Ideas & Debate

How new highway will change northern Kenya

The highway will have significantly transformed the northern half of Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

There is a symbiotic logistics relationship between the Lamu Port and the planned highway stretching all the way from Lamu to Lokichar in Turkana County. The principal justification for the highway remains to provide a corridor to capture imports/exports demand for the port.

However, the greater benefits from the highway will be the socio-economic transformation and opening up of the corridor counties to the rest of Kenya through contact, trade, tourism and transit traffic. For instance, moving agricultural produce from the fertile Mount Kenya area to Turkana markets will be made easy while sales of livestock and Lake Turkana fish will be facilitated.

Perhaps the most significant payback by the highway will be suppression of insecurity and cattle rustling through improved communication and presence of the security enforcement agents.

New employment and trade opportunities will pre-occupy the youths away from trouble. The ongoing and planned north-bound road projects connecting the Northern Corridor to the LAPSSET corridor will provide effective communication linkages as more counties, towns and cities are connected.

These include the recently announced phased upgrade of the Kenol-Sagana-Isiolo highway, Eldoret-Nakodok, Rumuruti-Maralal, Kibwezi-Kitui-Garissa, and Garsen-Lamu. All these inter-corridor links will significantly add socio-economic value to the northern counties while enlarging opportunities for Lamu port import/export demands. Indeed, when the LAPSSET highway is finally in place, and these road connections upgraded, then the north of Kenya will be one with the rest of Kenya.


This then is why construction of the entire LAPSSET highway should be prioritised to provide full effect to the region.

Whereas the work on the Lamu-Isiolo road is already committed with a funding framework already firmed up, the 320 kilometre Isiolo-Lokichar stretches is still in the planning stage. Without this stretch, Lamu port cannot access South Sudan export/imports demands. This Isiolo-Lokichar piece is the critical corridor missing link.

The highway from Isiolo to Moyale is already in place and this will provide import/export opportunities for the southern parts of Ethiopia through Lamu port. Ethiopia is a landlocked country currently using the port of Djibouti, making Lamu a serious contender for handling southern Ethiopia cargo.

South Sudan is planning to establish a yard at the Naivasha dry port to receive and consolidate SGR cargo for onward trucking to South Sudan. Currently South Sudan cargo transits though Uganda via Malaba and Nimule border posts. When the Eldoret-Nakodok highway is repaired, South Sudan importers will no doubt prefer to use only one border point at Nakodok.

When the Lamu-Isiolo-Lokichar-Nakodok highway is ready, South Sudan will have to make choices between use of Mombasa or Lamu port depending on the total route logistics costs (and time) to Juba.

Yes, the LAPSSET corridor is a long-term development concept which is slowly taking shape, as bits of the concept are systematically actualised. But the defining foundations for the Lapsset concept are invariably the port and the highway. Available information indicate that the first of the three berths at the Lamu Port will be ready by the end of this year while the remaining two berths will be ready about 2022.

The construction of the crude oil export pipeline from Lokichar to Lamu is likely to commence in 2021 and will take about three years to 2023. Any parts of the highway that will have been done will provide essential logistics for the pipeline construction, with the opportunity of using the Lamu port to receive some of the pipeline construction materials and equipment.

A number of LAPSSET project components are unlikely to be implemented any time soon because of changed policy scenarios and assumptions. The rail from Lamu to Juba may take decades to gain relevance, while the oil refinery and products distribution pipelines from Lamu are not likely to be actualised as the current policy is to export Turkana crude oil via Lamu and import products through Mombasa.

In the next ten years, the LAPSSET corridor, and more so the highway, will have significantly transformed the northern half of Kenya, while creating a new alternative “blue economy” hub around the port of Lamu.