In January 2017, scores of Kenyan traders imported goods to be sold in the local marketplace—primarily Nairobi—only to find that their products, worth billions of shillings, were trapped at the Mombasa Port.
Some goods were detained for as long as two years at the region’s biggest port. And some were even confiscated.
The traders found themselves tangled in a no-win space: On the one hand, the government was scrambling to stanch the flow of counterfeit goods that have overwhelmed the Kenyan marketplace. At the same time, innocent traders say their goods are often incorrectly snagged in investigations that can last months, even years.
The situation has forced the Importers and Small Traders Association of Kenya (ISTA) the traders’ umbrella body which has more than 10,000 members incur demurrage charges that are slapped on goods housed at the port.
The delayed cargo in question has a net value of nearly Sh4 million ($39,694) per container. The Importers and Small Traders Association of Kenya places the total value of the products at Sh12 billion ($119.083 million).
However, the government says it has no interest in unnecessarily keeping goods at the port. The port of Mombasa’s ship turnaround time is about 3.2 days against the international standard turnaround time of 3.5 days according to data from the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).
“We always strive to maintain efficiency within the port because the faster the goods move, the more business we bring into the country, as well as revenue,” said Bernard Osero, a spokesman for the KPA.
Other government officials acknowledge the delays, but accuse traders of trying to skirt the port’s import rules.
“Considering the volume of cargo passing through the port,’’ said Benjamin Mwandawiro, a senior operations officer for KPA, “the clearing and handling process needs to be methodical and meticulous in order to achieve competitive business.”
For the traders, however, the question remains: Why have their goods been held up for nearly two years, especially given the KPA’s stringent laws toward goods entering the country? Goods that are detained are normally taken through a period of investigation until the truth of the matter is arrived at.
Why then the delay?
The crisis of counterfeit goods in Kenya has grown in recent years. Many of the products are substandard, and some (such as counterfeit medications) are even dangerous. Illicit trade accounts for Sh648.58 billion ($6.48b) loss to the economy annually and recent government statistics indicate that Kenya loses over Sh200 billion ($1.996 billion) annually as potential income.
One of the importers *Mary Muloki (not real name) said she finally got back her goods worth Sh2 million ($19,982).
Another *Jane Muthoni (not real name) says she was forced to sell off some of her assets to recover the money she spent on the imports.
“I am yet to get my goods so I have had to sell off my assets to pay the loan I acquired to get the goods,” she said.
The Exchange will run a three- part series on this investigative piece…Part 1 of 3.
The development of this report was made possible due to a grant provided by the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications. The report remains to answer where the goods stand at the moment as the spokesperson of ISTA Mr. Kapai, the only person authorised to speak on the subject matter, has been on travels since January.