Kenya has been caught in a fresh scramble to protect it stature as the gateway to the region amid growing anxiety over the March 4 elections.
Shaken by the disruptions that followed the disputed presidential election results of 2007, traders in neighbouring landlocked countries dependent on the Mombasa port are considering seeking alternative routes as a precaution should chaos erupt after the polls.
This development has caught the attention of government officials and the management of the port who have now moved to assure traders of smooth flow of goods during and after the polls.
“I know there is growing anxiety for assurance of smooth flow of business along the northern corridor during and after elections in Kenya scheduled for March 4,” said Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) managing director Gichiri Ndua in a statement.
“I wish to assure you that the Government of Kenya has put in place stringent security measures within the guidelines of the Constitution to ascertain that business through the port is not in any way adversely affected.”
The port handles imports such as fuel and consumer goods for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and tea and coffee exports from the region.
Uganda was among the hardest hit by the effects of the post-election violence. Key commodities such as petroleum and food products shipped in through Mombasa port could not reach their destination for several weeks thanks to blocked roads.
Parts of the main Kenya-Uganda railway line were also uprooted near Kibera slums in Nairobi, leading to serious shortages of key products in Uganda.
“We believe that the lessons learnt from the 2007 elections are enough to make us not repeat past mistakes,” Mr Ndua said.
Last week, Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tanzania to increase its usage of Dar-es-Salaam port amid concern that they move may be part of strategy by Kampala to protect its traders should any disruptions occur during the elections in Kenya.
The MoU was signed by Uganda’s Works and Transport minister John Byabagambi and his Tanzanian counterpart Harrison Mwakyembe.
Currently only one per cent of Ugandan cargo moves through the Dar es Salaam port, with the remaining arriving at Mombasa port.
Uganda remains Kenya’s single largest trading partner and also accounts for the largest portion of goods shipped through the Mombasa port.
Latest data by KPA showed that last year Uganda was the dominant transit destination of cargo imported through the port having taken some 4.85 million tonnes of cargo, representing 73 per cent of the total transit traffic.
In 2011, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was hosted in Dar-es-Salaam for direct talks with his counterpart Jakaya Kikwete with plans to build a new railway line connecting the port of Tanga with Uganda being a key agenda.