Shipping & Logistics

The hopes riding on Lamu-Garsen road

Buses plying the Mombasa-Lamu routes are parked at Minjila Trading Centre awaiting armed escorts. Buses move in a convoy along Garsen-Lamu road, which has seen several Al Shabaab attacks. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Traders, transporters and travellers are banking on the ongoing construction of the Lamu-Garsen road to boost security, business as well as various economic activities.

Transport on the road has been disrupted following the imposition of night travel. This has significantly curtailed a range of businesses. However, the construction of the 135-kilometre road is raising renewed hope that things will soon return to normalcy.

The road is being constructed by the H-Young Company and is expected to be complete by December 31, 2019. The Sh10.8 billion project is more than 20 percent complete with the contractor promising to ensure the project is delivered on time.

The night transport ban was introduced following spate of terror attacks. In June, 2014, Al-Shabaab militants raided Mpeketoni, Kibaoni and Witu towns and killed more than 100 residents and property worth millions destroyed.

Al-Shabaab also introduced a tendency of ambushing passenger buses and security vehicles along the Lamu-Garsen road, a move that left hordes of security officers and civilians dead.

In July 19, 2014, just a month after the Mpeketoni attack, Al-Shabaab militants ambushed a Tahmeed Bus carrying over 60 passengers from Mombasa to Lamu at Mambo Sasa corner in Witu. During the 7pm attack, seven people including four administration police officers were killed.

The move prompted the national government to ban night travels on the Lamu-Mombasa route, a directive which applies to date.

In December 20, 2014, Al-Shabaab militants ambushed a Tawakal Bus at Lango la Simba at around 3pm. The bus was heading to Lamu from Mombasa when Al-Shabaab militants shot at it several times. Luckily no one was killed or injured.

Following the spate of security incidents, the government again introduced another directive, requiring all passenger vehicles to travel in a convoy escorted by security officers. The rule also applies up to date.

Speaking to Shipping and Logistics, those who use the road are upbeat that once the road construction is complete, most of the security concerns will be addressed.

Ahmed Shalim, a frequent traveller, said he was looking forward to the lifting of the night travel ban once the Lamu-Garsen route construction is complete.

Mr Shali said lifting the ban was long overdue, adding that the revamped road will play a major role in improving the security of travellers and security officers plying the route.

The Lamu-Garsen route bas been a major target for the Al-Shabaab militants who used certain places of the road as hideouts. The terror hotspots included Milihoi, Nyongoro, Lango la Simba, Mambo Sasa Corner in Witu and Gamba.

“The lifting of the night travel ban on the Lamu-Garsen route is long overdue. We hope once the construction of the road is complete, many activities that were hampered will resume,” said Mr Shali.

“The ban has really affected transport to and from this region.”

Johnson Kamau, a businessman,said once the road construction is over, many bus companies which ceased to ply the Lamu-Garsen route will resume their operations.

Passenger bus companies such as Taweel and Vanga that were plying the Lamu-Garsen-Mombasa route had to close their businesses in Lamu following heightened insecurity.

Mr Kamau said he is confident insecurity will be largely dealt with once the road is completed.

“The issue of insecurity will end. Many of the insecurity incidents are contributed by the fact that our road network is poor with lots of potholes. Drivers are forced to drive at an extremely low speed which gives the enemy an ample time to conduct attacks. That will be a thing of the past once the road construction is complete,” said Mr Kamau.

“The road construction is a major boost to the region. We expect that transportation activities will improve and some of the bus companies which ceased their operations along the road will resume their activities.”

Owners of passenger buses said the poor state of the road and the rampant insecurity have brought down their trade.

Mr Hassan Salim, a driver with one of the Lamu-bound buses says many customers have opted to travel by air rather than by road.

Mr Salim, however, believes that once the road construction is complet, they will regain their lost glory.

Once security is assured, he said, passengers will return to using the road.

“Since the ban on night travel and travelling in a convoy under police escort was introduced, we have witnessed delays to reach our destinations. This did not go down well with many customers who now opt to fly instead of using our vehicles,” said Mr Salim.

“But with the ongoing construction and completion of the road, we believe customers will come back.”