The Coastline Makeover Will Be Uhuru’s Most Remarkable and Lasting Legacy

Painted buildings in Mombasa. [Standard]

After leaving the Likoni Ferry crossing, something is quite noticeable for any old visitor to the south coast. Jostling for attention with political campaign posters is a facelift on shops and residential homes. It is as if the owners stumbled upon a treasure of white rock. Sewn with a gray cement thread, the spectacle is pleasant to watch. Rows and rows of houses lining the main road have been redone with white rock.

The sprawl of mud-walled houses gives way to something new. And the “before and after” are quite visible even with the naked eye – mud houses stand alongside new ones at different stages of construction: there are individual units, bungalows, mansions and two-storey houses.

What explains the sudden explosion of investment in permanent coral rock houses? A windfall of the political season, perhaps? The unlikely answer is in necessity, invention and innovation. However, there is also something else.

The houses are built astride the new road linking the north coast to the south coast. And so the swanky new homes complete what will be the total South Coast remake.

During a tour last week with officials from the Japanese Embassy and JICA, I discovered Mombasa’s best-kept secret – the Mombasa Port and Road Development Project, an expenditure of Japanese and Kenyan government infrastructure that began in 2016. Long the mainstay of the coastal economy, the port area is rapidly changing. When complete (in 2027), the transformation will propel the entire North and South Coast into big city realms served by a world-class infrastructure package of water, land and air. A boost that will surely change the region from a region folded in on itself to take its place in the national economy.

If nothing else, the renovation – a huge social investment – ​​will be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s most visible and lasting legacy anywhere else in the country.

The Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone (DKSEZ) located on 3,000 acres of land will be a logistics and manufacturing hub. It includes a free port, a free zone, an industrial park, a tourist park and a residential area served by a new port (handling over a million TEUs currently), a new bypass road (the engineering marvel what is the 26 km Mombasa Southern By-pass with two bridges and a viaduct), a redone airport, the SGR, a power station and a water and sewage treatment point. The cost of the remake is almost 40 billion shillings, which is 25 billion shillings less than the original cost of the Nairobi highway. The massive project includes digging hard rock, laying bridges over deep water and marshland, and leveling ridges and valleys without destroying the natural habitat of the mangrove trees.

There is so much to be gained from such a targeted investment. The DKSEZ (there are 15 other special economic zones across the country), which is expected to attract 200 billion shillings of investment, is expected to generate at least 100,000 direct jobs and boost the nascent tourism industry. Its potential is to shift the coast from labour- and commodity-intensive agricultural activities to more technology-driven value-added productivity.

It’s not reinventing the wheel so to speak; By streamlining exports and imports at the country’s seaport, President José Maria Figueres transformed Costa Rica from a banana republic of 14 million people into one of the most developed countries in the Caribbean in less than a year. decade between 1994 and 1998. He did so by creating a cluster in electronics and information technology. It lured US tech giant Intel to build its assembly and test plant in Costa Rica, which led to the injection of $300-500 million into the economy.

To influence the leaders of Intel, Costa Rica has implemented strategic social investments (road and ICT infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, good customs system, competitive economy and efficient financial system).

Many will agree that in development and progress there are many moving parts. In addition to having a visionary leader in Figueres, Costa Rica enjoyed political stability, its courts were renowned for their independence and integrity. Its health system was among the best in Latin America and it had educated and qualified human capital.

The coral stone had been there for ages. No one has just bothered to put it to good use or help residents think of ways to benefit them, until 2022. The DKSEZ will need a facilitator to give it wings . Without it, it will lie there, unused, another white elephant.

The upcoming elections (in August) offer the people of Mombasa a chance to break with the past and savor new possibilities.

Mr. Kipkemboi is Editor of Partnerships and Special Projects, Standard Group

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