By David Wanjala
Finally, Kenya’s hope of sharing the proposed Sh400 billion crude oil pipeline with Uganda has hit a dead end, with Uganda Preferring Tanzania’s Tanga Port to Mombasa. Uganda made the announcement in its capital city, Kampala last month at a summit of the East African Community bloc, which brings together, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan. Passing the pipeline through Kenya as had previously been agreed would have saved Uganda big time on project costs as the distance is much less than the 1, 400km Tanga route. Missing out on the joint facility, Kenya now has no option than to embark on building solo a facility from her own oil fields that are under development to the Port of Mombasa.
Analysts have thus far only stressed on the benefits Kenya will lose for missing out on the joint facility, mainly the costs Kenya will suffer building, and transporting own oil to the Port of Mombasa. The ramifications of the decision by Kenya’s Western neighbour, however, are far reaching in the long run. Uganda’s preference for Tanga over Mombasa is a double-edged sword that will cut Kenya deep on both ways. First, it is a huge endorsement of Tanzania that will reverberate across the East African Community bloc and far beyond, to Central African landlocked countries that for decades have been served by the Port of Mombasa. Then it is, in equal measure, an indictment on Kenya’s long held viability as the world’s entry point into East and Central Africa’s landlocked countries. In the long run, it may put to test, if not dispel Kenya’s longstanding illusionary status of East Africa’s commercial hub.
We may not know the real reasons for Uganda’s preference for Tanga to Mombasa despite the extra costs it adds to the project. What has however been put forwards as the main reason is the security threats the Kenya route posses particularly in regards to the al-Shabaab Islamists that have targeted Kenya, with devastating consequences for nearly a decade now. Kenya has played around with this menace for long, and now the real effects are beginning to show. The Port of Mombasa has over the years served, by road, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, DRC, CAR and Congo. This has come with huge benefits to Kenya mainly in job creation and revenue collection. Despite this, Kenya’s tribal politics has blurred the commercial viability of the Mombasa-Nairobi-Eldoret-Malaba highway. President Kibaki chose to expend billions of shillings on a 60km Thika superhighway, money that would have improved the more commercially viable Mombasa-Malaba highway in unparalleled way in the region.
What happens if Tanzania chooses, and is likely to, top up the pipeline with a superhighway from Tanga to Kampala? The Port of Mombasa is likely to loose out big time. This could even spell the beginning of the end not only for the town of Mombasa but also other satellite towns that have sprung up along the highway, most notably the Malaba border crossing that links Kenya to Uganda and beyond. What will however break the Carmel’s back is if South Sudan chooses to pass its oil via the Uganda Tanga route as well. It is very much possible now that al-Shabaab menace has been touted as the major factor. It is our hope that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his mandarins are seeing the bigger picture on this one