ALEX DE WAALWhy are Ethiopians Dying in Isaias’ War? | The Elephant

2022-10-09 08:11:40 By : Mr. Alex Zhao

Isaias’s formula for government is dictatorship and his vision of Isaias’s vision for Ethiopia is as a backwater for Eritrea, providing it with raw materials and cheap labour.

Tens of thousands of young Ethiopians who answered the call to serve in the national army are fighting for Eritrea. As Eritrean long-range artillery pounds Tigrayan positions, Ethiopian soldiers are sent into battle on the orders of Isaias Afwerki. The Eritreans control every aspect of the operation. They have special squads behind the front lines to shoot troops who won’t obey orders.

This is how low the Ethiopian government has stooped. It is sending its own troops to serve a foreign country to fight Ethiopians. Many will die. If they occupy any part of Tigray these troops will be ordered to rape, torture and kill civilians.

Isaias has made no secret of his plans for Ethiopia. He thinks it is destined for fragmentation (like Yugoslavia) or state failure (like the Democratic Republic of Congo), and he will do his best to help it on its way. Isaias’s vision for Ethiopia is as a backwater for Eritrea, providing it with raw materials and cheap labour.

Isaias’s formula for government is dictatorship. He tore up Eritrea’s constitution and stuffed it into his back pocket 25 years ago. His formula for foreign relations is destabilization. He has attacked all his neighbours and created havoc in others.

Last year we saw how the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) acted when they were an occupying power in Tigray. Its ranks are filled by conscripts who are doing indefinite unpaid national service and are subject to unending indoctrination to hate Tigrayans. They went on a looting and pillaging spree, taking everything from industrial equipment to basic household goods such as kettles and crockery. They broke into the little kiosks of shoeshine boys to steal the brushes; that is how deprived they were.

The EDF servicemen and women are victims. But they are also killers. And rapists. And torturers.

When the Tigrayan Defence Forces’ Operation Alula Aba Nega destroyed most of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) divisions in June last year, the EDF divisions hastily retreated across the border back to Eritrea. Isaias didn’t want to risk them being defeated too. Since then, he has focused on his preferred tactic: to get Ethiopians to kill one another until he can become king of the wreckage.

EDF ranks are filled by conscripts who are doing indefinite unpaid national service and are subject to unending indoctrination to hate Tigrayans.

Naively, Western diplomats seemed to have believed PM Abiy Ahmed’s assurances that Eritrea would withdraw, or that it was a benign presence. The Tigrayans never bought that line. They knew that even if Abiy were sincere in wanting peace, his personal intention was absolutely irrelevant while Isaias still had his claws deep inside Ethiopia. Isaias is single-minded in pursuit of his goal and he would override Abiy’s tactical manoeuvers if they ever seriously transgressed his interests.

General Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union Commission’s high representative and envoy, proposed last month to invite Eritrea as a full partner to the peace talks. He must have known that the Tigrayans would object totally to any step that legitimized Isaias and his murderous role.

And while those diplomats, with sunny optimism, kept their fingers crossed that Isaias would reverse decades of policy and practice if asked nicely, the Eritrean despot planned his war. About 30 ENDF divisions relocated from Amhara and Western Tigray into Eritrea last month, placing themselves under Eritrean overall command. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision.

The Eritreans are keeping their artillery and tanks at a safe distance, firing long-range across the border. It’s the ENDF conscripts who will be ordered into battle, probably with machine guns at their backs to shoot any who think of running away. They are under orders to kill Tigrayans. Presumably if they occupy Tigrayan towns and villages they will be under orders to kill, rape, torture and loot the Ethiopians of Tigrayan identity they find there. Orders from the Eritrean president, that is.

About 30 ENDF divisions relocated from Amhara and Western Tigray into Eritrea last month, placing themselves under Eritrean overall command.

Isaias suffered a setback earlier this year when Somalis rebuffed Mohamed Farmaajo as his choice of president for the Somali Federal Government. Isaias had been schooling Farmaajo as a dictator and training his special forces. Isaias has also faced setbacks in his efforts to destabilize Sudan. But he continues to have his way in Ethiopia.

