A multi-billion dollar port is music to the ears of Abdalla Fadhil. The ex-mayor of Lamu and project developer sees a second port for the Kenyan archipelago as a job source for unemployed locals and a bastion of geopolitical influence over the area.
“Development is our region is lagging,” says Fadhil about the area a few hundred kilometres south of Somalia. “The land lies unused, the workforce is idle. The port offers so many opportunities for the people here.”
A table in a little restaurant along the Lamu quay serves as Fadhil’s desk. People pass by to ask questions, to make a remark or simply greet him. He keeps a big bottle of water on hand, quenching his thirst during the midday heat.
Plans for the port date as far back as the 1970s, though gained urgency when Sudan and South Sudan started quarrelling over the rental of a pipeline to transport the south’s oil to a Sudanese port. South Sudan’s government signed a protocol of intention with Kenya to build a 1,700-kilometre oil pipeline to Lamu as quickly as possible.
“All the transport to Ethiopia and South Sudan will open up the whole of the northern territory of Kenya, a much marginalised area,” predicts Fadhil.
He dismisses the complaints of fishermen and environmentalists concerned about destruction of fish breeding zones, the coral reef and the mangrove forests. “Most of the mangroves have already been destroyed because of the high demand outside the country,” says Fadhil. “That is why it is only allowed to be used in Kenya now.”
He adds: “The port will bring better education so that our young people do not have to rely on traditional fishing any longer. They will get well-paid jobs in the port.”
Some wonder if Fadhil is pro-port because he sees personal business opportunities in the project.
“Of course I see chances in the port for myself,” he admits. “At the same time, I am losing out. I own properties in affluent Shela, a section of Lamu with upmarket hotels and houses. With the coming of the port, the archipelago will attract a different type of tourist, and I guess the value of my properties will go down.”
The ex-mayor is one of the archipelago’s few native inhabitants who is clearly happy about the port. He also recognizes that the population has not been well informed about the mega-project.
The government appointed him as chairman of the Lamu port steering committee. “The committee was established in February to update the islanders about the plans,” says Fadhil. “But we have not done much because we have not gotten money from the government yet.”