Are MSMEs the only hope left that can stop Mombasa Becoming a Ghost Town?
The carved huge magnificent hashtag “Mombasa Raha” concrete sculpture at Mama Ngina drive in Mombasa city has so many tales that rolls way back before the economic standards of the city began to crumble. With the number of development projects that have been initiated in the country recently the bread of ‘Money power’ in the city of joy has been sliced to almost nothing. It is hardly surprising to see idling Tuktuk drivers playing cards as they wait for customers, Uber drivers sleeping away a productive morning waiting for the app notifications. The previously buzzing town is sleeping away into oblivion even as the neighbouring towns are roaring up into buzzing activity. The opening of the multi-billion port of Lamu, the relaunch of a refurbished port of Kisumu, the ongoing inland depot under construction in Naivasha, topping the Nakuru counties headquarters now Nakuru City, as the fourth one in the list of four major cities in Kenya are just a few of the reasons why the tourism town is slowing down.
According to an assessment report done by the University of Nairobi in partnership with the county government of Mombasa in 2019, the county and central governments had lost more than Sh 126 billion in revenue in one year from Mombasa County since the introduction of freight trains.
The report revealed that most booming businesses such as the Container Freight Stations (CFS), long-distance trucks and transport related businesses in the coastal region who depended on the port of Mombasa had gone low to an extent of “economic decay.”
The research which was carried in the months of August and September 2018 only a year after the launch involved different stakeholders, including Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa), Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Kenya Transport Association (KTA) and Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), among other stakeholders, had been interviewed.
The ripple effect has now been extended to a quite a larger diameter as the government continues to open more development projects that initial had its center at the port of Mombasa. With congestion at the main harbor and increased traffic of unpaid cargo, the Kilindini harbor has been forced to relocate some of its holdings to the new port of Lamu. Whether it is logistical challenge or improper desktop research by the trusted policy makers in our country, the imbalance is heavily affecting the home of East Africa’s biggest port.
Most people who have a brief history of Mombasa city, will often refer to the hashtag #MombasaRaha only in the last five or six years. This is so because, the port had had enough of the goodies and the number of professional and unprofessional intermediaries in clearing cargo were involved. Many trucks can be witnessed in the stalls since the operational capacity had been reduced to a one way freight train that reduced the man power, this still goes back to the revelation study done by the University of Nairobi where Mombasa county governor Hassan Joho had his demands that on only 30 percent of the cargo to the transported by the freight trains. This unfortunately did not happen.
“We have been negatively affected as the report has clearly stated; that is why we shall take any action to ensure the directive is stopped since it is not based on any law,” said Governor Joho in 2019.
He also added; “We want SGR to haul only 30 per cent of the cargo while the remaining to be transported by truck so that we ensure our economy is not derailed. We are alarmed by simple indicators such as increasing cases of house rent defaulters due to the number of people sacked from CFSs and the transport sector.”
This Mombasa economy skeletal breakdown and the rising cities and towns such as Lamu and Nakuru makes the long history of the major port in East Africa continue to fall drastically.
While in Lamu last month. the President triumphed the new port for opening the northern corridor of the country to investment and economic growth.
“The port will position Kenya’s economy strategically in both the new Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and in global trade; providing our economy with a major stepping-stone as we seek to build back better, post COVID-19,” said the president.
While calling on investors to storm the small town of Lamu the President was keen on the dying business in the coastal region. Specifically Mombasa.
“The Port of Lamu is open for business, with the now fully operationalized Berth 1. I invite all shipping lines and cargo movers from across the region to make full use of this facility,” continued the President.
While many investors including the clearance and forwarding, truck drivers and taxmen are flocking Lamu for the sake of enjoying the opened business, Mombasa had been left null to its already decaying economic state with the SGR.
More so, while opening several projects in Kisumu before the Madaraka day. The president together with the former prime minister championed for new connectivity in the newly refurbished Kipevu port. With its one way vector, the port of Mombasa had seen goods being transported across to Busia border using trucks and now the new port has reduced the labor on trucks to ships.
This has reduced business that still fell back to the port of Mombasa. The coastal city has been known to be a pioneer in almost all sectors of the Kenyan economy and most of them have started from the house unlike in other towns where they industries have sometimes been funded from the get go. The cottage industry is a thriving market in Mombasa where it is almost impossible to start a business without the support of deep pockets.
President Uhuru said the port will be a beehive of activity after he launches the Nakuru-Kisumu meter-gauge railway in August.
The railway line will enable the movement of cargo to the port for onward shipping to the neighboring countries, thus spurring growth in the region. Rendering most truck drivers who used the port of Mombasa obsolete of work. As already witnessed in the ongoing YouTube show How Brands Are Born aired by CrystalPerk Mombasa Magazine the rise of MSMEs will be the solution for this sleepy town in the wake of competition from its neighbors. Mombasa still has a strong support due to its developed infrastructure, productive citizenry and a cosmopolitan population which largely coexist peacefully.
There is a rise in manufacturing in the Mombasa at the moment since the traditional sources of income are dwindling. The support of the MSMEs will strongly uplift the success of Mombasa in these times.
While the Naivasha ICD remains inaccessible by road, a situation that has forced truck firms to increase charges. Most Private sector players and the Shippers Council of East Africa (SCEA) want the Naivasha Inland Container Depot managed as a commercial enterprise to eradicate bottlenecks associated with government red tape. This is a strong case for the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises that have long desired to be players in this logistical corridor.
“We are happy with the infrastructure the government is providing but we must engage private sector on its use. People have existing contracts so there is no way the government can force private sector to use specific mode of transport,” SCEA’s chief executive Gilbert Langat was quoted as saying early this year when the government agreed to hold talks with stakeholders.
This would enable the local investors both within the town and in Mombasa to benefit. However the Naivasha ICD has reclaimed many investors that has made the County headquarters to be named as the fourth city of the country.
With the ongoing trend that makes the old rich city of Mombasa economically vulnerable, ideas with operationalized amendments should be injected on the county assembly of Mombasa to help save the fast falling stage.
All roads should not just lead to the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone project, despite the fact that it is one of the flagship projects of Kenya’s VISION 2030. Where upon completion Mombasa is expected develop into a world class industrial hub and a gateway city for the entire Eastern and Central Africa. Legal minds should look for another way of saving the Mombasa economy, like investing on the Small and medium sized enterprises who would oversee the upping of the economic breakdown in the area.