he removal of non-tariff barriers along the Northern Corridor, improved worker morale, and new cargo handling machinery have all combined to turn the corner for the Mombasa Port’s transit business, which saw record growth of 12 percent in 2023.
According to employees, past management focused on machines, which were entirely not responsible for efficiency at the port. The employees acknowledged that new Managing Director (MD) Captain William Ruto, having been here with them, knew the fact that a highly motivated workforce was the key to good performance. Captain Ruto has been able to achieve this feat in just nine months in office due to the experience he has gained from the many years he has worked at the Mombasa Port in various capacities.
This steady growth is expected to be retained as the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) continues to receive new shipping lines, the latest being MV KMTC Hochiminh; the first vessel by the Korean shipping line, KMTC, to call at the Port of Mombasa on January 9, 2024.
The Intergovernmental Steering Committee on Ease of Doing Business through the Port Reforms Working Group High-Level Consultative Forum made a raft of recommendations that have continued to cut down the cost of doing business at the Port of Mombasa and improve efficiency significantly. The reforms are expected to have far-reaching effects once they are fully implemented.
The reform forum was convened by Kenya’s Head of State and other relevant government ministries and state departments.
In a report released in July 2023, the forum asked both the Government Partner Agencies (PGA) and the private sector to embrace a round-the-clock work culture, including the weekends, to ensure faster clearance of goods and improve cargo dwell time and ship turnaround, which has since been realized.
The number of weighbridges has been reduced. KPA MD last year asked the National Assembly Integration Committee for the reduction of weighbridges from nine to three.
“Weighing and documenting trucks at the port using Regional Electronic Cargo Trucking Systems (RECTS) will not only reduce truck turnaround but will also reduce cases of corruption and traffic snarl-ups along the highway,’ Ruto said.
“Once a truck is checked and certified with valid documents, it should be allowed to proceed to the next border exit points at Namanga, Malaba, or Busia unless the seal is tampered with. Bureaucracy at weighbridges discourages many transporters from using the port of Mombasa, but once we adopt technology, we can attract volumes as cargo will move faster than before.”
Shipping lines operating in Mombasa port were granted a 9-day free period for the return of empty containers for local imports, 30 days for Uganda, and 15 days for Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan cargo. The ports of Dar Es Salaam, Durban, and Egypt granted more days.
“This makes the port of Mombasa non-competitive and discourages customers from using the facility since they incur demurrage charges due to the shorter free period by shipping lines taking into account the transit distance for the DRC and South Sudan,” the report said.
Uganda is the biggest transit market for Kenya, accounting for about 83.2 percent of transit cargo. South Sudan takes up 9.9 percent, while DR Congo, Tanzania, and Rwanda account for about 7.2 percent, 3.2 percent, and 2.4 percent, respectively.
KPA, according to Captain Ruto is discussing with the Kenya Revenue Authority creating a geofence on a 15-kilometer stretch of road past the Taveta-Holili One-Stop Border Post that would allow Kenya to use the new Voi-Taveta-Singida-Kobero link road to serve Burundi, Rwanda, and some parts of Tanzania instead of the longer Central Corridor Road that connects them to the port of Dar es Salaam.
A road is considered geofenced if the cargo passing through it can be tracked electronically for taxation and to avoid the dumping of goods in a country. Geofencing also guards against cargo theft or loss while in transit. The Northern Corridor route from Mombasa Port to Malaba and onward to Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi has been fully geofenced. Cargo movement is monitored through the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) system operated by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). The absence of geofencing on that section of the Voi-Taveta-Singida-Kobero road has worked against Rwanda and Burundi, as they now use the much longer route to import through the port of Dar es Salaam.
The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), the industry regulator, was tasked to effectively regulate the application of arbitrary and illegal charges by shipping lines. Dar es Salaam port does not charge shippers Terminal Handling Charges, Lift on Lift off (LoLo) while Mombasa charged US$ 99 and US $ 148 for a 20ft and 40ft container for the former and US$ 30 and US$ 40 for a 20ft and 40ft container respectively for the latter.
KPA is also riding on liaison offices in Kampala, Kigali, and Bujumbura to market and facilitate import and export business through the Port of Mombasa, according to Ruto, with eyes now set on DR Congo.
“Rwanda business community expresses confidence in KPA, pledging to increase the use of the northern transport corridor and the affiliated facilities majorly the Port of Mombasa for the movement of Rwanda-bound cargo,” Ruto said.
Immediately after he took office, the new MD in a deliberate move to improve performance reached employees to iron out labor-related issues that were slowly crippling and killing labor-force morale. For instance, last month, the government rewarded the Port of Mombasa workers for their remarkable performance in the year 2020-21. Speaking during the ceremony, Cabinet Secretary (CS) for the Ministry of Transport and Roads Kipchumba Murkomen said that this was a move by the government to appreciate workers’ effort towards making Mombasa Port a world-class facility of choice and growth of the other ports.
“Owing to this great performance, the government has approved a bonus payment of a one-month basic salary to each employee as a gesture of appreciation and to motivate staff to strive for higher levels of performance in the future,” he said.
Data released by KPA recorded a performance of 1.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2023 compared with the 2022 performance of 1,449, 843 containers. This was the highest container throughput that the port has recorded since its inception.
Capt. Ruto plans to expand container handling berths, increase automation of services, acquire modern ship and cargo-handling equipment, and improve partnerships with key government agencies and stakeholders. Currently, the Port of Mombasa has 16 ship-to-shore gantries (STSs), 25 reach stackers, 27 empty container handlers, 58 rubber-tired cranes, and eight rail-mounted gantry cranes.
In August 2023, KPA acquired and installed another four STSs, which are twin-lift-enabled, replacing the aged single-lift STSs at Berth 16, enhancing ship turnaround time.