Ideas & Debate

There is need to address security of key infrastructure

power
george wachira_img

Summary

  • Power outages across Kenya last week were an indication of how Kenya’s socio-economic activities can be seriously disrupted by failure of critical supply chain infrastructure.
  • This time it was electricity supply disruption, but next time it will be anything from petroleum, municipal water, transportation (ports, roads, railway, airports) electronic communication, to banking systems.

Power outages across Kenya last week were an indication of how Kenya’s socio-economic activities can be seriously disrupted by failure of critical supply chain infrastructure.

This time it was electricity supply disruption, but next time it will be anything from petroleum, municipal water, transportation (ports, roads, railway, airports) electronic communication, to banking systems.

And infrastructure disruptions can be from natural causes, criminal/sabotage, civil disturbances, cyber-attacks, or negligence through absence of due care in operations and maintenance.

The power incident last week was apparently attributed to hacking of power transmission pylons by vandals, a very predictable risk considering a poorly regulated scrap-metal market.

For every security threat, preventive solutions can be developed through analysis to identify potential risks, followed by development of systems and capacity to prevent adverse incidents.

The above list of critical infrastructure is either public or private and are directly or indirectly under policy jurisdiction of various ministries, and regulatory responsibility of various agencies.

However, cutting across is basic requirement to have in place systems and capacity for assets and operations protection plus emergency and contingency plans to ensure service delivery continuity.

However, there are certain aspects of security and protection that can only be provided or assured by the state, and their presence or absence will define the country’s security risks, a critical factor in investment decision making.

As the country moves towards PPP investment models for public infrastructure, investors will be keen on presence of legal and regulatory systems and capacity that provide assurance for assets and operations protection.

Turning to power supply chains, there is need for shared and rationalised emergency and contingency planning among the power supply chain agencies ( generation, transmission, distribution) to provide a seamless security of supply from generation sources to consumers. Split accountabilities will not work effectively.

Observations from last week’s power outage incident indicate an ambiguous interface of responsibilities and accountabilities between transmission and distribution .

Further, power transmission corridors appear vulnerable and unprotected from illegal damage by third parties, unless of course there are remote sensing technologies that are not obvious to our eyes.

Providing armed patrols for transmission infrastructure which runs across the entire wilderness of Kenya, can indeed be a challenge. Community engagement, cooperation and participation will definitely be an effective way of addressing this particular security challenge .

Petroleum imports, pipelines and storage assets are critical infrastructures that call for the highest level of protection and emergency/contingency planning to ensure continuity of petroleum supply to the economy.

And this should ideally include having in place strategic reserves stocks (at least 15 days ) to reduce impacts of a serious supply chain disruption should it occur.

Digital communication and financial systems are a critical infrastructure deserving the highest possible level of protection. Over the past two years of Covid pandemic, the economy has become more dependent on digital systems especially in financial and banking areas.

What will be a nightmare is a situation of severe digital systems failure as this will bring the economy to a virtual halt. If indeed we have cyber protection systems in place, we better ensure they are always ready and effective with sound standby fallback systems .

Kenya’s transit infrastructure (ports, roads , railways) is critical to both Kenya and landlocked neighbours who expect Kenya to keep them fully operational and protected from disruptions.

The post-election violence of 2007/08 significantly disrupted import/export flows to and from Uganda and Rwanda, resulting in a permanent loss of significant transit transport business, which transferred to Dar Es Salaam import/export corridor.

This is why Kenya will need to conduct its elections responsibly and peacefully to assure our landlocked neighbors uninterrupted transit systems .

As we develop various components of Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset )corridor infrastructure, there will be need to create a robust security plan .

I recall the planned Uganda/Turkana/Lamu crude oil pipeline joint venture which aborted in 2014 because a key private investor did not believe that Kenya had in place clear plans to manage security risks posed by terrorism. Uganda opted to route their crude oil export via Tanzania.

Critical infrastructure security management should be a proactive process , not reactive when incidents happen.