Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday presided over the opening of the nation's new port at Lamu.
The Chinese-built $3 billion port will serve Ethiopia, South Sudan and other landlocked nations and compete for business with ports elsewhere in the region.
Kenyatta, calling construction of the port "a momentous feat," said it "marks an important milestone towards the realization of a key objective of Vision 2030 — to transform regional economies through increased trade and integration and interconnectivity. ... This port will connect South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.”
Kenya’s Vision 2030 plan aims to transform the country into an industrial and middle-income economy.
Construction of the Lamu port began in 2016. Since then, Kenya has been trying to woo its neighbors to use the port. In return, they will pay less for the goods that pass through.
Kenyatta said the project was part of his country's effort to change the lives of its people.
“A new chapter unfolds today in the development and transformation of Lamu," he said. "A chapter now joins the transformation that is taking part or taking place in every part of our country.”
Kenya already has a major port in Mombasa, in the south of the country. Critics of the Lamu port say it might be of less economic value.
Gerrishon Ikiara, an international economic affairs lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said the Lamu port's strategic location would help Kenya secure more revenue.
“The Lamu port will help Kenya to have the advantage of lower cost of transportation," Ikiara said. "It has a short distance to South Sudan and parts of Ethiopia. So Kenya will access greater markets. It will be able to get revenue from cargo on transit coming through the port to other countries.”
Most businesses in Ethiopia, the second most populous nation in Africa, use the Djibouti port. Kenya wants businesses in southern Ethiopia to use the Lamu port.
Volatility could hurt
Ikiara said the political volatility in Ethiopia and South Sudan might lead to less use of the new facility.
“The insecurity and instability in the area, fighting in Ethiopia," Ikiara said. "The warring parties within South Sudan, which are not helping. So there are political, economic, infrastructural problems, and sometimes a bit of quarrel between countries so that they are not necessarily working on the same level and rate.”
Kenya expects to complete the construction of the port in October and plans to invite leaders from neighboring states to show them its potential and negotiate deals for their respective countries.