Only the Tigray Defense Forces stand in the way of Isaias’s ambitions. Every other African and international leader has been wilfully blind to the facts that should have been evident for so long.

If Isaias prevails in this war, the Tigrayans will face genocide. He will be the master of Ethiopia, pulling the strings over a collapsed state. And the African leadership and international community will not be able to say they weren’t warned.

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Alex De Waal is a Horn of Africa expert and Executive Director of World Peace Foundation.

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The new administration should invest in enhancing service delivery by improving management of land information, developing and ensuring adherence to land use plans and spatial plans, and supporting continued implementation of land and environment laws and policies.

On Tuesday, 13 September 2022, H.E. Dr William Ruto took his oath of office and began his term as the fifth president of the Republic of Kenya. In his inauguration speech, the president purposed to hit the ground running and lead Kenyans on a path of economic transformation and in the days following he confirmed his intention with action. The new administration introduced policy changes that gave us an idea of how the next five years will be. The new economic direction appears to be one of subsidizing production, and not consumption, with the latter being deemed unsustainable and harmful to the economy in the long run.

The president’s campaign focused on economic transformation and empowering Kenyans at all income levels to be able to earn a decent living. The plan to achieve this as detailed in the Kenya

Kwanza manifesto is heavy on investing in capital (Hustler’s fund, subsidizing production, bringing down the cost of living), and labour (job creation) but not as detailed in the other two factors of production: entrepreneurship and land.

Among the basic factors of production, land is the only one that is finite and as such, the success and efficiency of the new administration’s plans for economic transformation will also depend on how the state will manage and administer land to support investments as well as individual and communal property rights.

The Kenya Kwanza manifesto lists landlessness, insecure land tenure, the squatter problem in the Coast region, land fragmentation, and encroachment of forests and other ecologically sensitive areas among the top land-related challenges the country faces.

To resolve these challenges, the new administration pledged to establish a settlement fund to acquire land and resolve landlessness, and to stop land fragmentation and make optimal use of agricultural lands. The manifesto also included a commitment to establish 5 million acres (20,000 km²) of agroforestry woodlots in drylands. In addition, the coalition pledged to take administrative measures to ensure 100 per cent enforcement of the spousal consent legal provisions in land transactions to cushion women and children from dispossession of family land.

Beyond the solutions listed above, the new administration should invest in enhancing service delivery by improving management of land information, developing and ensuring adherence to land use plans and spatial plans, and supporting continued implementation of land and environment laws and policies. Overall, sufficient budgetary support and political goodwill will be the main factors that can ensure progress in the plans the new administration will have to improve land administration.

In the coming days, the president will name a cabinet and the fourteen to twenty-two individuals will be the executors of the government’s plans for a prosperous Kenya. For the incoming Lands Cabinet Secretary, here are five main things he or she can deliver on to create the right conditions for growth in investments and economic empowerment for individuals and communities:

The new administration should continue investing in the process of digitizing land records and automating processes for the whole country. Digitizing land records and automating lands services will not only improve service delivery by improving turnaround times for information requests such as land searches, but it will also significantly reduce cases of fraud.

The previous administration, which the current president was a part of, showed that full and efficient automation is achievable through the success of platforms such as eCitizen and NTSA TIMS. Kenyans will expect this level of efficiency when it comes to digital land records and automated services. The new administration should continue to deliver on this promise of automation by supporting the continued rollout of ArdhiSasa.

The foundational steps to reform the land sector have been taken through the new laws that have been enacted since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, and the new institutions we have introduced in the framework of land governance. For these institutions to undertake their mandate to the full extent envisioned when enacting the laws, we will need to continually invest in them. This investment should come in the form of financial and human resources to implement programmes such as the national titling programme, registration of community lands, digitization of land records, and adjudication and titling of public lands. Implementation of actions to resolve historical land injustices, including addressing issues of landless families and squatters in the coastal region and other parts of the country, will require adequate budgetary allocation and political goodwill. The new administration had listed the squatter problem in the coastal region among the main land issues the country faces, and this acknowledgement is an indicator that this matter will be a priority.

