Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lamu Port Corridor: Fantasy or Fraud?

Kenya’s Lamu Port Corridor proposal, part of "Vision 2030", would be Kenya’s biggest ever civil engineering project. It would build a pipeline to deliver oil from South Sudan to a new refinery near Lamu on the coast, build facilities to ship the oil from a giant tanker terminal, lay more than 1700km of new highways and railways to South Sudan and Ethiopia, and build three new airports and tourist resorts in Lamu, Isiolo and at Lake Turkana. 

The consultancy project alone – with Japan Port Consultants – will cost the Kenya treasury more than $20 million. The padding out of the price tag with unnecessary and highly paid staff has been the subject of an investigation by Jaindi Kisero at the Daily Nation. As Jaindi points out, there is no mention of the Lamu Port Corridor consultancy on Japan Port Consultants’ website, though JPC does profile their agreement on a Mombasa port consultancy (use the Google Chrome browser for in-page translation). It's also curious that consultancy work on a massive road, rail, airport and hotel-building project has been commissioned to a consultancy specialising in harbours and shipping.

Map © Daily Nation, July 23, 2011

To me, the Lamu Port Corridor plans look like pure fantasy. This “construction time-line” from the Ministry of Transport, with the building of facilities stretching ahead for decades, is a meaningless graphic, and doesn’t even include the transport and resort infrastructure.

Peter Moore of Wanderlust Magazine recently interviewed me about the project for Wanderlust's Endangered Destinations 2011:
What are the proposed benefits of the Lamu Port Corridor?
The main benefits would be the economic development of northern Coast Province and the districts of northern Kenya through which the pipeline and railway route would pass. A secondary benefit would be to create a strategic communications route through north-east Kenya, a region currently exposed to the dangers of Somalia’s ongoing disintegration and lawlessness.

What impact would it have on Lamu?
Most dramatically, there would be a huge influx of migrant labourers from other parts of Kenya.
Lamu town would become a service and transport hub. A bridge to the mainland and a fast highway to Malindi would be likely to follow, which would bring roads, vehicles and building development onto Lamu. This level of infrastructure development is incompatible with Lamu’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site. The town is the best existing example of a Swahili city and preserves a mass of features, through which its origins can be traced to the 14th century or earlier.
Would locals benefit from the development of a port?
In many cases there would be financial benefits in terms of jobs for school-leavers and bigger markets for local businesses. Some locals might also consider closer physical links with the rest of Kenya to be an advantage, emphasising national unity.
What would be the disadvantages as locals might see them?
Rapid, economic development parachuted onto the district would be socially disruptive. Much of the social fabric in Lamu is held together by tradition and family connections and those would be severely challenged by new opportunities and inward migration. Lamu’s attraction as a destination for low-key, getaway cultural tourism would face equally severe challenges which would likely see it morph into a northern version of the international-style hotel development common near Mombasa. 
Can the development be stopped or changed?
The consultancy process alone has already cost the Kenya treasury more than Ksh1 billion ($11 million). The normal tender process wasn’t used before the Japanese consultancy was recruited, and massive corruption is being investigated by the media. The treasury has now obtained a 35% discount on the consultancy fees, and payments are currently on hold. Building the facilities and the railway links to South Sudan and Ethiopia would be extremely costly and the project would carry some security risk from local banditry and even Somali jihadists. Even if construction starts, it is quite likely that Ethiopia and South Sudan will have made other export arrangements long before it is completed.

Is a more sustainable, less intrusive option available?
Yes, the full development of Mombasa port and a high-speed rail link to Nairobi and Uganda would be much more cost-effective and would sit on or alongside existing infrastructure. In terms of distance, the Lamu plan has no tangible benefits to exporters based in Juba, Addis Ababa or northern Kenya over this alternative. A new oil pipeline from South Sudan could be routed to Mombasa just as easily as to Lamu.
Who is pushing this through?
Japanese consultants, Chinese and local contractors, and local vested interests. It is said to be “close to President Kibaki’s heart” – or just where his wallet resides, as many Kenyans would say.
How likely is it that the project will go ahead?
The Lamu Port Corridor consultancy is the most expensive feasibility study ever undertaken by the Kenya government. The whole project may yet turn out to have been, either deliberately or through mismanagement, a massive white elephant consultancy project intended to offer the biggest possible private benefit to every party involved without, in the end, delivering a feasible programme for actually carrying out the work.


  1. I believe this project could be breakthrough. As usual, corruption will kick in and some people will highly benefit from it. Yet, I am ok with overlooking it as long as this does not get astonishing proportions and as long as the timeframe can be respected. Sometimes you have to deal with the Devil...

