On-off opposition protests in Kenya a risky affair for transporters

Tuesday May 09 2023
Kenya opposition protests

A transit truck set on fire by protesters during riots in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya on May 2, 2023. Protests in Kenya by opposition coalition are taking toll on exporters using the Northern Corridor due to risks and uncertainty. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


Protests in Kenya by opposition coalition are taking toll on exporters using the Northern Corridor due to risks and uncertainty.

Last week, a truck destined to Uganda was set ablaze by protesters in Nairobi, sending panic among business community who uses Northern Corridor to ferry goods from the port of Mombasa.

However, opposition figures decided on Wednesday to halt protests, just a day after they returned to the streets to push the government over a number of grievances they have put on the table. But the on-and-off protests over the past two months are putting anxiety in the bellies of transporters, who now can’t plan ahead with certainty.

Kenya's Azimio la Umoja Opposition Team

Kenya’s opposition coalition ‘Azimio la Umoja’ led by their leader Raila Odinga (C) at a news conference in Nairobi on May 2, 2023. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP

Read: Kenya protests: The give and take in Raila, Ruto truce

By Thursday, some transporters using the main artery on the Northern Corridor were still reluctant to use roads until the government and the opposition strike a deal to end the protest that stemming from the disputed last year’s presidential election and the state of the economy.


On Tuesday, a cargo truck destined for Uganda was set ablaze by goons in Nairobi as the opposition supporters staged a protest in the capital city after the initial deal for bi-partisan talks aborted.

The truck was stopped by a group on the Southern Bypass in Nairobi and set ablaze after the criminals failed to break into the container.
On Thursday, the opposition leader Raila Odinga’s coalition once again suspended the protests but threatened to go back to the streets should the talks fail.

“We will not hesitate to resort to alternative measures at the slightest indication of lack of good will and honesty on Kenya Kwanza side,” said the coalition leaders. “If, through intransigence, delaying tactics and other aspects of stonewalling Kenya Kwanza forces us to abandon the talks, there shall be no turning back. Kenya Kwanza must get us clear on this.”

Call off of protests

The suspension of the protests has been largely linked to the high-profile visitors in Kenya this week, with sources saying Odinga went slow to save his own reputation. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Kenya on Friday, a day after United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his delegation. Other visitors included International Monetary Fund boss Kristalina Georgieva, Japanese Prime Minister Fumia Kishida and Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly who all arrived after a high-profile conference on governance by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation ended last weekend.

President William Ruto with Japan PM Kishida Fumio

Prime Minister of Japan Kishida Fumio (L) with Kenyan President William Ruto (R) at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO | PCS

Read: Kenya's opposition calls off protests

Northern Corridor users told The EastAfrican that they would continue monitoring the situation.

“We would like the government and opposition to announce they have agreed on main issues and call off weekly protests to end anxiety in the logistics sector. We shall resume ferrying cargo as we monitor the situation,” said Kenya Transporters Association chairman Newton Wang’oo.

This week’s protests, though violent, were on a smaller scale than those held last month. But they still hurt transport services on the Northern Corridor, which links Kenya to the rest of East Africa from the Mombasa port.

Mr Wang’oo and association’s chief executive Mercy Ireri said demonstrations are affecting supply chains not only in Kenya but also in other East African countries more so Uganda, which depends mostly on Mombasa port for importing and exporting its products.

“Most of trucks scheduled to supply goods in Nairobi and its environs have experienced some delays as truck owners suspended their trips for fear of attacks. We are taking stock, but the demonstrations have affected those plying the Northern Corridor after one truck was burned in Nairobi,” said Mr Wang’oo. It is estimated that the loss of business time and property could also be about $73.8 million a week.

Cargo declines

Kenya exports $800 million worth of goods to Uganda annually, with other countries such as Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan also depending on the Mombasa port for essential goods, including petroleum products.

With the increasing insecurity and no truce yet, the port will continue to see cargo volumes decline as traders opt to use Dar es Salaam port.

Read: Dar gains from Kenya riots as region on edge


A ship docked at the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

XN Iraki, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says the interruption caused by the protests will force transporters to look for alternative routes.

“We are the gateway to Uganda, DRC, South Sudan, Rwanda and northern Tanzania. Protests interrupt these routes and their supply chains,” Prof Iraki told The EastAfrican. “Delays raise the cost of transport. In the long run transporters could seek alternatives which will cost us more,” he added.

He said the neighbouring countries may also resort to putting stringent measures for Kenyan truck drivers.

“They may not be attacked, but they will go through other stringent measures, checks that will raise the cost of transport,” he added.
On Thursday, the Kenya Ports Authority announced extension of storage free period for containerised cargo at the port of Mombasa and inland container depots.

In trying to woo new clients and maintain existing ones, transit import containers at Mombasa and Embakasi ICD have been offered 15 days’ free storage from nine, while those choosing to use Naivasha ICD will be given a 30-day storage, from nine days.

Thereafter, containers that overstay between 16 and 21 days will be charged $30 per day for 20-feet containers and $60 for 40-feet containers. KPA will charge $45 those that stay for more than 21 days for 20-feet containers and $90 for 40-feet containers.