Kenya has succumbed to pressure from South Sudan by ending the monopoly held by Autoport Freight Terminals Limited in the handling of transit goods heading to Juba as Nairobi seeks to maintain the neighbouring State as a client at the Port of Mombasa.
Autoport, which is associated with former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, had won the tender after convincing Kenya Railways Corporation of a ready business as it would move 1.6 million tonnes of goods annually through the Nairobi Freight Terminal.
President Salva Kiir of South Sudan had in May requested his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto to allow more firms, including Compact Consolbase, MCT and MitchellCotts, to handle its goods in Mombasa.
Interestingly, the government has picked the three firms that Juba had requested, technically bringing to an end the exclusive rights that the Joho family has been enjoying.
Kenya has been keen not to lose cargo business with the neighbouring State after Juba announced last year that it was considering Djibouti as an alternative route for its freight, a move that would see Nairobi lose revenue from the 1.1 million of South Sudan transit cargo that is handled at the Port of Mombasa.
Juba had earlier noted that the monopoly slowed the movement of goods to their country and made them expensive and that liberalising the handling of freight would not only increase efficiency but also address the high cost.
A letter written in July by Kenya’s Transport Principal Secretary Mohamed Daghar sealed the fate of Autoport as it directed the port authority to conform to a request by South Sudan.
“We reiterate the same message that cargo owners from South Sudan are free to choose any KRA approved facility and the government of Kenya will not direct any party on the matter of selection of any clearing agencies,” said the PS.
The port of Mombasa is the biggest in East Africa and the region’s trade gateway and it handles imports of fuel and consumer goods as well as exports of tea and coffee for landlocked neighbours such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
South Sudan is second after Uganda in the use of Mombasa port, accounting for 12 percent of imports to neighbouring countries.
Uganda accounts for the lion’s share of 71.7 percent or 6.64 million tonnes of the 9.25 million tonnes of imports.
South Sudan announced last year that it had bought three acres of land at the port of Djibouti for the construction of a facility that will handle its import and export goods as Juba sought to cut reliance on Mombasa.
This development came just two months after the Chamber of Commerce in South Sudan said it will shift its cargo to the port of Djibouti, which it termed as convenient for the Africa’s youngest State.