The new administration should continue to deliver on this promise of automation by supporting the continued rollout of ArdhiSasa.

Additionally, institutional support will come in the form of political goodwill to ensure more judges can be appointed to the Environment & Land Court, as well as national government support to county governments in developing county spatial plans. The swearing in of two more judges to the Environment & Land Court in the president’s first full day in office, for example, demonstrates the kind of goodwill that will guarantee continued progress in land governance.

Kenya’s economic blueprint, Vision 2030, recognizes land as a critical resource for the socio- economic and political developments that the country is undertaking. Vision 2030 also identifies respect for property rights to land, whether owned by communities, individuals, or companies, as a prerequisite for the economic transformation the country is targeting. Having a formal registration and documentation process is the basis of recognizing land and property rights and facilitating enjoyment of those rights. We also have the Environment & Land Court to ensure access to justice in resolving disputes over land and property.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010, and the land laws enacted in 2012 (the Land Act, the Land Registration Act and the National Land Commission Act) and thereafter, provide for timely and fair compensation in the event of compulsory acquisition of land. This will only be possible once the land value index has been developed for the whole country. The land value index is a representation showing the spatial distribution of land values in a given geographical area at a specific time. The land values in the index should guide compensation matters when the government or a private entity is acquiring land for investment.

All these policy and legal developments are geared towards establishing an enabling environment for investments to thrive. In the same regard, county governments need to align their policy and legal frameworks to support investments on land. In 2015, the Ministry of Lands and the National Land Commission approved the National Spatial Plan. This plan guides the implementation of strategic national projects, and specifically the flagship projects spelt out under Kenya Vision 2030, by indicating their locations and providing a framework for absorbing the impacts of these projects.

The National Land Commission has also developed guidelines on how counties can undertake spatial planning. The NLC’s Directorate for Land Use Planning is on hand to support counties in developing spatial plans in adherence to the national spatial plan. Counties should therefore prioritize developing these plans and begin identifying solutions to reconcile community livelihoods with the impacts development and infrastructure projects will have on the communities they serve.

Community land accounts for an estimated two thirds of the total area of Kenya. However, the majority of community lands were former trust lands and have never been adjudicated or registered. The communities in Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Mandera, Wajir, and Tana River, for example, have never undergone the process of adjudication to have a formal claim to their land. Yet a lot of investments are happening on these lands. We are undertaking oil exploration in Turkana County and in Marsabit County we have the largest wind power project in the country. The Lamu Port South-Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) goes through Lamu, Garissa, Tana River, Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit and Turkana Counties.

The majority of community lands were former trust lands and have never been adjudicated or registered.

The communities in the counties mentioned above are among the most vulnerable groups due to a history of marginalization, and by being in areas that are categorized as arid or semi-arid. While the constitution and the land laws provide for fair and timely compensation when land is acquired for investment or public purposes, rightful beneficiaries of compensation can only be ascertained once the land has been registered. Registering community lands will also contribute to national food security. For communities to maximize the output of their land, they will need to undertake land use planning in accordance with the provisions of the Community Land Act. However, effective land use planning can only take place once communities have a formally registered claim to their land.

Kenya is a party to several international conventions that are addressing environmental issues. While we have an obligation to conserve and restore the environment, we also have an obligation to ensure Kenyans are food secure and have an income to depend on.

In 2019, the United Nations Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD) adopted a Land Tenure Decision which encouraged parties to recognize tenure rights and improve tenure security as they implement measures to combat land degradation and desertification. The new administration should align with this position and reconcile communities’ livelihood and food security needs with the country’s land restoration and environment conservation priorities. Neither should be achieved at the expense of the other. The next administration should take the opportunity presented by the Land Tenure Decision to centre Kenya’s restoration efforts and national environmental action targets on Kenyans. There is a need to ensure communities remain on board the framework of environmental management, so that they can become both stewards and beneficiaries of sustainable land use.

In a newly published book Elizabeth Cooper examines the complex reasons behind the frequent cases of arson in Kenya’s boarding secondary schools.

