The Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project was and remains a strong corridor concept which former President Mwai Kibaki firmly believed in, and which he was determined to see implemented. The concept was that, the only way to sustainably open up the marginalised north of Kenya to socio-economic development was through massive transportation infrastructure.
The corridor concept was understandably first mooted in 1975 (when Mr Kibaki was Finance minister) but was never prioritised until 2010 when the Lapsset feasibility study was launched during mr Kibaki’s second term. As a petroleum consultant I was involved in this study, specifically working on the oil refinery component of the project.
At the study stage, Lapsset like any major project in Kenya, had its share of conflicts and lethargy among key ministries, but Mr Kibaki personally followed through the study until the project was launched. In mid 2011, I was present at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) where Mr Kibaki had asked all the relevant ministers, and parastatal heads to assemble to receive the Lapsset report from the consultants. Then Prime Minister Raila Odinga was also present.
After presentations by the consultants, and in his characteristic soft but emphatic style, he ruled that the report be adopted by the government and that all relevant ministries and parastatals should commence implementation of the Lapsset sections pertinent to them. He also ruled that the Prime Minister office was to co-ordinate the implementation. This is how the current CEO, who was in charge of infrastructure in the Prime Minister’s office, found himself taking charge of Lapsset implementation.
Mr Kibaki is also said to have ordered that the proceeds from the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel (now Laico Hotel) be ring-fenced as seed money to fund Lamu port detailed designs. He then ensured that the project was properly institutionalised through an Authority. In 2012, Mr Kibaki assembled four regional heads of state at Lamu to officially launch Lapsset.
Since coming into office in 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta has fully committed himself to Lapsset implementation. Acquisition of land for the new Lamu port complex has been ongoing. Three Lamu port berths will be ready for use this year. The Lamu to Isiolo highway has already been funded with construction about to commence. Planning of the Isiolo/Lodwar highway in understood to be in progress.
Construction of a crude oil pipeline from Turkana to Lamu is expected to kick off in early 2020 with completion in 2022 when first oil from Turkana oilfields is expected to be exported via Lamu.
It is the construction of these projects that will initially catalyse the local communities to wake up to the reality of new economic opportunities and experiences, very different from their routine pastoralist preoccupations. When training for project construction crafts is done, new skills will be created.
Communities will find themselves embracing new trades, and travelling far and wide. Within time cattle rustling and insecurity will reduce and peaceful co-existence among local and adjacent communities will prevail.
Yes infrastructure fosters peace, security, travel, trade, skills empowerment, and ultimately economic development. Counties that are net recipients from the national kitty will become net contributors to the national exchequer and GDP. With enhanced infrastructure and communication, security management and mobilisation will be easy, and this will prompt even more investments.
I foresee businesses around Mt Kenya prioritising their container import/export trade through Lamu Port, and when the highway finally reaches Lokichar, South Sudan will do likewise. Southern Ethiopia may take longer to adjust to Lamu. Further, there will be strong incentive for the export of livestock to the Middle East from the northern counties via Lamu port.
I am sure Mr Kibaki in his retirement is closely following the Lapsset project progress and he has every reason to be pleased. Lappset serves as a perfect case study of a development project that properly transitioned through two regimes without suffering marginalisation and resource starvation. This is how it should always be, because projects belong to Kenya not to governments in power.
Yes Lapsset will be a transformational shared legacy between Mr Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta. Changing the subject - we are still waiting for President Kenyatta to name Thika Highway after Mwai Kibaki.