowa’s team was at pains to explain the procurement procedures for the acquisition of the MV Jambo and MV Safari.

Lloyd’s Registe found that MV Harambee, MV Nyayo and MV Kilindini were obsolete and decommissioned them in 2007. In essence, that would have meant that the KFS management ought to have withdrawn the ferries from operating after they exceeded the 20-year, use-by limit.

Only the MV Mvita and MV Kwale, purchased in 2010, were found to be fit. The MD defended the ferry management, saying they have done a lot of repairs to the ferries.

Gowa was quoted as saying that he welcomes investigators to do their work.

So far, police have questioned the coxswain of the MV Harambee, Amos Bushuru, two employees of KFS and two private guardson duty on September 29 when the vehicle rolled from the ferry into the ocean.

“We have questioned five people. Two private security guards who were at the ferry on the said day, a coxswain and two top ferry managers,” Likoni OCPD Benjamin Rotich told journalists.

Gowa, a diminutive, soft-spoken and persuasive man who was appointed in June 2016, holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and is a qualified accountant.

A former board member of the KFS told the Star on Wednesday that Gowa is a wise person who knows how to drive a point home.

“He can explain something difficult in a simple way that everyone understands,” a former board member and victim of the recent purge said.

In February this year, Gowa was taken to task to explain the Sh300 million “fast-tracking” fee the government paid for the delivery of a new ferry.

He appeared before the National Assembly Transport Committee chaired by David Pkosing and said MV Safari was due in November 2017, but the process was delayed after KFS was sued over alleged irregular awarding of tenders.

“KFS was sued for unprocedurally terminating a contract to supply the ferries. This delayed the process. After we appealed the ruling, the contractor asked us to pay another $3 million (Sh300 million) for delaying the contract,” Gowa told the lawmakers.

And just as in February when Isiolo Woman Representative Rehema Jaldesa accused him of sleeping on the job, on Tuesday Gowa was grilled again.

This time he appeared before the Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir-led committee, where he was confronted by similar accusations from Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga.

“The MD is not serious about his job because if he was, he wouldn’t be coming here with information in pieces which can’t offer sufficient answers,” Jaldesa had said.

With that statement, the MPs sent the KFS management away over what they said was the failure to disclose full information about the stalled procurement of a Sh1 billion vessel from Turkey.

The maintenance of the ferries, it emerged on Tuesday, was costing the taxpayer three times as much, compared to maintaining vessels within the recommended 20-year service ceiling.

MV Harambee was decommissioned in 2015, only to resume operations a year later after a patch-up repair job costing Sh143 million.

A report released by the Auditor General’s office for 2016-17 indicated that the ferries were a disaster in waiting as they were defective.

The report also accused the KFS of violating International Safety Management by failing to service the vessels as required.