I have just published a book about secondary school students’ experiences of education and fire-setting in their schools entitled Burning Ambition: Education, Arson, and Learning Justice in Kenya. The particular elephant that just entered this space then is that I am a Canadian-born researcher. And so, the first question you might ask is: “Why?”, and I don’t mean “Why are Kenyan students setting fires in schools?” I mean “Why did a Canadian researcher write this book? What could my book possibly offer Kenyans?”

For Kenyans already know why students have been setting fires in their secondary schools. There have been hundreds of media stories about school arson involving interviews with students, teachers and others. There have been government-appointed task forces in 2008 and 2016 that travelled the country to interview students, teachers, and others, and reported on their many findings. There have been Kenyan scholars publishing articles with their analysis. The country’s talented cartoonists have captured many of the issues at stake. The popular TV show Tahidi High has broadcast episodes dramatizing some of the ways students and others understand school fires. Indeed, most of the time when I speak to anyone in Kenya about the occurrence of students’ arson in schools, I hear astute analysis that combines a list of students’ school-based stresses and grievances with understanding that young people tend to lack peaceable options for safely expressing any dissenting views, and concern that young Kenyans have been exposed to many uses of violence to claim authority. Of course, I have also sometimes heard politicians and other authority figures denigrating children and youth as naturally wild and even evil. However, most thoughtful people see through such narrowed blame as a diversionary tactic by those who don’t want to seriously tackle a complex issue.

But there is no getting around it: students targeting schools with arson is a complex issue. Despite all the existing knowledge of contributing factors, the challenge of actually extinguishing this arsonist trend continues. In fact, the complexity of contributing factors often seems to make the task of prevention impossible.

When public discussions turn to what should be done, there is a common tendency to try to reduce the agenda to just a few concerns: perhaps reducing the emphasis on exam scores to mitigate students’ stress, or providing more psychosocial support to young people and opportunities for them to have their perspectives considered, or is it about closing boarding schools, or somehow eliminating the widespread use of violence in society?  It’s understandable that it’s perplexing and daunting to know where and how to start tackling the danger of school fires when there are clearly so many contributing factors and an extensively multifaceted collective effort is required.

My book does not prescribe solutions. I couldn’t do this, even if I wanted to try. But that’s not because I don’t also have a good grasp of the situation. I think I do. Since 2013, I have been conducting research related to school fires by spending time in schools and at fire investigations, reading reports and court transcripts, and interviewing hundreds of students, former students, teachers, education administrators, and other community members. I hope these data and my analysis of them will provide fresh and nuanced ways for Kenyans to consider what’s happening among secondary students and where help might need to be extended.

But I can’t provide a plan of action for two reasons. First, I am not part of the Kenyan citizenry and these matters will require broad and deep societal participation—in families, schools, wider communities, and ultimately in political action. I can help support such engagement, but at the end of the day, I’m not embedded in Kenyan society and I’m not a Kenyan citizen to insist on holding Kenyan elected officials and public servants to account. Actions will need to be taken by Kenyans as this is the education system for Kenyan children and Kenyan society. And second, my book is a scholarly enterprise; it synthesizes research so as to inform—perhaps even to diagnose—but not to prescribe. As a researcher, I offer a coherent account of as much relevant data and focused analysis as I could muster. Ideally, this will feed into public policy considerations that Kenyans will pursue. These considerations are, of course, happening now, in relation to the future of educational reforms, and specifically the new competency-based curriculum (CBC).  But a scholarly book is meant to stand the test of time and stimulate thoughtfulness beyond immediate events.

My book’s analysis situates Kenyan secondary students’ school arson in broader contexts, tracing historic legacies, global connections, and the complex psychosocial dynamics of young people’s apprenticing into their political selves. I hope it will be read by Kenyans, and those who care about what’s happening in Kenya, but I also want students and scholars and policymakers in Canada, the US, South Africa, Tanzania, India, the UK, and everywhere else to read it because there are lessons to be taken from the actions of Kenyan secondary students that are significant to all of us.

