Although the planned development of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Dongo Kundu, Mombasa, is expected to bring a number of benefits to the economy once its takes shape, the multibillion shilling project still faces a considerable number of social and economic barriers.
The underlying issues have the potential to cause monumental friction as government pushes through one of the Vision 2030 projects expected to alter the coastal town in terms of infrastructure and business. Besides, the small religious stone at the shores of Indian Ocean and other two Mijikenda shrines in Dongo Kundu area, the issue of land compensation sticks out like a sore thump.
While the 3,277 acre piece of land in Kwale county set for the special economic zone is government land, which is in the custody of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), the land has been invaded by squatters who have constructed rickety and mud-walled structures, which they claim to have been their homes since time immemorial.
As one drives through the expansive hilly landscape, the sight of young women and children can be seen standing outside the sparsely spread structures. There is little farming going on.
Mzee Charo Karisa says they have lived on the land since the time of their great grandfathers and are not about to move until sufficiently compensated by the government.
“We have heard that the government wants to develop this place but this is our home. We can’t move until we are compensated. However, nobody has told us anything yet,” he told People Daily outside his almost falling structure.
Acting Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Authority technical manager Francis Gitau confirmed that land and property compensation is one of the sticking issues the project is facing.
He said they have also encountered instances where some people are not ready to move even with compensation. Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat director general Julius Muia, however, contends that while land compensation is a big issue, the government is ready to address it amicably to allow the project continue.
“The land of course belongs to KPA but we also know there are people living here. For purposes of fairness and equity, the government recognises that there are people who have been eking their livelihoods here and also have property.
They will be compensated,” he said. This means the government has to set a tidy budget to compensate and resettle people who are not even landowners. Equally confronting the special economic zones authority is lack of sufficient land to set up the free trade hubs at Dongo Kundu and at the ongoing Lamu port.
Similar problems are also facing planned free trade areas in Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay counties in Nyanza. The 3,277 acres set aside for Mombasa SEZ is insufficient, especially considering that the free trade zone is modeled around the Shenzhen SEZ in China which occupies a sizeable 494,210 acres.
“The land is very small for a SEZ because we are talking about an integrated city, where people will live, work and play. We will have industrial and commercial buildings, residential areas, schools, hospitals, conferences and recreational facilities in just one roof,” Gitau told People Daily.
He said the original idea was to have a 2,000 km² for the Mombasa SEZ, similar to the Shenzhen SEZ. Gitau said while this was to start from Mariakani to Voi in Mombasa county and areas in Kwale, it is not possible to get the land because people have bought most of the ranches, adding: “It would also be difficult for the counties to release land in their custody.”
However, at least for the ongoing construction of Lamu SEZ, the government has managed to acquire 172,974 acres, which is 700km², which has been piloted to echo Singapore SEZ. Unfortunately, the government is yet to get land in Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay for a similar project.
County governments are also posing a challenge for the SEZ projects since they are reluctant to give incentives to investors who would be operating in the free trade areas since they see granting of incentives as equal to losing revenues such as land rates, advertisement fees and other licences.
There is also the nagging question of whether the private sector will invest the expected Sh150 billion to set up plants in the SEZs since the government is only providing enabling policies, infrastructure and land.
However, Dennis Awori, a Vision 2030 board member is convinced that a number of private sector players are keen to invest , especially in the Dongo Kundu project and are only waiting for completion of infrastructure before they take a plunge.
“The zone offers the right mix for business. There will be the port, economic zone and transportation links. The private sector is keen to build the plants in the more than 3,000 acre free trade area,” he said.