• A Japanese-government-supported special economic zone is also being set up at the Dongo Kundu area, South of Mombasa.
• To be competitive, the SEZ will have to have its own power source that generates electricity at a cost lower than is currently prevalent in Kenya.
It is no longer a secret that the standard gauge railway, once welcomed with such enthusiasm by Mombasa residents as a major economic game-changer, is leading to a net loss of jobs at the Coast.
Kenya International Freight and Warehouse Association chairman Roy Mwanthi, has lamented that the decision to compel all importers sending cargo directly from the port to Nairobi to use the SGR, “has killed all container freight stations and is the last nail to the economy of Mombasa.”
Kenya Transport Association CEO Mercy Ireri also complained “the majority of transporters will now be forced to move out of Mombasa as business here is no longer viable”.
These remarks from well-regarded industry spokespersons are hardly what any of us at the Coast expected when President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the “Madaraka Express”.
This adds to a long litany of economic setbacks for the Coast region, in which as of this point, only tourism remains as a truly viable source of employment as well as other economic opportunities linked to the supply of goods and services to the hotels along the coast.
The days when farming of cashewnut, coconuts or cassava, were a viable economic model for rural prosperity in this region are long gone. What the Coast needs now is direct employment opportunities for thousands of its unemployed young men and women.
At one point, the port of Mombasa provided many such jobs, permanent and part-time. But with increasing automation of its operations, anyone looking to the port for mass employment opportunities is wasting their time.
Indeed what is guaranteed is that with time, the port of Mombasa will follow the trend I have seen elsewhere in African port cities such as Durban in South Africa, Alexandria in Egypt and Lagos in Nigeria. Port operations are increasingly mechanised and relatively few highly skilled people can handle the operations of a very large port.
However, there is still hope.
A Japanese-government-supported special economic zone is also being set up at the Dongo Kundu area, South of Mombasa. It is expected to result in manufacturing companies from the Far East, with Japan, China, South Korea setting up factories that will supply manufactured good to the Eastern African Community and the Comesa region, which has a population of about 400 million people.
To be competitive, the SEZ will have to have its own power source that generates electricity at a cost lower than is currently prevalent in Kenya. Without cheap electricity goods manufactured in Kenya cannot compete globally.
And this is where clean, wind-powered energy comes in.
A widely-circulated press release by the French development financing agency, Proparco had mouth-watering details of the Lake Turkana Windpower Project, and of just how much communities gain when such a project is located in their region.
To quote Jean-Benoît du Chalard, Proparco’s Regional Director for East Africa: “This project is the largest private investment ever made in Kenya and Proparco is very proud of participating in the financing of this flagship project alongside a consortium of international donors.”
The project created 2,500 jobs during the construction phase and 200 permanent jobs for the operation phase.
The Coast region needs, something a keen to the Lake Turkana Windpower Project, not only to supplement the loss of jobs caused by the SGR, but also to realise Uhuru’s manufacturing pillar of the Big Four agenda.
At this point, it is not clear how the affordable electricity needed to fire up the SEZ will be obtained.
I submit that with the Coast having so many places near enough to the Ocean to make use of the powerful monsoon winds coming across the Indian Ocean, a major wind power project is our best bet.
George Sunguh is a Mombasa-based Independent Journalist and media consultant on regional maritime and infrastructure issues.