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KISERO: We must nurture our blue economy




Kenya’s coastal and inland waters have clean beaches, fresh water, and abundant marine life with potential for vibrant economic activity that is ready to be exploited. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

With the international conference on the blue economy scheduled to be held in Nairobi next week, I keep thinking about whether or not Kenya is truly ready and prepared for the decisive shift to exploit the full potential of our ocean economy.

Indeed, Kenya’s coastal and inland waters have clean beaches, fresh water, and abundant marine life with potential for vibrant economic activity that is ready to be exploited.

But even with the new fascination and new-found faith within the administration of the blue economy, is there a realistic chance that we will see game-changing interventions in this area in the medium term?

Beyond establishing an inter-ministerial committee on the blue economy, what really is the administration capable of achieving within the existing levels of state expenditure?

The focus, prominence and recognition by the government that exploitation of the blue economy is going to be one of the biggest game-changers of the future cannot be faulted.

We must remain optimistic all the time. Yet I still don’t see spectacular progress in the exploitation of the sea economy in the medium, especially in the context of the existing level of state expenditure.

I don’t see large-scale commercial fishing happening soon. The transition from dependence on artisanal fishing to massive capital intensive investment on maritime fishing will take long to take hold. Yes, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a new coast guard complete with a new vessel.

But full exploitation of the blue economy can only start happening when we have the capacity and capability to enforce full sovereignty over our exclusive economic zone. We have to buy many more vessels of the type the Americans have donated to us.

I don’t see our ocean economy emerging as a key economic game changer in this economy until I see massive resources flowing into ocean tourism.

I am talking about investment at the level of Egypt’s Sham El Sheikh.

Indeed, the Egyptians have invested in an entire resort city whose principal attraction is the clear blue waters of the Red Sea where tourists visit to see marine treasures in their finest.

Kilindini port in Mombasa is a critical ocean economy facility and our most strategic national asset on the Indian Ocean.

But before we can experience a revamped and game-changing blue economy, the port will have to move to the level of the Port of Singapore.

A blue economy allows you- like Singapore- to be a maritime industrial leader even where you don’t have the natural resources.

Today, Singapore is a global centre for oil refining, processing and trading despite not having oil of its own. Kenya, on the eastern sea board of Africa, can be a major centre for trading oil and gas produced in the region- in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Sudan and Somalia.

Accuse me of being a dreamer if you like, but I see the Shimoni port being developed into a maritime industrial port-purely for fish processing and exports in the ilk of Richard Bay Port of South Africa – one of the largest coal exporting harbours in the world.

To take off sustainably, the blue economy will need us to go into partnerships with global players.

I don’t believe that foreign investment in the blue economy can flow in a big way just because the government has given them generous fiscal incentives.

Long-term public investment must precede public sector participation before we can see any major flows of foreign investment in the blue economy.

How I wish that the proposed Kenya Development Bank that was one of the centrepieces of the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Parastatal Reform on 2014 or even the Government Investment Corporation that was also proposed by that task force was in place.

Currently, we don’t have a framework for investing in a national shipping line to allow as to effectively participate in maritime transport. We will need a powerful State agency to midwife the blue economy. Finally, a working blue economy in Kenya will require us to do much more in preventing pollution of the Ocean.