As I describe in the introduction of Burning Ambition, globalized promises that education will transform lives through lifting people out of poverty and securing more prosperous futures have inspired children, families, and societies around the world to invest massive amounts of effort, money, and hope in schooling. Some hopes have been realized, of course. But the promises of success through education have also produced untold experiences of failure. In most cases, people’s experiences of disappointment with education have been discrete, both quiet and individualized. I cite examples taken from India, Uganda, Niger, Ethiopia, the United States, Singapore, and China, where researchers have documented young people’s feelings of having personally failed because they could not achieve the promised idea(l)s of success that they once believed were possible through schooling. Such a sense of individual responsibility for failure has made people blame themselves, leading to deep demoralization, anxiety, and in some cases self-harm. As I note, much of this global phenomenon of widespread disappointment with education’s failed promises is practiced in submissive ways, suggesting little immediate threat to the status quo.

Students’ setting fire to their schools can be understood as a departure from such individualized and submissive modes of despondency, I contend:

Secondary students in Kenya are challenging the existing complacency with the globalized agenda of “education for all” and its failures. As I argue throughout this book, Kenyan students’ collective acts of arson in their schools are in part a demand for fairer chances at success. They are not aiming to annihilate their chances for educated futures by taking destructive actions in their schools. Rather, they are trying to correct a system that they see as intolerably punitive and unfair. They mean for their actions to speak beyond their schools and reverberate through political society. Students’ collective contentious actions in schools serve as important critiques, if we accept with Tania Li (2017: 1248) that “Critique means prising open the capitalist world as we find it, and exposing its imminent tendencies—the waste, inequality and violence, as well as the growth—to critical challenge.” Kenyan high school students are demonstrating that submissive despondency is not the only possible response to failed, or suspect, developmental promise. (Cooper 2022: 5-6)

None of that analysis is meant to romanticize students’ arson. Some cases of school arson have been tragically deadly. As painful as those incidents were, they were the exceptions, however. In recent years, Kenyan secondary students have demonstrated time and time again that their actions are somewhat disciplined: the vast majority of cases have not targeted people, but instead infrastructure, and very specific pieces of school infrastructure. We need to pay attention to such patterns, and their exceptions, to better understand this phenomenon. That’s some of the work I do in Burning Ambition.

Such a sense of individual responsibility for failure has made people blame themselves, leading to deep demoralization, anxiety, and in some cases self-harm.

Between 2008 and 2018, more than 750 secondary schools were targeted with arson, and the chief suspects were the students of those schools. I came to this tally though a systematic counting of incidents in government and media reports, and it is likely an undercounting, due to the lack of systematic incident reports between 2009 and 2014. Students’ arson in secondary schools has occurred every year since 2008 (and many cases before 2008 which I also review in the book), with some noticeable spikes in 2008 and 2016, which I examine. Students have set fires in schools in all regions of the country, at boys’ schools, girls’ schools, and mixed schools, at government and private schools, at national, extra-county, county, and some sub-county schools, and schools that have high, average, and low median exam scores. Therefore, the underlying causes cannot easily be attributed to regional, ethnic, gender, or class distinctions.

The most glaring pattern is that students’ arson has almost exclusively occurred in boarding schools. The majority of fires have targeted dormitories, but other infrastructure has been purposefully set alight too. Paying attention to these patterns and exceptions provides important insights. For instance, quite obviously, we must look at how young people experience their boarding schools, and yet we can also note that many students attend boarding schools in other countries without such frequent collective arson. And so, we must also attend to how young Kenyan students think about arson and other acts of destruction as significant and useful for their aims.

The underlying causes cannot easily be attributed to regional, ethnic, gender, or class distinctions.

When students try to explain why they turn to arson in their schools they say it’s because it’s the only means they have to make their voices heard. And they have learned that to try to prevent or punish perceived injustices in their schools, arson can be effective. What kinds of ‘injustices,’ you might ask? All kinds. Sometimes these are neatly articulated by students: they might point to their perceptions of corruption or intolerably harsh treatment on the part of a principal, for example. Many times, their actions fill in some of the explanations: the majority (but certainly not all) of school fires are set around the time of so-called mock exams, and so it seems students act to avoid these. But not for the immediate reasons we might guess; students are fearful of doing badly on mock exams, yes; but what often undergirds that fear is not wanting to face the humiliation and punishments that go along with poor mock exam performances. We should not downplay students’ fears of feeling humiliated; students at boarding schools are engrossed in striving for success, and experiences of failure can be acutely demoralizing, especially so when these are made the focus of public humiliations, like at school assemblies.