  2. It's so much bigger than a breakthrough project, though. I mean the outline plans are talking about something that must be the biggest set of civil engineering projects ever undertaken in the whole of Africa.

    Can they seriously talk about building anything big in Lamu (even if that was desirable, which I don't necessarily think it is - and local people haven't even been consulted) when there isn't even a tarmac road *to* Lamu? It's seems like dreamland to me.

    If they were to switch all the plans to focus on Mombasa, transform that port, upgrade the Mombasa-Nairobi railway to a wide-gauge high speed rail link (just imagine!) then you'd have a giant project that was 1) worth doing because it would achieve massive goals without trashing the environment and 2) be actually achievable because some of the infrastructure for making it happen is already in place.

    The problem with the Lamu port project is that it's unfeasibly huge. Even the giant feasibility study itself isn't yet finished and is mired in dispute with the Kenyan treasury over how much the consultants are being paid - and what it's all for. . .

    1. jambo richard,

      las vegas was once a dream! dubai in the desert!lamu is coming...of course we expect some problems..but that creates work for people with solutions.

  3. Richard-

    The problem with your argument is that is misses both the point and the intentions of Kenyans. I am not sure if you noticed by Northern Kenya is rather poor, a new nation has been born in the area, and terror elements in Somalia are an increasingly threatening force to authorities in Northern Kenya.

    That said, while it may be more efficient to just "focus on Mombasa" that's almost like saying people in the Western US should just focus on the port of Long Beach so as not to destroy or hinder the natural beauty of the Western Coasts. Trust me, put that to a vote here and it would go down to defeat- particularly in this economy.

    Kenya is growing, Richard. And part of that growth means not only releasing the pressure on Mombasa but continuing that growth into its northern regions. Kenya's economy cannot expand if the north remains poor and neither can South Sudan and Ethiopia achieve growth without better links with Kenya. Yes, this could be a boondoggle and yes it will put some stress on Lamu's attractions. But last time I checked, cultural treasures like Rome have a variety of intermodal transporation options that allow that city to thrive and connect it with the rest of the Italian and global economy and this could certainly do the same for Lamu.

    Let's not hold back three nation's growth (ie, less poverty for people) as an excuse to save important relics of the past.

    That's crazy, Richard.

    Upstate New Yorkers weren't exactly thrilled to get a canal linking the region to the Great Lakes. They too thought it would just fill the pockets of ambitious politicians and destroy the natural beauty of the region. I'm personally very happy those understandable but parochial concerns were overlooked and I am pretty sure descendants of those people liked having more economic opportunities than would have occurred had that argument prevailed.

    (I am a historian of New York, a descendant of upstate New Yorkers, and have traveled Northern Kenya several times over the years)

    I'm glad Kenyans are thinking big and how to better integrate all its regions as a means of providing opportunity to all its peoples. Doing so is critical to it achieving peace and development.

    - Dutch

  4. @Dutch,

    You seem extremely naive about the real intentions of the Kenya Government regarding to the Lamu port, and more widely about Vision 2030. As a political scientist working on Kenya, I am quite sure that on Kibaki's side these projects have nothing to do with the public good (how surprising!) but rather with buying the support of local contractors and business elites. It is a power compromise where politicians are worried to see a growing class of businessmen and professionals taking to much power and autonomy from the the political patrons. What takes place around Vision 2030 (a plan which is by no means Kenyan, but a project sold to the Governement by a SOuth African consultancy firm) is a classic scenario where the pledge of economic growth compensates the lack of real democratic progress and the growth of economic inequalities (no wonder why the Kenyan elite dreams much more about Singapour than of the US or Europe when they think about developpment). Vision 2030 is both a communication plan directed at the whole kenyan population (keep quiet, we are developping the country), the international donors and contractors (to make them forget the 2007-8 drama, and its consequences), and the business sector (we are giving you business opportunities, so please keep on giving the usual "kitu Kidogo" to your local MP). If implemented, the Lamu port is unlikly to benefit to the locals as a typical public private partnership where the economic benefits will be privatized. That's quite clear when you look at the information which have been released so far, as the Kenya Government has no intention (and no financial means) to act as anything else but a trigger to attract private investors (mostly in tax free areas, so don't expect an increase of ressources for the treasury). The project is also opening wide avenus for land speculation in mainland areas where the land is already privately owned (it seems that a lot of Nairobi investors ar rushing to buy land where the railtracks and roads are expected to be built, to re-sell them to the State at an increased price (A process which can easily turn into a typical corruption scheme). Th project is also a threat to local residents, as the land in Lamu is gazetted as Government land, and local people on the island, who do not own title deeds, are likely to be evicted without compensation, to make place to private investors and realize the "dream" of a resort city. The Lamu port, be it a white elephant or a reality, is likely to turn into Kenya' worst nightmare, in any case.

