Accompanied by his Agriculture Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri and Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Munya, President Kenyatta toured the state of the art facility which freezes 600 tonnes of fish on a daily basis.
Seaflower Pelagic Processing factory located in Walvis Bay, Namibia, has the distinction of being the biggest fish-freezing factory in Africa. The factory was set up recently at the cost of $40 million (about Sh4 billion) through a partnership between the Namibian Government and a private investor.
Namibia’s Vice President Dr Nangolo Mbumba and Fisheries Minister Bernhardt Esau said their Government had embarked on strengthening fishing in order to give Namibia a food security guarantee.
Awed that such a young African nation which gained independence just the other day and which Kenya had even bought the country’s freedom fighters their first vehicle, but now had a modern factory that so far has already created 700 jobs, President Kenyatta summarily instructed Mr. Kiunjuri and Mr. Munya to immediately take steps to learn from the Namibian experience so that Kenya could have a similar factory.
“When SWAPO was fighting for freedom, the first vehicle it ever owned was bought by Kenya. We will also never forget the role played by the Kenyan contingent of UNTAG which remained behind at the cost of Kenya to protect Namibians until the country was stable,” said Vice President Mbumba.
“We are here to learn from how Namibia is benefiting from its blue economy even as we continue to support and partner with them in various other fields,” said President Kenyatta.
And Kenya indeed has a lot of learning to do, for a country that boasts a total maritime territory covering 230,000 square kilometres and a distance of 200 nautical miles offshore, it is a shame that the country continues to drag its feet in investing in the maritime and blue economy.
Over 92 per cent of Kenya’s international trade is transported on the sea but to this day local investors have not been keen to invest in the maritime sector.
Lack of sound policies, effective leadership, innovative technologies coupled with continuous underfunding has resulted in Kenya’s maritime sector continue to waste away.
The country’s fishing industry is also in tatters and needs urgent help to rescue it from rough waters.
From Ras Kamboni in Lamu on the Kenya Somalia border to Shimoni, Kwale County, fishermen are crying foul.
There is little catch with fish resources getting depleted by the day as trawlers wreak havoc within Kenya’s 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The country loses about 10 billion shillings ($97 million) a year to foreign boats fishing without permission, according to government data.
About two million Kenyans depend on fishing but dwindling stocks in nearshore waters and a slump in tourism due to insecurity have worsened poverty along its palm-fringed coast, according to the World Bank.
The situation is the same on the shores of Lake Victoria where fisherfolk are never a happy lot, suffering a myriad of challenges, including complaints of unfair competition posed by fish imports from China.
The situation was made even worse early this year when the government lifted the ban on Chinese imports with the fisheries ministry arguing that the local fishermen cannot meet the demand.
Brokers have also been blamed for inflating the cost of local fish produce making it out of reach to local consumers.
But with the country not having invested in enough cold storage facilities fishermen are the real victims and often are at the mercy of exploitative buyers and middlemen.
“At times, the catch is high yet we have nowhere to sell. If the county government revived the cold storage and fish value chain system, the prices of fish would fetch higher prices,” says Fredrick Otieno, a fisherman who sells his catch off a boat at Port Victoria on the western shores of Lake Victoria and who has been in the trade for 10 years.
Statistics by the Fisheries Department show that there are about 321 fish landing sites on Lake Victoria. However, only eight of these fish landing sites have cooling facilities in Siaya, Busia, Homa Bay and Kisumu.
Should Kenya however, decide to get its act together, there is a lot it can achieve with the resources it already possesses.
The port of Mombasa and Walvis Bay are similar and serve many nations in the interior of Africa.
To enhance its efficiency in serving neighbouring landlocked countries, Namport has assigned dry ports to the different nations so that they can manage their own cargo. The Namibian government is now busy reclaiming land from the sea to enable the port handle ships with even bigger capacity.
Something which President Kenyatta noted and said the country would study the idea of dry ports for neighbouring countries that depend on the Port of Mombasa for their imports and exports.
“That kind of arrangement can let them manage their own cargo and our job will be to be efficient port owners,” said President Kenyatta.
He added that Mombasa port and Namport would partner in the areas of efficiency enhancement, and the bridging of management and administration gaps that lead to corruption with the aim of improving service delivery.