The race to become East Africa’s biggest port
Kenya and Tanzania have long competed to have the most important port in East Africa and their rivalry is about to become more intense as they compete for the region’s business, writes Neil Ford.
The Kenyan port of Mombasa and Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port are the traditional competitors but the Kenyan government is now planning a huge new port at Lamu, while Tanzania is developing Bagamoyo.
Both ports will be larger than any other port in sub-Saharan Africa if completed as planned. They will also be at the centre of much bigger developments, with industrial zones being laid out and intensive farming being proposed.
The Tanzanian authorities hope Bagamoyo will handle 20 million containers a year, that is 25 times larger than the port at Dar es Salaam. Kenya’s planned Lamu port is expected to be just as big.
However, these are the proposed, long term figures, which will be achieved over decades rather than years. Construction will take place in phases as and when required.
The scale of the initial phases has not been determined but will be much more modest.
One hurdle that is delaying the development of both projects is the question of compensation. In the case of Bagamoyo, 2,000 people have lost their homes or farmland to the project and associated industrial zone.
The Tanzanian government says that it will pay a total of $20.9m (£14.4m). But the figure would be much higher if there was a plan to enlarge the Dar es Salaam port as it is already surrounded by urban development and has limited room for expansion.
Apart from serving their own domestic markets, the Tanzanian and Kenyan ports will also be competing for a wider prize, the business from the landlocked countries of East Africa.
They could handle containers travelling to and from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of Zambia.
Lamu and Bagamoyo have been little used as ports for about a century but at one point they were rivals in East Africa’s slave trade.
Indeed, the name Bagamoyo derives from a Swahili phrase meaning lay down your heart, or give up hope, suggesting that slaves taken there had no hope of escape.
But with the revamped ports they could become better known for helping develop the region rather than bleeding it dry of its human resources.
Construction work on Bagamoyo is to begin before the end of this year, once financing is put in place by China Merchant Holding International and the State General Reserve Fund, which is an Omani sovereign wealth fund.
Preliminary work has already begun on Lamu, although funding is still being finalised.
New life is also being injected into the Tanzanian port of Tanga. The government managed to persuade Uganda to route its planned oil export line through Tanzania to Tanga, rather than through Lamu.
In addition, a new railway could run parallel to the pipeline connecting with ferry services on Lake Victoria.
“The Kenyan port of Mombasa and Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port are the traditional competitors but the Kenyan government is now planning a huge new port at Lamu, while Tanzania is developing Bagamoyo.”
ports are important..like pipelines..
and who is helping?
“Construction work on Bagamoyo is to begin before the end of this year, once financing is put in place by China Merchant Holding International and the State General Reserve Fund, which is an Omani sovereign wealth fund.”