  5. Many thanks for your comments Dutch. I have no argument with you about the need to address Kenya's appalling social and economic imbalances. They've been growing steadily for more than a century. But massive projects like the Lamu Port Corridor (LAPSSET) plans need to be 1) financially viable 2) sustainable and 3) have a popular mandate.

    There's no evidence that any of those conditions are present. The CEO of Kenya Vision 2030, Mugo Kibati ( talks a good line, but he hasn't been able to explain how any of this will actually happen. The media report ministerial statements largely without any reflection and public debate is very limited. There are exceptions: Jaindi Kisero's excellent investigation into the feasibility study:

    points out how Kenyan taxpayers are being shafted even before any work on the ground has actually been done.

    Kenyans would love to be able to think big and make dramatic changes to their lives, but with the current leadership and lack of accountability, that's just unrealistic. Incremental, organic changes – resurfacing of busy roads to make them usable, a functioning railway from Mombasa to Kampala, improved port facilities at Mombasa, and Nairobi road and rail developments – are the best we can hope for, at least for the next few years.

    1. Richard,
      At times it is important to be optimistic as this is what will keep us going. the economic growth seen in kenya since 2003 when kibaki took over the leadership of this nation was merely driven by optimism as opposed to the pessimism of Kenyans. those who remained pessimistic have lost greatly. while we talk about corruption i would ask you to name any country in this world where there exists no corruption,where the capitalist have sat down and let the intrests of others take precedent over their own intrests. the Lamu port will offer both direct and indirect employment to the local communities and hence the reason why Kenyans should be looking forward to the same. Kenyans,forget about what Richard says let us support this project and the government in such projects for this is what will set us free from the elements of neo-collonialism which we have lived with since indipendence. it is the high time that this country achieves a middle class economy status.

    2. Anonymous,
      Optimism isn't enough. Kenya needs the rule of law. It was brutalised and let down by the British, and it's been equally let down by successive governments since 1963. By any measure, corruption in Kenya is massively in excess of what can be absorbed by the legitimate economy. Too many people feel they have little or no stake in the country's progress. And as for being free of neo-colonialism, how is the LAPSSET project going to be paid for except by deals that sell off Kenya's resources to the highest bidder? LAPSSET is a neo-colonial project of the worst kind. Fortunately, or unfortunately, whichever way you see it, the price is going to be far too high and the benefits just aren't clear enough.

    3. Richard, please try and bring on board other experts other than Mr.Jaindi who is no expert bit a journalist. secondly you do seem to live in the Kenya of the 90's. pessimism will not help this country. all the great nations of the world where made so by men and women who could dare to dream big. one's achievements in life can not exceed your dreams.

  6. Thanks DC – I posted my reply to Dutch before I'd seen your comment, even though you posted it last night (Google sends them as emails to be moderated).

    Rather than a grandiose Vision2030, what Kenya needs most of all, I would have thought, is 2020 vision.

  7. Hey Richard...Please let Kenyans dream big! Its big dreams that have turned around all those economies we respect. Considering you are a political scientist, i am not entirely surprised by your pessimistic view on this project. Its all a political analysis. I don't think 19 years is such a long time considering what we have been independent (whatever that actually means) for over 47 years.

    There are so many gigantic engineering projects that were inconceivable to many during initial stages and are today documented as mega structures. I totally understand where you are coming from although i am sure such views will not stop this project.

    Its noble and challenging, but that's precisely how we accomplish meaningful things that get into history books...

    Keep this blog... and review in another ten years! Wishing you a long life...

  8. Thanks Dorcas. I hear what you're saying, and one level of course I agree. But Kenyans are still dreaming of elementary human rights, and those should be fulfilled, before unviable, colossal mega-schemes are allowed to dominate the agenda. I mean let's see *one* decent working, reasonably fast railway, and a proper network of blacktop roads that are kept in good order, before we start considering building thousands of ks of highway across the desert and talk of resorts and ports and oil refineries.

    Again I ask the question: how can there be talk of building a huge new port in Lamu without a tarmac road *to* Lamu. One thing at a time, siyo?

    1. Richard, one of best way to enhance elementary rights is through economic empowerment. by opening up this region, the rest of the country will be able to interact with our northern Kenya brothers. how can you fight hunger when food cannot be transported fast and efficiently to the needy? when can one preach human rights to the hungry and dying?