Such concerns are sometimes labelled as “petty grievances” in Kenyan public discourse, and castigated as not justifying the destruction of school property. This might be true, but that’s a moralizing argument and not a pragmatic one: the fact of the matter is students do turn to arson and destruction to make their dissent known. Students act with arson because they see it as their only way to achieve their aims of protest. How might they come to a different conclusion? Providing more space for young people’s views to be considered and even incorporated into educational planning seems a pragmatic place to start.

The most difficult part in all of this, I think, is that students are not always able to neatly articulate what they are protesting. Yes, sometimes they burn to avoid exams, but this is not an isolated fear; more broadly, students experience profound worry for their futures and doubt that their education will help them get very far. Yes, students sometimes act out destructively to punish what they perceive as moral transgressions in their own schools’ management, but their deeper frustration is with perceiving that the entire system—not just the schooling system—is rigged and unjust. Yes, boarding students sometimes burn their dorms to get a break from what some call their “prisons”, but is it any wonder that young people want to sometimes escape feeling isolated and always in competition with others, and instead want to enjoy feeling connected in affection and comfort with others? Isn’t it understandable that they want more from life, especially when they see that their intensive striving in school likely won’t be their ticket to a good life? Each young person is carrying around a bundle of worries and fears and frustrations. And those are legitimate; students do seem pretty wise to the world as it is now. Opening up more empathy and consideration to their feelings might actually help create a wiser world.

President William Ruto has kept a campaign promise to return cargo clearance to Mombasa but with recent technological advances in cargo handling logistics, the only jobs available today are those involving the physical handling of cargo.

The haste with which President William Ruto issued the cargo clearance directive—during his inaugural speech—may have caught by surprise those industry stakeholders who understand the complex nature of our logistics industry.

The return of the cargo clearance and port operations to Mombasa—decided without serious considerations—was a major campaign issue for Ruto to lure coastal voters. Mombasa has been reeling in economic pain for the last five years after the government issued an order directing that clearance of all Nairobi-bound cargo be undertaken at the Athi River Inland Container Depot (ICD).

Ruto’s directive overturned a notice issued in June 2018 that stopped importers from nominating cargo to any of the Container Freight Stations (CFSs) that had proliferated in Mombasa since 2007. That notice read in part:

“This is to notify all shipping lines that containers destined to Mombasa for local clearance shall not be allowed to be nominated by clients or endorsement of Bill of Lading to any CFS.”

It further read: “The nominations shall be done by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) based on vessel rotation, volumes, and individual CFS capacity, therefore you are required to inform your clients in your various ports of loading accordingly.”

KPA issued this directive to create cargo volume for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), which links the port of Mombasa to the Athi River ICD. The government required the shipping lines to henceforth use a Through Bill of Lading (TBL) instead of Merchant Haulage. TBL refers to a single bill of lading covering receipt of cargo at the point of origin for delivery to the ultimate consignee at a named place in the hinterland, in this case, the Athi River ICD.

In Merchant Haulage of containerized cargo, the responsibility of the shipping line ceases upon discharge of the container at the port. This is the point where the consignee takes delivery of the goods and is given a time frame within which to return the empty container.

The abrupt 2018 notice disturbed a logistics industry that had grown organically for over a decade. In 2007, there was very serious congestion at the port due to capacity constraints in the face of growing cargo volume, which affected the turnaround times of merchant ships.

For the first time in their history with the port, shipping lines threatened to levy a Vessel Delay Surcharge (VDS), a highly punitive fee for unusual delays, which can go as high as KSh30 million a day depending on the size of the vessel or the type of the cargo.

The abrupt 2018 notice disturbed a logistics industry that had grown organically for over a decade.

