Ideas & Debate

What next government should do for Lapsset

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Works going on at Lapsset project in Lamu. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The scope of Lapsset is so wide and rich in socioeconomic value addition, that it cannot be absent from any serious manifesto of a party aspiring to form the next government.
  • Nearly all the Lapsset corridor projects fall under the definition of critical infrastructure requiring managed protection by the state.

Three news items last week touched on the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia (Lapsset) corridor project. There was the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock launching a project to export livestock through Lamu Port.

There was also a temporary stoppage of ongoing Lapsset highway construction works in the vicinity of Lamu due to insecurity. In the same week, an investor announced a $5 million 2022 budget for the dormant Turkana oilfields project which will export oil via the Lapsset corridor.

Lapsset is a socioeconomic development project modelled on multisector infrastructure projects, justified on opening up the northern half of Kenya to long-overdue development.

The scope of Lapsset is so wide and rich in socioeconomic value addition, that it cannot be absent from any serious manifesto of a party aspiring to form the next government.

The Kibaki government launched the Lapsset project in 2011. The Jubilee government implemented the anchor Lamu port and commenced work on highways connecting the port to the hinterland. The next government should take the corridor project a significant step ahead.

I will list a few areas of Lapsset project that should be prioritised and resourced by the incoming government. Lamu port is the anchor component of the entire Corridor project, and three berths are already commissioned and in service.

However, to realise its full potential as an import/export port, it will need to be connected by a highway all the way to Lokichar in Turkana to provide linkage with the Eldoret/Juba highway.

With the Lamu/Garissa section of the highway already funded and under construction, the manifestos should target extension to Isiolo, Maralal and Lokichar.

The highway shall open up high potential counties to development as new towns and markets spring up along the road with accompanying provision of power supply and internet communication.

It will strengthen security management and reduce cattle rustling as increased social contacts promote new outlooks and cultural diversity. The highway shall catalyse inter-county trade, tourism and give a chance to mining.

Imagine traders cruising on the highway carrying bananas and potatoes from Meru county to the often-hungry people of Turkana county and returning with fish from Lake Turkana. Yes, a highway all the way from Lamu to Lokichar is an opportunity and game-changer that should be in any serious manifesto.

The second priority project should be livestock exports through Lamu port. This will catalyse commercialisation of livestock rearing by pastoral communities into formal businesses with sustainable value chain marketing systems.

The northern county governments should see this as an opportunity to be supported and actualised. And it should be accompanied by establishment of leather industries and exports via Lamu port. This project has already been launched by the Jubilee government, leaving the next government to fully resource it.

The third in my list is the Turkana crude oil project and its associated pipeline from Lokichar to Lamu port for offshore exports. The project is already designed and socio-economic benefits to the country already quantified.

I am of the opinion that national attention and focus on Turkana oil project has dwindled. The next government should reclaim the initiative and proactively obtain specific investment timelines and commitment from the current investors or go out looking for new investors.

I am sure the law and agreements provide for specific development timelines. It cannot be left open-ended. If the oil export option does not materialise, other options to commercialise Turkana oil should be sought, including local refining.

Finally, there is the insecurity, which is a cross-cutting game spoiler in northern Kenya, and more so in areas around Lamu.

This problem cannot be wished away, for indeed insecurity discourages investors, delays or outrightly stops projects while scaring away employees when projects are operational. Construction and operations of various projects will need to be protected.

Nearly all the Lapsset corridor projects fall under the definition of critical infrastructure requiring managed protection by the state. The incoming government will need to urgently enact a law to provide systems and capacity to protect public and private critical infrastructure across Kenya.

I was in the team of consultants that did the Lapsset corridor feasibility study in 2010/11, specifically working on the oil refinery component. I also attended the launch of the project by President Kibaki at KICC in August 2011.