Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mombasa Port: Heads Roll, Choking Continues

Just as I was expressing dismay at the recklessness of leaving the Port of Mombasa to run on auto-pilot, the MD Abdallah Mwaruwa was being kicked out of office six months before his contract was due to expire. It is actually a feat of sorts for the man to have braved it out this long because it was largely known in the maritime industry that the office was too big for his humble abilities. It is obvious that his appointment was just a token of appeasement for the voluble coastals who never cease to clamor for ‘one of our own’ to manage the port, mali yetu. Indeed, even as his dismissal was being communicated, politicians from the coast had been to see the President ‘discussing issues affecting our people’. I can bet my last shilling that the paralysis at the port was not one of those issues.

Government needs to be firm with the coast politicians and make them accept, even though they may not understand, that the Port of Mombasa is a complex organization linked to international maritime business, regional trade and therefore cannot be run like a Miji Kenda Kaya. Port management has no room for delicate clan balancing stunts like the one executed to compose the current board of directors. The Port must simply be managed by professionals with strong leadership to lift it from its current predicament and build its capacity to handle the challenges ahead. The regular injection of dubious ‘local skills’ into the management ranks of Kenya Ports Authority has been its curse and must be brought to an end as it should now be clear that it is useless.

Mwaruwa’s counterpart at the Rift Valley Railways, one Roy Puffet, has also been jettisoned for single handedly paralyzing the Kenya/Uganda railway system which has led to choking of the port, wreaking havoc on regional trade. Legislators in Uganda are raising a furor, having warned last year that no due diligence had been carried out on RVR before handing over the railway to them. Their Kenyan counterparts are also now pressing for punitive action on the concerned players in the whole concessionaire parody that is now amounting to economic sabotage.

Having slept through their jobs, the two governments are now left with a system ground to a halt by shady characters that will enjoy contractual protection even as regional trade dangerously totters. They are busy making appointments and deadlines and vacuous vision statements that do not even begin to cover their ineptitude.

The only thing that is clear in the RVR deal is that two governments and two parliaments have been duped. It is a disgrace that incompetence of such monumental proportions should cut across borders with such ease. Just how do these fellows run government, let alone the bloody East African Community!

Related article: Mombasa Port-Gateway or Barrier

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