A need arose to create extra capacity outside the port’s yard to avoid VDS. This is how the CFSs came into being as a temporary measure to address the prevailing congestion. However, it is their business model that was interesting; viewed as an extension of the port, they were to apply the KPA Tarif. Since over 60 per cent of the cargo could not be cleared within the 7 free days the KPA allowed, the income of CFSs came from storage charges levied against importers who could not clear cargo within the free period, profiting from inefficiency.

CFSs became highly lucrative and within a few years had proliferated in number to over 10 stations. This gave the port relief to expand infrastructure—rehabilitation of berths, construction of a second container terminal, and dredging of the channel.

CFSs also invested in modern equipment to improve efficiency and become competitive after the KPA allowed importers to nominate cargo to the CFSs of their choice. Cargo clearance became easier and the storage charges business model could no longer hold.

With no room for tariff adjustment, CFSs had to innovate to remain afloat. They, therefore, introduced tailor-made plans with their customers, largely serving as distributive points and storage facilities for the cargo already cleared by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) through the KRA offices hosted on their premises.

The CFSs became popular among the importers. Those with excellent marketing skills managed to convince over 80 per cent of their clients to nominate cargo to their stations with KPA nominating the rest.

In a 2017 study on the future of CFSs in the wake of the construction of the SGR, Maritime Business and Economic Consultants found that the stations employed 1,804 people, who earned a total monthly salary of KSh102 million monthly. “Out of this number, 1,276 were permanent staff and 528 contracted staff,” noted the study which was led by Gichiri Ndua, an economist and former KPA managing director who oversaw most much of the modern port development. According to the study, CFSs invested over KSh20 billion in 2017.

Following the 2018 directive that importers must clear all cargo with a Nairobi address at Athi River ICD, CFSs lost business. Some closed down, those with the ability moved to Nairobi and others scaled-down business to handle only Mombasa-based cargo, which is less than 10 per cent of the port’s total volumes.

Crucial questions arise following the yet to be gazetted presidential directive. Are CFS operators likely to move their capital back to Mombasa? Will they be willing to move the capital they have invested in other logistics chains that have emerged? What if the SGR addresses the last mile transport challenge, which is the element that makes it costlier than road transport? How many jobs will be lost in Nairobi if operations go back to Mombasa?

CFS operators and other logistics providers are keeping a close eye on how events unfold following the new order. Recently, KPA published a notice that allowed importers to nominate cargo to CFSs of their choice, giving them the choice of either using rail or road. Even with the new terminal, the KPA’s cargo clearing capacity is limited and requires space outside the port, either at CFSs or at ICDs. Indeed, Ndua’s report notes that if the 21,830 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) handled by CFSs in 2017 were to be dumped at the port, one would not be able to set foot in the terminal.

Another critical consideration is the investment that the government has made in the ICDs in Nairobi and Athi River at the expense of the port. In the last five years, the government has focused all its attention on infrastructure projects at the ICDs in Nairobi and Naivasha. After suffering serious teething problems that led importers to pay huge demurrage charges at ICDs following the 2018 directive, the KPA improved infrastructure, including creating smart gates that now allow for a seamless flow of cargo.

Even with the new terminal, the KPA’s cargo clearing capacity is limited and requires space outside the port, either at CFSs or at ICDs.

The port of Mombasa may face capacity constraints should the number of importers opting to use road transport grow huge. Container traffic at the port has been recording a growth of 10 per cent per year on average in the last decade and the facility is currently handling over 33 million tonnes a year. The feasibility study carried out by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) on the SGR in 2011 projected that the port will handle 41 million tonnes of cargo by 2028.

Another dilemma facing the implementation of Ruto’s directive is how the neighbouring countries using the port at Mombasa will take it. The port is a regional infrastructure serving the Northern Corridor—Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Burundi. Uganda is of crucial importance. It provides the KPA with 70 per cent of the total transit cargo. In March this year, Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga took the Ugandan Finance, Planning and Economic Development Parliamentary Committee on a fact-finding tour of the Naivasha Inland Container Depot.

The delegation was led by Henry Musasizi, Uganda’s Minister of State General Duties at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. The team had earlier visited the Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania, before making their way to the Mombasa Port and the Naivasha ICD.

