Kenya to start construction of new port
East African heads of state, including South Sudan president Salva Kiir, attended a ceremony Friday to mark the beginning of construction for a controversial new port in Kenya's eastern coastal region of Lamu.
Villagers fear the port may ruin idyllic beaches that draw Hollywood stars to the nearby island of Lamu year after year. But Kenya hopes the port will make the country a regional telecommunications and transportation hub.
Kiir said the port will be a terminal for an alternative oil pipeline through Kenya, freeing South Sudan from its dependence on the infrastructure of Sudan, its former ruler in the north. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July.
Landlocked South Sudan stopped pumping oil through Sudan in January, accusing the government in Sudan's capital Khartoum of stealing hundred millions of dollars of oil revenue. Sudan responded Wednesday by bombing two oil wells in the south, Kiir said.
Kiir thanked Kenya for signing a memorandum of understanding to allow the new country to construct an oil pipeline from South Sudan's capital of Juba to the port.
He said the port is strategically and economically important for the region. Construction will be done in phases and will cost Kenya about $24.5 billion, according to Kenyan government estimates.
The port is part of a wider project to improve infrastructure in the region. It is designed to include a highway, a railway line and a petroleum pipeline crossing over three countries. Kiir said the improved transport links and pipeline could create a backbone for South Sudan's infrastructure and allow his country to end its reliance on oil.
"The port of Lamu project will create economic opportunities and employment. It will make goods and services more abundant and affordable in our markets," Kiir said.
South Sudan's current lack of infrastructure means the cost of goods, such as sugar and maize, is higher there than in any other countries in the region.
A lobby group called Save Lamu has objected to the construction, saying not enough has been done to study the impact of the port on the environment and the nearby island of Lamu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The group said in a statement Thursday that the communities in Lamu have not been consulted and land ownership was not being respected by the government.
"We are greatly concerned that the lack of transparency, secrecy and poor accountability in the way the project being implemented," said Abubakar Al-Amudy, the chairman of Save Lamu.
Al-Amudy warned that the project may collapse if the lack of accountability persists.
Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki said the government is aware of the concerns raised by the people of Lamu, especially with regard to land, environment, cultural heritage and fishing grounds.
"The rights of the people of Lamu, like the rights of all other Kenyans, are enshrined in the Constitution and are, therefore, inalienable. I have instructed the relevant government ministries and agencies to move with speed and ensure that these concerns are addressed as soon as possible," Kibaki said.
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