Why inland ports are crucial to the transport network

Globally, seaports are critical components in an inter-connected system due to their ability to handle the logistics involved in managing and transporting cargo destined for the hinterland through various means of transport.

In Africa, ports form a basis on which economies compete for a piece of the regional import and export cake as they are a vital part of the supply chain, with each port having an expansive hinterland, often spanning many countries.

The Port of Mombasa remains an important part of our national economy and intermodal transportation system. More than 80 per cent of the cargo entering Kenya and East Africa at large arrives by ship and is then transported by road to over 200 destinations across the region.

Economic growth has opened up our ports to more imports from markets across the globe, while the growing inbound volume of goods has come with its own share of challenges, consequently leading to tremendous heightened congestion in our ports.

Projections for the next decade indicate that some ports will triple their container capacity and freight throughput. To accommodate the rise in global imports, the industry is shifting more to an “inland port” model, where inbound goods are quickly off-loaded from ships and moved to inland distribution centres for subsequent handling and re-distribution within the hinterland.

Apart from supporting the burgeoning container ship capacity, the inland ports also play a significant role in easing access to diverse hinterland-bound transport infrastructure.

The recently launched Naivasha Inland Container Depot is one of Kenya Ports Authority’s strategies to not only decongest the port but also bring port services closer to customers in the hinterland. This will be achieved through a specialised Standard Gauge Railway freight service that connects Mombasa Port to the Nairobi and Naivasha depots.

The direct connection of the port of Mombasa to the recently launched rail allows for large volumes of cargo to be amassed, processed, manipulated, and distributed to the region’s population. So far, 415,650 TEUS (twenty-foot equivalent unit) have been transported between Mombasa and the inland ports. This performance is attributable to increased number of SGR daily trains between Mombasa and Nairobi where an average of 10 trains leave daily for the ICDN.

The depot alongside other Inland Container Depots (ICDs) are expected to ease transportation of cargo from the port of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and parts of DRC. It will eliminate the costs linked to delays at the Mombasa Port and spur economic growth within the corridor. The Mombasa Port capacity is expected to increase to above 2.5 million TEUs by 2022. Additionally, the Port of Lamu will improve business links between Kenya and her neighbours of Ethiopia and South Sudan, thereby opening a new transit corridor.

Once completed, the Nairobi–Malaba SGR line, together with the Mombasa-Nairobi Line, will give Kenya nearly 1,000km of SGR infrastructure. It is expected to connect to other SGRs in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, under the East African Railway Master Plan.

The introduction of dry ports in Nairobi and Naivasha will definitely spur the economic growth in these areas through job creation in related sectors. In addition, the port activities in Naivasha will generate opportunities that will have a positive economic impact on the surrounding communities.

Shifting trends

Even as we experience shifting trends in regional trade, the pattern of distribution of goods in the EAC trading bloc largely remains the same, with raw material coming from Uganda, Rwanda and DRC via road to the inland ports while the finished goods transit via the same route from Mombasa Port.

As container transport volume continues to grow, the links with the region will become a critical factor for Mombasa Port’s competitive advantage. Therefore, the progress on the physical infrastructure of the inland ports is definitely not sufficient for the country’s economic growth. There is need for private sector players to establish logistics supply centers and distribution hubs around these new ports. The demand for seamless hinterland connections to the inland terminals and onwards to the regional bloc should spur Kenya’s export volumes in the regional market.

We can no longer downplay the investment required in growing our ports. We have to respond to the needs of shipping lines, logistics providers and multinational manufacturers as they seek to drive efficiency throughout the value chain. We have to develop port infrastructure ahead of demand.

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