Shipping & Logistics

Nairobi is key trade facilitation node for Northern Corridor

cargo train
A cargo train at the ICD Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Whenever the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is mentioned, the first thought that comes to the mind of many people is purely revenue collection. Unknown to many, KRA has many other additional roles, which extend the tax agency’s mandate beyond revenue collection. These roles are spread out in the various departments, like the Customs and Border Control Department.

The role of the Customs and Border Control Department also includes facilitation of secure legitimate trade, protection of our borders and promotion of national safety. This is achieved by ensuring that the export, import, transit and transhipment cargo cleared through our airports, ports and borders are not harmful to our residents and the environment. Kenya Customs has the responsibility to ensure seamless and expedited cross-border movement of cargo, services and passengers.

Whereas port, border and airport cargo clearance is very clear, little is known about the Inland Container Depots (ICDs). Is the ICD in competition with the port? Is it a non-tariff barrier to international trade?

The Inland Container Depot – Nairobi (ICDN) was rejuvenated in April 2018 following the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), providing a seamless link to the Kilindini Port in Mombasa. There is another ICD in Kisumu, and an upcoming one in Naivasha. ICD Nairobi is a fully-fledged one-stop trade facilitation and logistics centre that brings together the operations of the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC), Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs). All these are lead government agencies for cargo clearance.

The ICDN offers facilities for officers from Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) customs and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) customs, as well as customs agents, shipping agents and transporters. There are Peripheral Storage Facilities (PSFs) that handle excess and specialised cargo to speed up cargo processes.


Undoubtedly, the ICD Nairobi has significantly eased congestion of containers and cargo trucks at the Port of Mombasa by offering an alternative cargo clearing point. This has boosted efficiency in cargo clearance at both areas.

Expedited cargo clearance also helps to lower the costs associated with logistics. This makes importers and exporters pay less in demurrages since their goods spend considerably less time at the holding areas. It also enhances predictability for timelines of delivery of cargo to traders, and by extension to the intended consumers. It is now possible for the end consumer to closely monitor the cargo clearance process and know when to make transport arrangements to their premises without undue delays.

KRA has continuously implemented a number of initiatives aimed at improving efficiency in customs operations, especially cargo clearance. Key among them is the Integrated Customs Management System (iCMS), Integrated Scanner Management Solution, which enables expedited cargo scanning and reduced number of interventions by the Partner Government Agencies.

There are drive-through scanners, which enable customs officials to verify the contents of the containers without resorting to the tedious and time consuming 100 percent physical inspection. This has significantly reduced cargo clearance dwell times for compliant importers and exporters.

The iCMS brings together all stand-alone customs peripheral systems and automates all the remaining manual processes, offering a simplified, one-stop solution to customs risk management and cargo clearance. Under the new system, there will be no manual processing of documents, and will focus on the Single Window System, risk management and technology-driven and intelligence-based customs enforcement interventions.

These initiatives have seen the volume of cargo cleared at the ICDN rise steadily to a current average of 720 twenty equivalent units (TEUs) per day, from about 50 twenty equivalent units (TEUs) before April 2018, when the SGR operations started. The facility now receives an average of 10 trains per day from Mombasa.

Ms Mureithi is the chief manager in charge of the Inland Container Depot – Nairobi, under KRA’s Customs and Border Control Department.