Kisumu regains lost maritime allure one vessel at a time


Workers conduct dredging of Winam Gulf in Lake Victoria in Kisumu County on August 31, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Jeremiah Onyango has nostalgic memories of the Kisumu Inland Port having worked in the maritime industry for years.

About 44 years ago, the Kisumu port played a critical role in the East Africa Railway and water transport system. Passengers would come all the way from Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru to Kisumu via railway. They would end up at the port.

On Tuesdays, there were a range of water vessels namely MV Uhuru, MV Umoja, MV Pamba, MV Kabalenga and MV Kahawa which were robust in ferrying passengers and goods along the Kisumu-Musoma-Mwanza-Kemondo-Bukoba-Port Bell route.

The water vessels were managed by East Africa Railways and Harbours Corporation.

The maritime economy gave birth to many fish processing plants and various factories as a result of the vibrant trade between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Kisumu quickly became an influential trade hub in the then East Africa Community.

However, after the collapse of the EAC in 1977 Kisumu suffered economically. A number of industries and factories that rose due to the vibrant port collapsed, including a railway workshop, which was only second to the one in Johannesburg.

Whereas Bukoba (Tanzania) and Port Bell in Uganda kept functioning, Kisumu port remained in the doldrums for years, until three years ago, when the national government decided to inject Sh3 billion to rehabilitate the facility.

The national government came to revive the port with the help of the military.

Two weeks ago, players in the maritime sector converged in Kisumu to discuss the emerging opportunities to be exploited in lake transport and the blue economy.

During the Maritime Summit held at Impala Park, Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang Nyong’o said about nine ships that had sank in Lake Victoria after years of inactivity have been rehabilitated.

“MV Uhuru is currently transporting all kinds of commodities to Uganda and fro. Nine ships have since been docking at the port, which means the port is waking up,” said Governor Nyong’o.

Recently, the Kenya Ship Yard Company came on board and has started the assembling of MV Uhuru II at the Dry Dock, which had been dormant since 1978.

According to Governor Nyong’o, MV Uhuru II will be floating on the lake by February next year.

Shipping and Maritime principal secretary Nancy Karigithu said a lot of opportunities are bound to open in the blue economy space.

“Thirteen sectors could be opened up with 15 sub-sectors in the tourism, fisheries, shipping, education and training. There are different activities in the offshore sector as well as marine cabling,” said Mrs Karigithu.

Globally Kenya takes pride in the two ports along the Indian Ocean namely Mombasa and Lamu which are actively operating.

The summit discussed the under-exploitation of lake transport, emerging job opportunities and investments as well as challenges facing the five counties sharing the lake and matters of safety and pollution. The county government has established Kisumu Lakefront Development Corporation to resuscitate the blue economy.

The corporation comprises Kisumu County, Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Railways Corporation, Kenya Maritime Authority, Kenya Airport Authority, Business Community and Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the opportunities that the five counties on Lake Victoria can exploit include a vibrant transport system, waterfront, cruise shipping, sport fishing, and marine investment.

Kisumu Lakefront Development Corporation chairman Edward Ouko said they have partnered with the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) to develop a 26km promenade extending from Camp David to Dunga Beach.

The promenade will be used to walk along the lake, cycling and regulated driving to showcase the beauty of the lake and its economic benefits to attract investments.

Kenya National Shipping Line Limited chairman Juvenal Shiundu noted that countries like South Africa have developed waterfronts that have opened opportunities for the recreation and tourism sector.

“Cape Town has a waterfront which has opened growth for tourism, transportation networking,” he said.

He noted that there are many opportunities in the shipping sector with the revival of the Kisumu port.

Despite the limited technology and skills, maritime transport was vibrant during the colonial era. Immediately the Kenya-Uganda railway was set up, the ships were built and assembled at the Lake.

“If the colonialist could do that 100 years ago with limited technology, why can’t we do the same with advanced technology?,” posed Mr Shiundu.

The Kisumu Governor called for the modernisation of the transport and fishing vessels.

“Let us replace the rickety boats with water buses and speed boats and invest in modern fishing vessels,” he said.

The government has been dredging the port to enable it accommodate bigger ships.

“We want to see the revitalised Kisumu port put to good use. We want to see more cargo and passenger ships docking in Kisumu,” said Prof Nyong’o.

Recently the county government launched a five-year master plan in collaboration with various state agencies, the private sector and development partners that targets to address challenges affecting the lake ecosystem.

The plan outlines 14 key pillars that focus on the protection of water towers, environmental protection and management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, lake transport, fishing and aquaculture.

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