Officials representing the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam were in Washington last week seeking US public and private financing for projects to modernise shipping facilities and improve security at them.
Competition between the two largest ports in the East African Community emerged as a subtle sub-text in the Kenyan and Tanzanian presentations at a business briefing sponsored by the US Trade and Development Agency. The two officials’ PowerPoint displays were also noteworthy for what they omitted.
Tony Kibwana, principal security officer for the Kenya Ports Authority, said little about the $24 billion planned port project in Lamu dubbed Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor.
Ntandu Mathayo Ntandu, planning manager for the Tanzania Ports Authority, made no mention of the $11 billion Bagamoyo Bay project which, if completed, would dwarf both the Dar and Mombasa ports in scope.
The two port specialists’ reticence on those projects, both of that have been slow to get off the drawing boards, may have stemmed in part from China’s lead role in financing both Lapsset and Bagamoyo Bay. USTDA, the East African officials’ host, encourages US private companies to become involved with infrastructure projects in developing countries.
Mr Kibwana described Mombasa as the biggest port in the region. “We aspire to be one of the leading ports in the world,” he added in his remarks to US business executives and government officials. Mr Ntandu outlined plans to expand capacity at Dar and to develop a new facility at Mwambani Bay to handle anticipated increases in cargo.
Mr Ntandu acknowledged in an interview on the sidelines of the Washington event that Dar is striving to supplant Mombasa as the number-one port in East Africa.
“That is our ambition,” Mr Ntandu said. He noted that geography gives Dar a potential advantage over Mombasa because Tanzania borders more landlocked countries in need of outlets to the Indian Ocean.
Mombasa at present far surpasses Dar in annual volume of cargo. The principal Kenyan port handled 26 million tonnes of goods last year, Mr Kibwana said. Tanzania’s main port cleared about 15 million tonnes in 2015, Mr Ntandu reported.
Both ports have seen substantial increases in traffic during the past decade despite infrastructure limitations and other impediments. And both envision even greater growth in the coming years.
Kenya is projecting that the volume of commercial shipping through Mombasa will more than double to 54 million tonnes by 2030, while Tanzania anticipates a nearly three-fold increase to 41 million tonnes by 2028.
Mr Ntandu and Mr Kibwana also discussed respective challenges that they said offer opportunities for US investors.
Dar is unable to accommodate the larger vessels now plying the world’s oceans, the Tanzanian port official noted. Transporting goods from Dar to upcountry Tanzania and its landlocked neighbours also presents great difficulties, Mr Ntandu said.
Rehabilitation of the rail network, in which trains run on two different gauges of tracks, is “a major requirement,” he declared. Warehouse capacity at the port must be expanded, he added, noting that Tanzania also aims to develop a modern passenger-ship terminal.
Some similar issues are facing Kenya, with Mr Kibwana pointing out that an inadequate road network currently handles 90 per cent of the goods moving to and from Mombasa. Planned construction of a modern rail line between the port and Lake Victoria will greatly facilitate the transport of goods inside Kenya and onward to Uganda, Mr Kibwana said.
Highlighting another infrastructure initiative, Mr Kibwana noted that a new container terminal at Mombasa is scheduled to open later this month, with two additional facilities expected to become operational in the next few years.
On the topic of “challenges,” Mr Kibwana cited “lackluster performance” by other government agencies, which he did not name, as a drag on development of the Port of Mombasa.
Only brief mention was made of the Lapsset project in Mr Kibwana’s presentation at the US Trade Development Administration headquarters.
Although the ambitious plan to link a major new port near Lamu with South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda would rank as Africa’s largest infrastructure project, the Kenyan official did not tout investment opportunities related to Lapsset.
In an interview during a break in the business briefing, Mr Kibwana said he was unable to comment on Uganda’s choice of a Tanzania route rather than the Lamu corridor for its projected oil pipeline. He also would not comment on Ethiopia’s decision to build a pipeline to the Port of Djibouti instead of Lamu.
“It’s a government project,” Mr Kibwana said in regard to Lapsset. The Kenya Ports Authority is not playing the lead role in the planning for the initiative, he explained.
On his part, Mr Ntandu made no reference at the US trade agency session to the giant Bagamoyo Port project that is to be financed mainly by China. He did not allude to problems and delays besetting the project.
The Tanzanian and Kenyan officials both cited security as a key concern at their respective port facilities.
Mr Kibwana pointed out that the Port of Mombasa has not experienced any major security-related incidents. “Mombasa is one of the safest ports in the region,” he told the audience, adding in an interview that technology innovations now being implemented will help to further safeguard facilities.
Tanzania is enhancing security systems at the Port of Dar es Salaam through a contract with an Israeli company, Mr Ntandu told The EastAfrican.
A representative of a US company that offers security consultations and recommendations said in an interview that his firm will “very definitely” bid on port-related projects in East Africa.
Jamie Thompson, a programme manager for Cardno, explained that the company evaluates threats related not only to terrorism but to geological, meteorological and biological factors.