  9. Richard.....I think all areas are being addressed by different teams so its likely things will get into shape after a couple of years. I would say we cannot stop getting our acts together in every sphere awaiting a proof of concept from one sector so as to proceed to another. That's what i am hearing you saying.

    Its unfortunate that Lamu does not have a connecting tarmac road, but there is no specific order in which transportation systems must be build. The important thing is we actually have some viable inland-island transport connectivity.

    This port and associated planned infrastructure present the locals with economic activities they had not foreseen. There is a whole chain of areas that will benefit but overall, the regional economy will grow because Kenya is willing to dare and act.

    I would also suggest you check with the various road authorities what may be in plan for the Lamu road infrastructure. A lot is happening in Kenya, check out more broadly.

  10. Thanks Dorcas, I appreciate your comments.

    It will be hard – will it not? – to start construction of a General Cargo Terminal in the Lamu area in the second half of 2012 (as laid out in the Ministry of Transport timeline that I've included above) if there is no surfaced road to allow heavy goods vehicles to reach the area from Mombasa. As of now, I'm not aware of any road surfacing going on east of Garsen, at least 130km short of the area in question.

    Seeing the rate at which roads in Kenya are being constructed this year and over the last few years (for example, it's taken four years for a similar length of road to be built from Archer's Post to Merille River), it just seems inconceivable, to me, that this will happen to Lamu in the next 12 months. Do you think it will?

    I'm not saying let's not get behind important development, or fulfilling urgent needs. I'm jjust saying let's not be hoodwinked yet again.

    You don't mention the huge row about the massive payments for the feasibility study. Are you not the least bit concerned about that?

    Let's review progress in a year's time. . .

  11. I have been trying to find the location, ie the actual site, of this proposed harbour and refinery, etc. Everyone is saying "Lamu" which is too there a small scale map or plan somewhere? A lat and long to look it up in Google Earth? Thanks!

  12. I haven't seen anything that detailed. I assume the plans are for it to be on the east-facing coast of Manda Bay, 16km north of Shela, where the jetty for what I assume is the US Naval Base of Manda Bay is currently located.

    I imagine the recent tourist kidnappings and murder are reminding all the stakeholders about the potential difficulties of even starting such an enormous project.

  13. Am an optimist on the Lamu Port Project but I don't agree with Muthoni and my reasons are many. Being a Kenyan, I have come to know my Political leaders too well. This project is only possible WITHOUT the current breed of politician and government fat-cats, and more especially not from a head of state whose current tenure is questionable. They don't have the public interest at heart, not with the Lamu Port and not with any other project ,vision, or whatever it is they come up with. I have stayed at the Kenya Coast for a better part of my life and the evidence is clear... the Mombasa port is conjoined with corruption and all sorts of social inequities, and we still talk of benefit to the North Eastern Kenya natives arising from the Lamu Port project, I don't believe so.

    Richard and DC, you have your facts right and I agee with you.

  14. I lived in Lamu for about a year and a half, and of course have been hearing about this plan, but it all seems mysterious, behind closed door in Nairobi. Nobody consulting the locals, etc. My personal opinion is that it would be heartbreaking if this goes through. It would be cultural genocide. It has already happened in Mombasa. I have Swahili friends who tell me Mombasa has completely changed in the past 10-15 years. Now it is an extension of Nairobi. The original Swahili people have exodus. Of course, the same thing will happen to Lamu if this port happens. What about the UNESCO treaties?

    I'm very interested in your opinion. You sound very informed about this. Do you believe they have any intentions of following through with these plans? Is this all some kind of money laudering scheme, a way to put aside these billions of shillings, to eventually put back in their own pockets?

    If they really do intend to build this port, what can be done to stop it? My impression is that the Lamu people are as a whole uneducated and lack the knowledge and resources to know how to protest. Is there any activist group involved? Can someone start organizing the locals so they can protest or at least be involved in the plans to ensure they won't be endangered by them? It seems something has to be done. Many people are sitting around talking about it, knowing they don't want it to happen, but nobody is being proactive, taking action. What should we do to actively protest?

  15. Does anyone think the entry of Kenyan troops in Somalia has got something to do with the Lamu port? Kenya is now certainly very interested in a stable interest in Somalia due to its economic impact. Somalia might be next after Sudan to join the East African Community. Never underestimate Kenyan politicians when it comes to elections and making money.

