JAPANESE-FUNDED OPPORTUNITIES

Stop whining, take advantage of new Coast projects

There are clear opportunities ahead in the Japanese-funded projects for which the grants and loans were signed

In Summary

• We must always think multi-generationally when considering the processes of lifting our people out of poverty and wealth creation.

• Mombasa Gate Bridge at Likoni will lead to the same dramatic increase in tourism facilities in the South Coast as happened in the North Coast. This means many new jobs in the hotel industry.

Ambassador of Japan to Kenya Ryoichi Horie with National Treasury acting Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani during the signing of the Exchange of Notes.
OPPORTUNITIES: Ambassador of Japan to Kenya Ryoichi Horie with National Treasury acting Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani during the signing of the Exchange of Notes.
Image: COURTESY

Most of my career has been spent in the aviation industry, which is closely linked to global tourism. 

Therefore, I can say that I have been a long-time observer of the Kenyan tourism sector.

One thing I recall vividly is that back in the 1970s, there were roughly the same number of beach resorts in the North Coast (Nyali, Shanzu, Mtwapa, Watamu, Malindi) as there were in the South Coast (Shelly Beach, Tiwi, Diani, Msambweni).

Then the new ultra-modern Nyali Bridge was built with a huge loan from Japan to replace the old one located near English Point — and everything changed. For a major transport bottleneck — from the Mombasa airport to the North Coast pristine beaches — was at last resolved and tourism arrivals could now increase freely.

Within 10 years or so, there were over 100 new beach developments of various types built on the North Coast (cottages, holiday homes, hotels, specialist seafood restaurants). 

The South Coast gained relatively few new hotels, with investors focusing more on upgrading existing hotels to elite 'health spa' resorts, and we had seafront homes for the very rich here and there. 

In Malindi, for example, old coconut plantations were cut down and the land converted into vast residential complexes by Italian investors. If you fly over that area, you will see more homes with private swimming pools than even Muthaiga. Each of those holiday homes accounts for about three jobs for locals who would otherwise be engaged in back-breaking labour on small farms.

So, like many indigenous coastal people of my generation, I know very well the kind of progress transformational infrastructure can bring to a region.

Many readers of the Star know the constant theme in my articles is to seek ways of correcting the historical injustices the Coast region has been subjected to from colonial times to the present. 

But I also appreciate that it is not enough to complain endlessly about historical problems. We should also be ready to seize new opportunities when they arise and make real progress.

REAL PROGRESS

What do I mean by 'real progress'?

If a tourism establishment or holiday home in Malindi hires a local, who only has a modest education as a gardener, cook or security guard, this may not change the life of this man or woman very much. However, it will enable him or her to send their children to school and in time that child may end up as a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Or even a hotel manager.

We must always think multi-generationally when considering the processes of lifting our people out of poverty, and wealth creation. We should not expect results overnight. We should look to see if the next generation is being equipped with the tools that will make it possible for the Coast region to get out of its historic destitution and marginalisation.

This is why I was very excited to read about the proposed new Likoni Bridge and the accompanying Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone. I have seen the North Coast transformed by the Nyali, Mtwapa and Kilifi bridges. 

Although ordinary people might not have gained as much from this progress as they should have,  a new opportunity is opening up. And maybe this time the coastal leaders will ensure that the benefits of the new transformational infrastructure projects will have a bigger impact.

OPPORTUNITIES IN JAPANESE PROJECTS

I see three clear opportunities ahead in the Japanese-funded projects for which the grants and loans were signed.

First, the Mombasa Gate Bridge at Likoni will lead to the same dramatic increase in tourism facilities in the South Coast as happened in the North Coast. This means many new jobs in the hotel industry.

Second, there will be the Dongo Kundu SEZ, which has the potential for manufacturing and trade. This, too, presents opportunities for various kinds of specialised employment, and the accompanying training opportunities.

Finally, there will be an inevitable rise in property prices in virtually all of Kwale. Even the most ordinary of local peasants may find that their land, which is anywhere near the new developments, has real value. Much of that land has been of little real value in the past for lack of infrastructure and demand.

Coastal leaders now need to start brainstorming well in advance on how they will help their people take advantage of these opportunities, including getting them titles, and if need be, breaking up some of the group ranches to allow for individual ownership.

They need to ask questions such as how to ensure 30 per cent of new jobs created in the SEZ will be taken up by qualified locals. And how can more of our people get jobs in the new hotels? And given that many of those from upcountry who will get employment in hotels and the SEZ will need a place to live, what sort of property development opportunities are there since most of the land in Kwale is owned by locals?

It was a historic day for the Coast when the acting Treasury CS Ukur Yatani and Japan Ambassador Ryoichi Horie, signed the agreements that will make these new investments at the Coast possible. 

If we let such an opportunity pass us by, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.