Expansion of ports could expose Kenya to more crime

Kenya’s $3.6 billion harbor master plan will transform the country’s sea, lake and dry ports over the next 30 years. Modern ports compliant with International Maritime Organization (IMO) codes are attracting a larger maritime market, which could boost and support the economy of Kenya and the Region. But these expansions come with security concerns, including organized crime and terrorism.

Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) flagship project is the new Lamu Port, which requires an initial investment of $2.1 billion. It is one of seven infrastructure development mega-projects under the Lamu Port-South-Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Project. These 25 billion dollars program is part of Kenya Vision 2030, which aims to transform the country into a middle-income economy.

The port of Lamu serves as a transshipment facility to other port hubs, for example in Djibouti, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. Transshipment ports are intermediate sites where goods are moved from one ship to another to be forwarded to other destinations.

Lamu is close to the Somali border, where al-Shabaab is a dominant presence. The terrorist group notoriously focuses on state infrastructure, damaging property and promoting fear in local communities. This was demonstrated when they attack Manda Bay military base in Lamu in January 2020, killing three US defense personnel and destroying US aircraft and vehicles.

Al-Shabaab collaborates with transnational organized crime groups and engages in organized criminal activities to fund its terrorist organization and campaigns. For example, the group would smuggle legal products such as sugar, trade in illicit firearms and engage in human trafficking, including recruitment campaigns in Kenya.

In 2019, the Kenyan government banned trade between Kenya and Somalia through the Kiunga border post and closed its border with Somalia due to security threats. The measures were also aimed at countering trade unions involved in illegal fishing, human trafficking, smuggling of goods and ‘terror merchants’. Despite state efforts to encourage business in Lamu at the Kiunga border post, evidence of organized crime near the port persists.

In April 2020, the Kenyan authorities fire 12 tonnes of dried fish worth $45,000 (KES 5,000,000) smuggled from Somalia to Kenya. The Lamu-based Kenya Coast Guard burned khat worth $222,000 (KES 25,000,000) that was being directed to Somalia from Kenya.

And although piracy has decreased off the east coast of Africa, an “increase in maritime traffic due to the port of Lamu could spark interest in the hijacking of ships – a crime in which al-Shabaab has been indirectly involved. involved in the past,” said a maritime security expert. , speaking anonymously, told the ENACT Organized Crime Project.

Local grievances could exacerbate the vulnerability of Lamu Port to infiltration by organized crime and terrorist groups. The Historical Marginalization of Communities and the Recent State excess in the war on terrorism, such as extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, have sometimes targeted people living in Lamu. Al-Shabaab takes advantage of such situations to recruit its members in Lamu.

In addition to links to terrorist groups, in 2018 Lamu was identified as a drug trafficker hotspot. As a link to South Sudan and Ethiopia, the port provides an opportunity to expand drug trafficking to markets in northern Kenya and neighboring states in East Africa. Lamu Port and other LAPSSET infrastructure, such as the Juba-Addis Ababa Railway and Isiolo Airport in Kenya, are also vulnerable to trafficking in minerals, wildlife and endangered trees such as teak.

Port security experts told ENACT that port stakeholders and users have set up border management committees that bring together key government agencies. In Lamu, they focus on maritime security issues, such as smuggling of goods and the link between human trafficking and terrorism.

the committees aim to provide a coordinated response between the KPA and other branches of the state, including the Police, Kenya Coastguard Service, Immigration Department and Kenya Revenue Authority. Border management committees have also included local communities in Lamu to improve intelligence gathering and enhance public participation in security-related decisions.

However, KPA Chief Security Officer Tony Kibwana notes that the absence of an integrated KPA maritime security policy and strategy hampers inter-agency responses to organized crime, particularly in newer ports such as Lamu. The maritime plan is being developed and would expand KPA’s cooperation with government agencies such as the Kenya Coastguard Service and Kenya Navy to deter offshore transnational maritime threats.

Safe ports stimulate local, national and regional economies, benefiting both the public and private sectors. Securing ports against transnational organized crime is vital, and recent developments indicate that Kenya is making progress in securing its maritime space. The country was recently removed from the IMO Piracy Red List due to its achievements in combating piracy challenges.

An immediate and positive consequence of this is the reduction in insurance and security expenses (by millions of dollars per year) for those using Kenya’s ports. This aligns with the objective of the KPA Master Plan 2018-2047 to make Kenya an attractive and competitive transshipment and destination hub on the Indian east coast of Africa.

Mohamed Daghar, Regional Coordinator for East Africa and Willis Okumu, Senior Researcher, ENACT Project, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Nairobi, and Denis Ombuna Simon, Senior Security Officer, Kenya Ports Authority

This article has been product by ENACT. ENACT is funded by the European Union (EU). The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the position of the EU.

(This article was first post by ISS Today, a syndication partner of Premium Times. We have their permission to republish).

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