  16. The open secret is that the South Sudan and Ethiopian Governments are yet to endorse this project.
    From my knowledge the Mombasa-Eldoret-Lokichoggio route is more preferred by the government of South Sudan and equally shorter than this Lamu cash cow. They are disappointed by lack of commitment by the Kenyan government to develop the Lokichoggio corridor and that's why they've built a tarmac road from Juba to Nimule on the Ugandan border.
    Its totally bizarre to implement such a project when the railway line from Mombasa reaches Gulu, in Uganda, near the South Sudan border. Likewise it equally bizarre to construct a port and have no direct link with the capital city, Nairobi and Mombasa.
    From what i heard, the president's cronies are working hard to kill the Kenya Railways project on the modernization of the Mombasa-Kampala high speed standard gauge railway so that RVR owned partially by trans-century makes a killing in this Lamu rail link.
    This project is a total waste of taxpayers money and should be shelved until the Mombasa- Eldoret-Lokichoggio road and Mombasa-Kampala-Gulu railway lines are implemented.

    Please sign a petition by following this link;

  17. Thanks wanyonyi. I didn't know about the Juba–Nimule highway. Is that definitely finished? In which case there is tarmac nearly all the way between Juba and Mombasa already.

    I can't see any chance of this project getting off the ground while the extraordinarily costly feasibility study alone is still mired in controversy and not yet paid for or completed.

    It would be so refreshing if more of Kenya's politicians would focus on achievable goals - like getting some of Nairobi's decrepit transport infrastructure completed and sorting out some of the road drainage problems that saw important urban areas like Westlands last week taking on the appearance of rivers. In most similar big cities around the world, those responsible would be already be sacked. Embarrassing for Kenya - nothing new there, sadly.

  18. its true that with the coming of the lamu port have itsown advantage and disadvantage. Lets not run away from the reality that even in the most developed class the majority of ruling class comes from have but not have not.
    I live and stay in lamu more specific as a field officer. Its true that Lamu having been identified as a world heritage site where culture have been conserved since 14 century, the community that lives around lives in rampant poverty. Majorityare tpur guide, beach boys and when the tourism is down i can attest you that the community suffers.
    why the port?
    At least over 70% will get employment both internally or externally. lamu is ever green and therefore it can sustain itself interms of food source. they produce the best cotton, major suppliers of mango, with enough water they can grow plants off season. Then count coming of the port as a blessing.
    Vision 2030 is not a fiction, its a fact and we need everyone to be part of this, A large chunk of kenya external debt can be contributed to the former political elite who they would rather eat almst everything with no davelopment track, here we can see there is value for money and we need to appreciate.
    soo to me i will live for vision 2030

  19. The Lamu project is as of present very vague.I don't know how GoK will raise USD20-30B. I am sure most of the underlying/surrounding land has been acquired by politicians who will make a kill at the opportune time. Whilst the project would obviously transform the region,i am very skeptical on the ability and capacity of the GoK to successfully execute.This is just a bloody scam in the making...

  20. While the comments made here are long in opinion, guesstimates, political punditry, short-sightedness and conjecture, there is actually very little factual evidence provided to back these positions. My view is that they are informed by lack of information which provides ample space for speculation. Perhaps it might be more useful to seek as much factual information as possible before taking a position and forming an opinion about an issue such as this. My humble contribution, please see this overview of the entire project from a Ministry of Transport presentation

  21. Thanks for this link, arena-africana. It's fascinating to look at the scope of the project laid out like this for a credulous audience. But if anything it increases the sense that this is a huge fantasy. Here we are in January 2012, with no sign of any works of any kind, and Peter Oremo's document asks us to believe that somehow all these elements - road and rail links to Ethiopia and South Sudan and a deep water port – will be completed together. None of it makes any sense. The first three berths of the port will be useless with no finished links to Ethiopia and South Sudan. And none of this can happen while there is still no road to Lamu.

    How is the reader supposed to take the document seriously when it states on page 21:

    "Associated infrastructures also required immediately is the connection of Lamu to the main electricity grid (or construction of power plant), supply of water (from river Tana), access roads etc"

    I'm sorry. . . "access roads etc". Those three words refer to a major coast highway initiative, linking Malindi to Lamu, that has barely begun.

    You only have to consider the fanfare that was made of the completion of the tarmac road from Isiolo to Merille River last year (a distance that is about a quarter of the way from Isiolo to Moyale) and that has taken several years to complete, you start to realise the size of the Lamu project and all its connected projects.

    Whether LAPPSET is the right project for Lamu and northeast Kenya is one question – as a plan it's certainly up there with the biggest infrastructure projects ever conceived on African soil. But I think most people would accept that it's so colossal in scale as to make scepticism the only sensible response.

