News / Africa

    Kenya Attacks Undermine Plans for East African Trade Hub

    Kenyan police officers patrol Mavuno villages near Mpeketoni after unidentified gunmen recently attacked the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, June 17, 2014.
    Kenyan police officers patrol Mavuno villages near Mpeketoni after unidentified gunmen recently attacked the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, June 17, 2014.
    Reuters
    The latest in a string of militant attacks on Kenya's coast has dealt a fresh blow to the economy, but the threat this time goes beyond the tourist trade to an ambitious $25.5 billion port and transport scheme next to the historic town of Lamu.
     
    Lamu residents, often working in tourism like others along Kenya's palm-fringed coastline, have seen visitors flee with each assault, growing used to empty alleyways that once bustled with visitors and idle dhows awaiting clients on the waterfront.
     
    But, till now, most attacks targeted Mombasa, 240 km (150 miles) south. This week gunmen hit closer to Lamu, striking twice in 24 hours around Mpeketoni town just 30 km (20 miles) from the 14th century Arab trading post. About 65 people died.
     
    “Our future hinges on getting our port,” said Munawar Abdalla, 36, a local mason crafting ornate chairs styled with ebony and camel bone. “But if there's no peace here how can the Lamu port work out. I'm very worried.”
     
    Lamu is at the heart of a grand scheme that aims to connect new oil fields of Uganda and Kenya, and possibly the wells of  South Sudan, by pipeline to the Indian Ocean. It also aims to link land-locked Ethiopia, an emerging economic power, to a brand new container port along a planned north Kenyan highway.
     
    Critics have always said raising $25.5 billion for a 32-berth port, new roads and other infrastructure by 2030 was optimistic at the best of times. But attacks on Lamu's doorstep make the tough task of raising financing an even harder sell.
     
    It may force plans to be stripped back, reducing it to a pipeline and oil terminal to deal with crude flows from Uganda and Kenya that may reach 500,000 barrels per day in a few years.
     
    “This is a big important political economic project but if you don't achieve the safety of whatever staff you have working on this project, it will be hard to attract foreign investors,” said Mark Bohlund, an Africa economist at IHS Global Insight.
     
    The project is dubbed LAPSSET, which stands for Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport. It was dreamed up before Kenya or Uganda found commercial oil and is a bid to keep Kenya as east Africa's main trade gateway, easing pressure on its congested Mombasa port. But it has struggled to secure backers.

    Driving up costs
     
    A Chinese firm was awarded a $484 million contract to build three berths early last year, but there has been no sign of work starting. Meanwhile, a rival $10 billion port project in southern neighbor Tanzania powers ahead with Chinese backing.
     
    Fresh worries around Lamu, which is 110 km (70 miles) from war-torn Somalia to the north, will drive up insurance premiums and could make any work pricier if fewer firms compete.
     
    “It absolutely raises the cost of the project,” said Clare Allenson, Africa expert at Eurasia Group consultancy. “You will have to invest heavily in private security and other precautions and insurance for all elements of the project will go up.”
     
    The government insists it is tackling the security problem.
     
    Although Kenya has blamed a string of assaults in recent months in Mombasa and the capital Nairobi on Somalia's al-Shabab militant group, President Uhuru Kenyatta said his political rivals were the ones behind the Mpeketoni attacks.
     
    That drew heated denials from opponents and raised eyebrows among experts after al-Shabab claimed responsibility, even if they acknowledge the Mpeketoni attacks on a poor area showed different tactics to al-Shabab's raid on Nairobi's upscale shopping mall last year in which 67 people died.
     
    The government insists Kenya is still a safe place to invest, while those behind the port project remain upbeat.
     
    “I don't want us to overplay this,” LAPSSET Chief Executive Silvester Kasuku told Reuters from Nairobi offices, adding the latest attack would not hurt the project “in any meaningful way because any issue over insecurity is not just unique to Kenya.”
     
    Yet, there is still little activity at the port site, a short boat ride from Lamu through the mangroves.
     
    A gleaming four-story building stands above the mangrove bushes, home to Kenya Ports Administration, but the bay which it overlooks shows no sign of dredging or other work for the container berths. Some workers on site are nervous.
     
    “We are now worried about security because of these attacks,” said one worker this week, near the remote concrete port authority building sheathed in a mirror glass and stone exterior. “We don't have any police here.”
     
    Some analysts say the planned berths may never be built, limiting the project to a pipeline and oil terminal without the grander trimmings of highways, railways and container ships.

    Risk Appetite
     
    “The pipeline and oil component still has promise but the broader scheme ... is at risk,” Allenson said. “There is a pretty big difference between risk appetite for oil projects versus broader shipping [plans].”
     
    Energy firms, long used to extracting oil from tough places, are unlikely to be fazed. Britain's Tullow Oil is determined to pipe oil it has discovered in Kenya's northeastern Turkana region and Uganda to the coast.
     
    That means crossing north Kenya, a region close to Somalia where attacks between rival groups over land and other disputes are common. A cheaper pipeline above ground could be target.
     
    Tullow, which works with Africa Oil in Kenya, has said it plans to bury the piping, citing both environmental and security reasons. It has also said the pipeline route and other details have yet to be confirmed as studies are still going on.
     
    Exports from Kenya and Uganda, where France's Total and China's CNOOC also operate, could start in about three years, possibly trucking oil out initially.
     
    Kenya and Uganda have begun work on plans for the pipeline that could cost $2.5 billion to $5 billion. South Sudan, which now exports oil via a pipeline through Sudan, could join in.
     
    Yet, with plans still in the works, some fret that tensions in Lamu will increase. Mahmoud Abdulkadir, a 62-year-old Muslim preacher, worries radical Islamist ideas that have won over youths further south on Kenya's coast may be spreading north.
     
    He points to Swahili graffiti near Lamu's 19th century fort that reads “Boko Haram ndio njia”, or “Boko Haram is the way”, a reference to the Islamist insurrection in Nigeria on the other side of Africa.
     
    One senior security official said al-Shabab and radical Islamist groups had been playing on the disputes and rivalries between ethnic groups over land ownership and other issues, which might explain why Mpeketoni was hit.
     
    “Al-Shababhas been exploiting local grievances,” he said.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    NATO to Target Migrant Smugglersi
    X
    Jeff Custer
    February 11, 2016 4:35 PM
    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.