In May last year Kenya and Uganda joined forces to rehabilitate the old meter-gauge railway to enhance the seamless movement of goods. Kenya has provided a linkage between the SGR and the rehabilitated metre gauge railway line from Naivasha to Malaba using the Kenya Defence Forces.

Currently, it costs an average of US$2,100 (about KSh225, 120) to move a 20-foot container from Mombasa to Kampala by road. In December 2021 Kenya Railways (KR) gazetted promotional tariffs to ferry cargo from the Mombasa port to Malaba at US$860 (KSh100,198) for a 20-foot container weighing up to 30 tonnes and US$960 (KSSh111,849) for a container weighing above 30 tonnes. Charges for a 40-foot container weighing up to 30 tonnes stood at US$1,110 (KSh129,326) and at US$1,260 (KSh146,802) for those above 30 tonnes.

A few days before President Uhuru Kenyatta left office, State House announced that Kenya had issued Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Uganda and South Sudan with the title deeds to the location where a special economic zone is being established at the Naivasha ICD. The five countries were said to have been reluctant to put up inland container depots without title deeds.

But perhaps the biggest headache has to do with the Chinese loan. Kenya signed a “take or pay” loan with the Exim Bank of China. What this 15-year agreement means is that the KPA undertook to “take” a minimum amount of cargo on the new railway every year failure to which it would draw from its revenues to “pay” for the shortfall.

Kenya’s loan repayment to Exim Bank of China this financial year will jump to US$800 million, an increase of over 126.1 per cent compared to last financial year. If the KPA does not provide sufficient cargo to finance the repayment, Kenya will have to pay the loan from public coffers, which are already depleted.

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), in the five years that the SGR has been in operation, it has generated US$4.6 billion from cargo freight. Passenger trains generated US$760 million over the same period, indicating that it is cargo that is keeping it afloat. The KPA is therefore the SGR’s main client.

There is an erroneous narrative held by politicians who attach a lot of value to the port as the main job creator in Mombasa. This was perhaps the case a decade and a half ago, but it no longer holds because of technological developments in cargo handling logistics. The only jobs available today are those involving the physical handling of cargo.

Kenya’s loan repayment to Exim Bank of China this financial year will jump to US$800 million, an increase of over 126.1 per cent compared to last financial year.

With the full rollout of the KRA’s Integrated Customs Management System (iCMS) which replaced the decade-old Simba System, and KenTrade’s upgraded National Open Single Window System, cargo clearance is completely paperless and does not involve any physical contact. It can be done from anywhere. Therefore, clearing and forwarding jobs will not come back to Mombasa.

Also, since last year when the system became operational, licensed shipping lines and agents operating in Kenya are required to use the Maritime Single Window System (MSW) to prepare and submit vessel pre-arrival and pre-departure declarations to government agencies electronically.

The revival of Mombasa’s economy may lie elsewhere. As a starting point, the government must up its game by putting up modern training equipment and infrastructure and providing maritime training and education so that the country can equip its citizenry with skills to unlock the much-touted Blue Economy, the next economic growth frontier.

By 2020, the biggest maritime training institute in the country, Bandari Maritime Academy (BMA) in Mombasa, offered only 6 of the over 30 courses offered in maritime training as recommended by International Maritime Organization (IMO). Kenya does not even possess a training vessel to offer the trainee time at sea.

Lack of fishing gear and an ill-trained workforce limit Kenya’s efforts to venture into deep sea fishing. The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, which came into force on 29 September 2012, set certification and minimum training requirements for the crew of seagoing fishing vessels of 24 meters and above.

Because of this shortcoming, Kenya has left its sea waters to Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN) which mainly fish tuna species. Kenya lies within the rich tuna belt of the West Indian Ocean, where 25 per cent of the world’s tuna is caught.

Training would also open opportunities in other areas such as shipbuilding and repair, as well as seafaring, the biggest foreign earner for the Philippines, which supplies 40 per cent of seafarers’ jobs globally.

During his inaugural ceremony President Ruto promised to establish the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone in Mombasa to process leather among other activities. If implemented, it will represent an opportunity for job creation for the region.

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