In the sweltering heat of Mombasa, excavators bite off a chunk of what was once marshy land, hurl it up and empty it into a waiting tipper truck. Another truck is queuing for its scoop and another.
Metres ahead, a viaduct is nearing completion, and all around it, surveyors stand, with real-time kinematics (RTK) machines planted solidly behind them.
At the Fujitsa (the main contractor) works yard, men are at work knitting up the scaffolding for the piers and the beams some of which will be laid on Mteza Bridge which at 1.4km, is the longest in the country.
This is part of the ongoing construction that forms the Mombasa Southern Bypass which once complete, will ease the logistical nightmares experienced while crossing into the South.
It means that the tourist paradise of Diani on the South Coast and Kwale will be accessible by road and by air.
Visitors will not have to go through Nyali, and then the crowded Likoni Ferry, to get to their destination. Besides opening up the tourism-rich region, the ongoing road and bridge network has led to an appreciation of property value in the South Coast.
Mombasa Port is the region’s biggest handler of sea cargo, with two berths handling 1.5m twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) per year. This is expected to rise.
Conceptualised over 40 years ago, the roads with the three largest bridges in the country will be complete and in use soon.
At least 14.2 ha of mangroves have been cleared to clear the way for the road. The bill is paid by corporations between the Japanese and Kenyan governments.
The Mombasa Port Area Road Development Project – carried out under what the contractors have categorized into three packages – is expected to improve efficiency and thus increase port capacity with expected connections to the Special Economic Zone, more to open the inaccessible hinterland.
The 38 km road from Tsunza to Mazeras has been transformed into a standard gravel access road: the grading works have been completed and the gravelling is 99.8% complete, reducing the journey time by almost a day to about an hour.
The first package of the route goes from Miritini to the port. The second bundle, branching off from bundle one, starts at Mwache junction to the Mteza section via Tsunza, while the third starts at Mteza and ends at Kibundani. The first package cost 11 billion shillings, the second 24 billion shillings and the third 4.7 billion shillings.
The capacity of the Port of Mombasa as a gateway to the Northern Corridor is being expanded. JICA has partnered with Kenya to construct quays covering 33% of the country’s container handling capacity, which is expected to increase to 47% when Phase 2 is completed.
Phase 1 was completed in February 2016 and Phase 2 is expected to be completed by the end of May 2022. By 2030 Phase 3 will be completed, with a huge portion of land reclaimed for expansion.
“In 2021, container handling volume will be approximately 1.5 million TEUs, with Container Terminal 1 handling 1 million TEUs and Container Terminal 2 handling 500,000 TEUs. When Pier 22 of Phase 2 is completed, Container Terminal 2 will manage to handle 1 million TEUs per year,” said Dr. Steve Mogere, JICA Infrastructure and Assessment Advisor.
Dr. Mogere lists the fallout from the expansion. He is wary of what inaction will do to the regional economy.
“If the port of Mombasa does not expand, it becomes a supply port. This means that other ports will receive the big ships and he will only be able to get freight from them. Double manipulation will be very expensive,” he said. The cost of keeping containers stuck at sea due to slow processing will also be eliminated. Just opposite the port, on 3,000 acres of land, the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone is taking shape.
Two berths and a free trade zone will serve people on the SEZ. Meshack Kimeu, CEO of the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA), said the program was “strategically designed to improve Kenya’s competitiveness as an investment destination.
Dr Kimeu also said that the SEZ will facilitate upstream and downstream interconnections at the port and will be “a modern and environmentally friendly economic zone”.
In total, some 1,713 area residents have been affected by the regeneration of the port area. They are awaiting compensation from the National Land Commission.
Kiyonori Matsuhsima, JICA Project Advisor, said that once the Dongo Kundu SEZ, which will have major manufacturing, logistics, tourism and service centers, is completed, more than 100,000 direct jobs will be created. .
Over 200 billion shillings are also expected to be injected in direct investments into the Mombasa ecosystem. At the port, where more than 10 million paving stones were laid during Phase 2 of the port’s rehabilitation and expansion, more than 3,000 people were employed.
The SEZ will have its own electricity and water supply, access roads to the port, among other amenities.
All this as Japan and Kenya collaborate in the pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific trade route, with the port of Mombasa as a major trading hub along the East African coast.
Dr Mogere says once the Gate Bridge is completed it will link Mombasa to the south coast, providing a more viable exit to the city than the ferries from Likoni. To the north is the Nyali Bridge, the only permanent escape route out of Mombasa. A highway should complete this road.
Caroline Nzioka, JICA’s transport sector program officer, says local contractors should band together and form consortia that will enable them to bid for equally large contract projects.
“The construction industry has become more dynamic in recent years due to a major change in strengthening our infrastructure. As a result, as there were no major infrastructure projects to learn from or build on, there was a challenge in organizational, political and financial arrangements in local industry,” she says.
“In addition, the performance guarantee also becomes a major deterrent. The formation of consortia or joint ventures between the inhabitants could give them an advantage.
Eustace Mutea of Uniconsult Engineering Consultants says locals have been big beneficiaries of the construction work, with all unskilled laborers sought after in the area where construction is taking place.
“For semi-skilled labour, first priority is always given to premises. We only get people from elsewhere if we can’t find premises capable of carrying out the tasks,” he says.