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We sold our port and our soul to the devil



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A report by Auditor General Edward Ouko’s office shows that Kenya may lose Mombasa port because of debt: The shocking part about the revelation is not about us losing control of the port… that was kind of expected in my view.

We have watched Zambia lose their airport, we have also seen Sri Lanka lose their port to the Chinese.

Indeed, given our love affair with mismanagement of funds and corruption, and knowing how much our government has asked for loans from the Chinese government and continues to do so, it is really unexpected news that we may lose the Mombasa port. Of course we will.

One would think with the whistle-blowing and access to information when it comes to the rampant corruption in the country, something would have long ago been done about it.

Like the shepherd boy in the fable, the Auditor General’s office is crying wolf, and there really is a wolf, and unlike in the fable, we do believe him, but we just act as though there is nothing we can do.

We are content to leave the wolf to eat his fill, seeing that we don’t know actually how many sheep we have to begin with, and people are therefore not concerned we may be running out.

I recently took a trip to Mombasa with a few family members. Travelling on the standard gauge railway on the Madaraka Express was a first time for most of us.

Departure was at 8am, so we left home in a taxi early that morning. The first thing I noticed at the station was the large crowd waiting to enter after going through the security check.

Just as we got there, the train that comes from the CBD to the station, which drops off passengers from downtown, had come to a screeching halt.

And an even bigger crowd of people ran to the gates, which were still closed but a few minutes later were opened to let the crowd join the other crowd in the lines.

So, a swarm of people, not for those claustrophobic at heart. There we were, calm and getting into line when a woman whispered to my husband, “You are in the women’s line.” So he walked over to the other lines and finally found what he believed was a men’s line. There were no signs.

So we waited, crawling to the entrance, dragging our luggage, as there were no trolleys.

When we finally got to the front of the line, we were searched with those machines that swiftly run across your body while you have no idea if they work.

Then we were asked to walk in a file. Similar to something you would imagine at a boot camp. After the first check, at this point, both the male line and female line had merged, but nobody was yelling at us at this point. We had to drop our bags and take a few steps back as we waited for the sniffer dogs to smell out contraband in our luggage.

Don’t you dare touch your bag too early – you will then really have someone yelling at you, as if you had committed a very serious crime.

Then after the signal that said it was alright to grab your bag, we were back in line, which had now divided into male and female again – once again, no signs – and passing our bags through a scanner.

Well, finally we got to the ticket station, where you can plug in your purchased-online ticket, it is printed, and then is checked at the main entrance.

Up the stairs filled with people, pushing, shoving… Then you are on to the ramp to the next train. At this point, I was flustered, grateful we would be in Mombasa in a few hours, because after that ordeal, I needed a break.

There were bottlenecks all over the station. As for the train, the ride was smooth, it left and arrived on time to the very minute, which was impressive. However, there are parts of the station that need to be completed in Mombasa; the route we used to get out of the station looked like an evacuation or emergency exit. There were no windows, the ground was still cemented.

Even though the train is not perfect, there are things that go well and things that can be done better.

What were the billions used for? And was it worth our country selling its soul to the devil?

It was all supposedly in the cause of development – yet what kind of development is it when you spend more than 300 billion shillings ($3 billion) but you can’t find a trash bin in the station?

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, executive director, Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW

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