Kenya moves ahead with massive Lamu Port

The government of Kenya is finally moving ahead with its massive new port project despite concerns over Islamist terror attacks.

It has also ordered the repossession of vast tracts of land which it says have been "stolen" since the scheme was announced in 2012.

On Friday Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta approved a $480m contract with China’s state-owned China Communication Construction Company to build the first three of 32 berths planned for the flagship Lamu Port project.

It is part of a bigger project known as LAPSSET (short for the Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor) that includes not only a giant seaport to relieve Kenya’s overstretched port at Mombasa, but also roads, a 1,500km railway, an airport and a refinery.

The $24bn scheme, due to be finished by 2030, is intended to give much of landlocked east Africa access to the Indian Ocean, with oil pipelines to South Sudan and railways to Ethiopia and Uganda.

But until last week little has happened since the government announced the scheme in 2012.

The area, bordering Somalia, has been hit by deadly attacks claimed by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militants, the latest being a shooting on a bus on 18 July near the town of Witu that saw seven people killed.

Another complication appears to be a corporate land-grab in the area. According to reports, the Kenyan government said 500,000 acres of surrounding land was bought up by 22 companies – "under dubious and corrupt circumstances" – between 2011 and 2012.

In what may be an attempt to downplay the seriousness of Al Shabaab, the government has blamed much of the violence in the are on this land grab.

"This criminal conspiracy has dispossessed individuals and families living in this region of their land and opportunities for improving their well being," Kenyatta said in a statement.

"It has also helped fuel the current insecurity being experienced in the region, and frustrated our efforts in building cohesion in the country."

He ordered the land to be repossessed on Thursday, the day before signing the construction agreement with CCCC.

Reports said Kenya has set aside $50m "to immediately commence" CCCC’s work, which could start as soon as September.

When complete the port will be able to handle some 24 million tonnes of cargo a year from giant container ships, as well as provide infrastructure to support oil discoveries made in Kenya’s arid north.

The port zone is close to the UNESCO-listed tourist island of Lamu, once popular with celebrities.

Kenya’s Mombasa port currently serves the landlocked nations of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the port is overstretched and businesses complain of delays to clear cargo.

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