Kenya: Improving port infrastructure critical to national development

The port of Mombasa is the gateway to East Africa and its performance revs up or stifles the expansion of the economies of Kenya and its neighbours. Despite the inefficiencies often reported about its operations — from congestion to slowness by Kenya Ports Authority and other agencies supposed to facilitate movement of cargo — its modernisation is driving up prospects for efficiency.

A unique and historic achievement reported by KPA should be the norm. In June, a Liberian ship offloaded 3,872 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent containers) in under eight hours. That’s speed of 140 gross moves an hour, compared to an average of 40 gross moves an hour for all ships.


Efficiency is a key driver of the competitiveness of port operations and KPA should focus on attracting more global business. Now that it has engaged Marine and Business Solutions, a Rotterdam-based Dutch firm, to advise it on a master plan for development of eight small ports under KPA’s management, there’s no better comparator on efficiency than the port of Rotterdam.

Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port with an annual cargo turnover of 470 million tonnes, is rated by the World Economic Forum as the most efficient. Its undisputed lead on efficiency for six consecutive years has boosted the Netherlands’ ranking as the first on quality of port infrastructure in the WEF Global Competitiveness Index. The country scored 6.8 out of seven points, ahead of Singapore (6.7) and Hong Kong (6.5), in the 2017-2018 index.


Mombasa port is much smaller. Its annual turnover is just 30 million tonnes but increasing. Kenya’s score of 4.5 on the WEF scale ranks it at 55 out of 137 countries. It is significant, considering that it’s just behind giants China and Luxembourg (both scored at 4.6) and at par with Jordan, Greece, the Seychelles, Turkey, Switzerland and Sri Lanka.

Kenya is ranked fifth in Africa after Namibia, Morocco, South Africa and Egypt.

The more inspiring outcome of the survey is that Kenya’s score is improving. Presumably, the port infrastructure managed by KPA is producing better results and ships discharging and loading cargo at greater speed than before.


An important lesson for Kenya is how to transform Mombasa into the most efficient port in Africa, just as the Netherlands has turned Rotterdam into Europe’s best port connection. Efficiency and sustainable energy use are key to Rotterdam’s leadership in a world of shipping logistics increasingly dominated by China and the Asian Tigers.

For four decades since 1962, Rotterdam was the world’s busiest port but it has been dethroned by the rapidly growing Asian ports including Singapore and Shanghai, now the busiest and getting busier.

Rotterdam’s efficiency is driven by huge investments in innovation and technological solutions that have transformed it into a smart port — where more technology and less people drive the logistics. Intelligent, computer-based systems load and offload containers, stack them in designated parking lots and move them around the port with precision. With 30,000 ships calling on the port yearly, that gives it a powerful edge.


The Dutch experience offers best practice lessons to KPA on how to develop a highly integrated and efficient futuristic infrastructure that interconnects the ports with other transport systems —including the standard gauge railway, the Northern Corridor, inland container depots and inland waterways.

Mombasa and the upcoming ports, including Lamu, should lead on efficiency to remain competitive in the cut-throat competition for shipping business from region — such as Dar es Salaam and Djibouti, which is becoming a powerful player following a major modernisation and expansion programme funded by China.


Differentiating KPA’s business model through efficiency would improve the preparedness of the port infrastructure network to support the growth of Kenya and the East African Community, particularly with the emergence of new industries in oil and natural resources.

Highly integrated, efficient and sustainable business process at Mombasa and the other ports should fuel economic growth and social transformation.