    I keep making the same point: until a single major highway and rail connection can be maintained and consistently improved over a decade or two, anywhere in the country (for example Mombasa to Nairobi), why would anyone believe these plans have any credibility?

    1. so where are your jingoistic Western pessimisms now? Richard I find you rather in the wrong place of work or addressing the wrong audience.It is Europe that you should be telling all these recycled fables about Africa as the old corrupt,poor,dirty place.You see..that was the West's attitude during the Cold Cold War years and into the turn of the millennium.But Africa has changed and the Chinese have been quick to spot the opportunities afforded by the need to bridge Africa's infrastructure gap.Increasingly..Europe and the US continue their steady slide into irrelevance in this area.Have Africa's ugly characteristics that you are so keen to point out disappeared? no But we must move forward on our economic transformation agenda even as we tackle those issues that you westerners see only.Truth is Africa is no longer the Hopeless Continent as the ECONOMIST magazine so loudly proclaimed in it's January 2000 issue.Neither is and will the West anymore be as dominant and neocolonally arrogant with us anymore

  22. Lamu communities have not taken the government to court for not providing informationg , consulting them, or carrying out an EIA on the Lamu port...

  23. I live on lamu and I want to say what a brilliant blog you have written re the Lamu Port, I agree with you fully and very much doubt that there will be any port here.

  24. Lots of big plans all over the place, everyone eager to satisfy an insatiable Chinese appetite for oil and minerals. This incredibly ambitious project may never get off the ground, but in the meantime there can still be land grabbing and profit making on the backs of locals, all done in the name of development. This is also happening in Mwambani in Tanzania. Those opposed can simply be branded as traitors or anti-development. Yes, we all want prosperity, but these local fights are crucial to establishing the path that needs to be followed -- fair, transparent, sensible, equitable.

  25. being white dont make u more bright, leave Kenya/ Africans alone. The Lamu port must go on whether u like it or not, because we as people of Kenya say so. we want jobs men, Your countries are busy destroying the world through co2 emission, go preach to them first.

  26. I cannot believe the level of ignorance displayed here. When a foreigner, regular visitor or a Kenyan in the diaspora peddles in mis-information, I cannot blame them because they have the usual stereotypes of what the 3rd world is supposed to be like. But for a Kenyan living in Kenya to doubt and not seek the truth is just sad. All the information is available and local communities in the area are sensitized and eager for the project to get off the ground. I know this because I have relatives & friends in the area. I dont think that all persons in the area need to endorse the project before it starts and I expect activists to voice their concerns and Government should address them.

    I know to Richard and others of his ilk, Africans need to follow the prescribed path of first getting some education and a proper civilized religion, eradicate disease, ingrain democracy, sort out the appalling human rights standard's, before they can be allowed to dabble in big projects!

    FYI in 2003 there was only about 8b available for roads construction and maintenance. Today over 100b is easily raised through the fuel levy and directed to new roads and maintenance of existing ones, never mind the real and perceived corruption. Today we live in a very different Kenya, so different that anyone who judges us by the 1990's standards will be missing the point by a mile! Thanks to financiers who believe in Kenyans and dont get distracted by a few cases of corruption, so much more infrastructure is coming up all over the country. We also love our historical sites and pristine nature as much as you do, but we are looking at the bigger picture. We are looking to open up our country, give every citizen access to basic services like power, roads, access to markets and connectivity.

    On 2nd March the Presidents of Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia will be ground-breaking this "phantom" project. In less than a year a 350km 220kV line will be supplying reliable power to the region. Your doubting posture and demeaning comments only help to strengthen the nation's resolve to chart our own path.

    With all due respect to Richard, your travel guides are good, but leave local politics and development issues to Kenyans. Just the same way I cannot offer to competently analyse & comment on politics of another nation even where I have good contacts or make regular visits.

    Trust me, LAPPSET is happening and LAPPSET along with Vision 2030 are game changers for our country. Get used to the idea.

    1. Thankyou administrator,Africans can manage their affairs effectively and efficiently. Richard if you do not believe in what Kenya is doing you should not be doing business in Kenya. so please respect Kenyans and stop dissuading them.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Thanks for the various comments received about this post in recent weeks. I don't have any argument with anyone who wants peace, prosperity and freedom of speech in Kenya. That's what everyone wants. I just don't see any evidence of consultation about LAPSSET in Kenya, or of any kind of national debate that would challenge these astronomically expensive proposals. Or of a single high-level prosecution for corruption that might lead people to trust the government. All of which makes me very sceptical. If decades can go by while the country's premier bit of transport infrastructure (the Nairobi-Mombasa railway) is simply allowed to fail into disrepair by the government, could someone tell me why we should believe them when the same people say they're going to build a brand-new railway, three times as long, through the desert. When we read that LAPSSET is also supposed to include three new "resort cities", then you have to be even more sceptical. Building "resort cities" just isn't how tourism is developed. Tourists coming to Kenya don't want to visit "resort cities".

