If you build a port, the ships will come. If you build a railway, the trains will run. If you build a pipeline, the oil will flow. If you build all of the above, as intended by the new Ethiopia-Kenya-South Sudan axis, then you might just revolutionise the lives of people in East Africa forever. That’s the theory. SIMON ALLISON assesses the $24-billion construction of a new port on Kenya’s Lamu Island.
Underlying the construction of the $24-billion port, which officially started on Friday, is a beautiful vision of the future. The northern Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, a bustling hub of trade in the pre-colonial era, restored to its former glory as East Africa’s premier centre of commerce. Replacing ramshackle fishing trawlers and pirates, will be mammoth ULCC (ultra-large crude carriers) and cargo ships just as big, waiting to take East African oil and manufactured goods to the markets of the world. Leading to the port are standard gauge railways from Ethiopia and South Sudan, giving both land-locked countries a lifeline to the sea. Fibre optic cables take high-speed low-cost Internet to the heart of Africa, and the pipeline from South Sudan keeps the oil flowing – to the tankers, not Sudan proper. Meanwhile, border controls are all but eliminated, making the movement of products and people across East Africa effortless. And, voila, East Africa pulls itself out of poverty.