What are the proposed benefits of the Lamu Port Corridor?
The main benefits would be the economic development of northern Coast Province and the districts of northern Kenya through which the pipeline and railway route would pass.
A secondary benefit would be to create a strategic communications route through north-east Kenya, a region currently exposed to the dangers of Somalia’s ongoing disintegration and lawlessness.
What impact would it have on Lamu?
Most dramatically, there would be a huge influx of migrant labourers from other parts of Kenya.
Lamu town would become a service and transport hub. A bridge to the mainland and a fast highway to Malindi would be likely to follow, which would bring roads, vehicles and building development onto Lamu.
This level of infrastructure development is incompatible with Lamu’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site. The town is the best existing example of a Swahili city and preserves a mass of features, through which its origins can be traced to the 14th century or earlier.
Would locals benefit from the development of a port?
In many cases there would be financial benefits in terms of jobs for school-leavers and bigger markets for local businesses. Some locals might also consider closer physical links with the rest of Kenya to be an advantage, emphasising national unity.
What would be the disadvantages as locals might see them?
Rapid, economic development parachuted onto the district would be socially disruptive. Plus Lamu’s attraction as a destination for low-key, getaway cultural tourism would face equally severe challenges.
Can the development be stopped/changed?
The consultancy process alone has already cost the Kenya treasury more than Ksh1 billion ($11 million). The normal tender process wasn’t used before the Japanese consultancy was recruited, and massive corruption is being investigated by the media.
The treasury has now obtained a 35% discount on the consultancy fees, and payments are currently on hold.
Even if construction starts, it is quite likely that Ethiopia and South Sudan will have made other export arrangements long before it is completed.
Who is pushing this through? Why?
Japanese consultants, Chinese and local contractors, and local vested interests. It is said to be ‘close to President Kibaki’s heart’ – or just where his wallet resides, as many Kenyans would say.
How likely is it that the project will go ahead?
The Lamu Port Corridor consultancy is the most expensive feasibility study ever undertaken by the Kenya government.
The whole project may yet turn out to have been a massive white elephant consultancy project intended to offer the biggest possible private benefit to every party involved without, in the end, delivering a feasible programme for actually carrying out the work.
Richard Trillo is a travel writer, journalist, editor and PR consultant. His blogs are http://firsttimeafrica.wordpress.com, http://theroughguidetowestafrica.blogspot.com and http://theroughguidetokenya.blogspot.com.
Follow Richard on twitter at http://twitter.com/richardtrillo
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