    Everyone has a right to express their views on the LAPSSET proposals and on Kenya in general, even a UK-based travel writer and Kenya-phile like myself. And there are no borders to our rights to freedom of expression. If you want to criticise hypocritical British foreign policy, or Scotland's desire/lack of desire for Independence, or today's Somalia conference in London, please go ahead. I find it pretty sad that one recent comment stated "I cannot offer to competently analyse & comment on politics of another nation". Why on earth not? You have every right to do so, regardless of your nationality, location or vested interests.

    Equally, everyone should expect to be challenged on their views.

    It would be refreshing to get some actual feedback on the substantive points in my post and in one or two of the earlier comments. There's a very good article about the proposed oil pipeline here: which moves the arguments on quite a lot, and it has very worthwhile links to further articles. A lot of emphasis is currently being placed on South Sudan as a key partner for Kenya, but people may overlook the fact that the failing dicatorship based in Khartoum can't last forever, and will also need to remain a friend of Kenya in the long term. Have a look at this:

    and this:

    1. Incidentally, it would be also be refreshing to have a few attributable comments, not just the views of Mr/Ms Anonymous telling me to mind my own business.

  29. Hi Richard -

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I personally think your interview and comments on the proposed developments are fair-minded and demonstrate v.good knowledge. The project looks prettty unworkable really though, and some aspects eg the construction of 'resort cities' totally undesirable. I'm very sceptical as to proposed plans to build anything (let alone a complex oil pipeline) through Northern Kenya. Plans like this are much more rhetorical and political than they are about genuine infrastructure development. The suggestion of massive coastal development is a good way to garner support of coastal voters for upcoming elections. I also agree that it is a complete scandal that the Mombasa-Nairobi rail link has been left to rot (and the road isn't great either). The Kenyan govt would do much better investing in this than spending millions on consultants for unworkable projects. Investing in infrastrucutre around Mombasa would also prevent destruction of the rich natural environment to the North (whilst increasing access for tourists.)

    All Best,


    African Arguments Online

    1. Thanks Magnus, and not surprisingly I completely agree with you.

      There's a growing surge of concern and awareness about the whole project. However, I think there's a widespread misapprehension, especially in the Lamu community and from conservationists, that LAPSSET is happening anyway, whereas in fact I don't believe any finance has been agreed. But there's still the huge issue of wasted time and effort in proposing and rejecting an unworkable mega-project when Kenya urgently needs to focus, as you say, on genuine development where real needs are being met.

      Another blogger, Wolfgang Thome, has just covered the story and has interesting and lengthy quotes from a Kenyan government source and a conseravationist opposed to the plans.

      Well worth reading:

  30. Richard
    Can't believe all you have regarding this "from the sun"project with all our leaders burrying their heads in the sun .
    Its better we "EXTREME MAKEOVER" what is still there than entertain this dream for circustances does not allow use of such large amount of money
    just been thinking
    (1) same year we are building a silicon city ******
    (2)we are changing our education )leaders children are stuying overseas)
    (3)we are unable to feed our people
    (4)we still have idps in camps
    (5)Today people will die because the nurses are on strike for "luck of finances"
    (6)farmers have no govt incetives to do the farming (rift valley farmers striking coz fertilizer is still at the port

    with any right minded kenyan we should be prepared to buy bread at about usd5 soon (ksh 500) and never complain .any Richard you are very right on any aspect of this project and a waste on money (tax payers money!!!!!!!!!!!! )

    1. Have a look on the proposed railway infrastructure,
      especially the link between Isiolo and Lodwar, crossing the Rift.
      Then go to google earth and try to figure out how it could ever be build...,
      technically through the lava mountains, and for cost reasons.
      In my opinion it's non-sense, no serious study was made,
      South Sudan will never get its connection to Lamu this way round,
      and the same looks true for the Ethiopian branch to Moyale.

  31. It is absurd to see that most of the commentators on this subject are foreigners, most of who have no remorse on the plight of the people of Kenya. To preserve Lamu for the wealthy tourists to enjoy at the expense of economic development of Eastern Africa is unfortunate.
    I am totally in support of this project.

