When the idea for Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was mooted, there was clear excitement among landlocked countries in East Africa who saw a quick way to ship cargo to and from the regional maritime hub of Mombasa. It would take at most three days for a container to leave Kigali and snake all the way to Mombasa and vice versa cutting costs, risks, and time spent to move cargo and people.
However, a decade and US$5 billion later, most of it from Chinese loans already spent, the railway line is yet to reach its final destination. In fact, it never managed to get even halfway through the Kenyan landmass. Meanwhile partners in the project like Rwanda have cooled their interests while Uganda and South Sudan have reluctantly taken up the option of using the Naivasha inland depot as a closer destination compared to Mombasa.
The Kenyan government went back to China seeking more funding to ensure the railway line at least reaches the Kenya/Uganda border point of Busia, but the Chinese financiers declined and instead opted to fund the rehabilitation of the old railway line.
The government in Nairobi has devised ways of keeping the Naivasha depot busy. When the second phase of the railway from Nairobi to Naivasha was officially launched, President Kenyatta was critical of the global media tag of ‘Railway to nowhere’, terming it as misplaced and ignorant. The inland port, he said, was meant to kick–start a special industrial park that will transform the area and attract local and international operators.
The government has invested $65.7 million in the 45,000-square-meter Naivasha ICD facility. Most of the cargo at the depot is destined for Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This port will have two initial daily trains hauling up to 108 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and a minimum of 70 TEUs.
The government is keen on ensuring there is business at the inland port with the initial train arriving at the port from Mombasa in May this year. Cabinet Secretary of Transport James Macharia has said that all the cargo bound for these regional destinations must be collected in Naivasha reducing the need to travel to Mombasa.
Kenya Railways has set the freight rates at $600 for a 20ft container for an upward lift from Mombasa to Naivasha, and $300 for a downward trip. The company will charge $850 for a 40ft container of up to 20.9 tonnes, and $910 for 21 tonnes and above for the inbound trip; $420 and $455 respectively for the coast–bound journey. The tariff for transporting empty containers is $120.
To reduce the number of fuel trucks, all fuel products will be transported by pipeline to Kisumu and thereafter by Lake Victoria to Port Bell or Jinja.
This has not however been received well with drivers and users of the inland port protesting the move to have all cargo heading to the west dropped off at Naivasha. Uganda through its Works and Transport Minister Edward Katumba-Wamala was quoted in local media as saying there were many incomplete sections of the inland port hence the mandatory requirement to clear cargo at Naivasha was not well thought out.
“Our considered opinion remains that the use of the Naivasha port should be optional though Uganda will continue to encourage the business community to use the Standard Gauge Railway because of its benefits,” he was quoted by The Standard.
Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) chief executive Dennis Ombok and officials of the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Association (KLDTDA) have opposed the use of the facility due to high costs of moving cargo from Mombasa to Naivasha.
“The government does not want to tell the public the hidden costs of using the SGR to ferry containers. If Uganda says it is comfortable with cargo going by road, why is the government forcing this mandatory cargo transportation through SGR?” posed Ombok.
Kenya for a long time has been concerned with trucks hauling cargo along the Nairobi- Mombasa road as it strained the main road and has been a cause of road carnage. Equally, the government has been concerned about criminal activities that have seen cargo destined for the region being diverted for local use, distorting the markets.
There have been delegations to the Naivasha port including those from South Sudan led by President Salva Kiir who visited the port last year as well as the Rwandese delegation, with each team weighing in on the prospect of the use of the port for their cargo. Rwanda has already secured land at the Naivasha port that will help facilitate the handling of cargo at the port.
ICDs are sometimes referred to as Inland Port Depots or dry ports because they are inland (away from the sea), intermodal terminals directly connected by road or rail to a seaport and operate as centres for the trans–shipment of sea cargo to inland destinations. In addition to their role in cargo transshipment, ICDs may also include facilities for storage and consolidation of goods, maintenance for road or rail cargo carriers and customs clearance services.