  32. Nice discussion. I share the perspective of Dorcas. For those people in Europe or the Americas who are still not convinced anything good can come from Africa, let them wait. China thought them a lesson and we shall repeat the same here in Africa. The optimism in Kenya and Africa for the last 10 years is unimaginable and we shall do it. In 1998, I would die to get a visa to go to Europe and US to work. For now even if you paid me, I will think twice since there is so much one can do here and it is easier to get wealthy/successful back here than out there.
    Anyway, less of the individual stuff. Investing in the LAPSSET project will create new urban centers which come with opportunities and urbanization. Can we industrialize without urbanization? I doubt.

  33. As a Kenyan, with roots from the Coast, I believe that the project lacks transparency. Most people at the Coast have no information about the project. From the comments here, it seems most Kenyans who support the project are from the inland areas far from the Coast. Looking at the government's record with recent infrastructure projects, there is reason to be skeptical on issues of corruption and on how long the project will take.

    As many have argued, it makes more sense to rebuild the Nairobi - Mombasa - Kisumu/Eldoret railway and highways instead of building new ones away from major population and industrial centres. The Mombasa port is currently congested, not because of lack of capacity, but because of poor management and corruption. The Mombasa highway is filled with trucks because the railway has been allowed to collapse. Sections of the Nakuru - Kisumu railway are being vandalized openly with little action from the government.

    Just think of what 20 billion dollars can do to all the roads in Kenya, alongside schools, hospitals, railways and water systems.

  34. Hi, am a student at university of Nairobi. Proposing a cultural center, in Isiolo and its majorly influenced by the proposed resort city.. anyone know where i could get good info bout the Isiolo resort like the exact area chosen for the city, roads that will lead to this areas... etc

  35. I'm just dropping back into this thread to see if anyone has any recent news or information about LAPSSET. Most of my social media life in on twitter these days, and I'm afraid I'm not the blogger I once was (which was not much of a blogger considering how infrequently I posted), but this particular thread still seems to be on a few peoples' radars.

    When I was in Lamu in December 2013, absolutely nothing was happening at the so-called port area opposite Manda island. My sense is that, apart from some people making money from land deals, this is a dead duck. The huge interest in the size and viability of the standard gauge Mombasa to Nairobi railway project has reminded everyone how much things really cost. And why it's important to have a pressing economic need to do them.

    Wouldn't it be welcome and refreshing if the Kenyatta government made a commitment to regional development on an achievable scale – and followed through on it? Is there popular will to get behind the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway line. A functioning passenger and freight railway between Kenya's two biggest cities would be a massive achievement.

    What do people think?

  36. We agree with Kenyan policy advisors that Lamu offers a fine, sheltered deep-water harbour and extensive areas of level land for development.However, policy advisors also agree that Lamu lacks hinterland demand and access connections are yet to be developed. Kenyan Lamu port contrasts with most other new city port growth poles in modern Africa, where a specific industrial raison d’être has provided an essential stimulus for port development. The handling of coal at Richards Bay (South Africa) and of iron ore at Saldanha Bay (South Africa), Nouadhibou (Mauritania) and Buchanan (Liberia), the treatment of timber at San-Pédro (Côte d’Ivoire), the aluminium industry at Tema (Ghana), Ethiopian hinterland at Djibouti, the phosphate developments at Lomé and Kpemé (Togo) all provide examples of motivating industries without parallel in the Kenya case. Promoters of Takaungu Port also feel that Lamu options does not address the urgent need to provide a solution to port and urban congestion at Mombasa and fear that absence of hinterland driven development at Lamu reinforced by global maritime transport systems shall favor port concentration at Mombasa to aggravate the problem and valid concept of Mombasa port diffusion will remain non-starter. Takaungu port offers a satellite option. Finally, Djibouti can boast of the most modern African port. Lamu need to compare its standing vis a vis the brand new Doraleh Terminal built and operated by eminent Dubai World

  37. can anyone tell me what is happening with this project today - march 30, 2015? and how has the recent al shabab attack in garissa affected the feasibility of/enthusiasm for this project?

  38. As the owner of this blog, I've neglected it far too long. But this thread always felt like it had a story to tell, with a start, a middle and an ending. So what kind of ending is there going to be for LAPSSET? Now we're only 7 years away from 2030, I have some questions. Is Vision2030 still a thing? What's going on at Lamu Port? What about the hard surface road from Garsen to Lamu Port? What about the railway that was meant to go from Lamu to Isiolo and then to Ethiopia and South Sudan. Does anyone have any news?