President of South Sudan, Mr Salva Kiir has pushed President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza administration to allow a controversial firm associated with the former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho to handle cargo destined to the landlocked country from the Port of Mombasa through standard gauge railway.
The lucrative deal will see Autoport Freight Terminals Ltd handle all South Sudan imports at Nairobi Freight Terminal (NFT).
The push by Kiir has seen Kenya reverse a September order, which restricted the clearance of cargo operations to Mombasa Port.
A letter from the Ministry of Transport has informed the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) that Autoport, which bagged the deal to operate at the tax-funded NFT with forged documents, will remain the sole handler of Salva Kiir’s cargo.
Other than bagging lucrative deals through forgeries and powerful proxies, Joho’s firm has also been on the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) radar over tax evasion.
The firm’s deal with South Sudan suffered a huge blow after the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld Dr Ruto’s win in the August 9 presidential election against Joho’s political father, Mzee Raila Odinga.
Autoport bagged the South Sudan contract after bribing Kenya Railways Corporation which offered it a terminal at the Nairobi Inland Container Depot which is connected to the SGR and easily evacuates cargo from Mombasa Port.
Joho supported Odinga in the last elections and threw unprintable words at Dr. Ruto, raising fears that the Kenya Kwanza administration would review the terminal deal and derail his port businesses.
In fact, after Ruto was sworn in on September 13, 2022, he issued an executive order directing that all clearance of cargo and operations be reverted to Mombasa port.
This was in line with the promise he made to the people of the coast during his campaigns.
But Salva Kiir was uneasy with the directive and wanted an arrangement where South Sudanese traders would clear their goods at either Nairobi or Naivasha dry ports.
He threatened to divert businesses to the Djibouti route, which is shorter, forcing President Ruto to reverse his directive early this month when he visited Juba to ensure that the neighbouring country retains Kenya as its transshipment cargo.
A move to Djibouti would have denied Kenya revenue on 1.1 million tonnes of cargo that the Joho firm handles every year.
The controversial deal is a boost to SGR which is struggling to repay the $5.1 billion Chinese loan used in its construction from Mombasa to Nairobi. Cargo destined for South Sudan will be cleared in Nairobi meaning there will be increased volumes to be ferried on the SGR.
Joho firm took over operations at an inland cargo terminal in Nairobi during the ‘Handshake’ government which favored former president Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga allies.
It was given exclusive rights to use NFT, which is strategically located near SGR terminal in Syokimau after it bribed the KRC board and promised to move 1.6 million tonnes annually.
It must be noted that President Ruto allowed Joho firm to bag the lucrative deal not because it has stronger business ties with South Sudan or it is a trusted and efficient agent but because Salva Kiir had bought 3 acres of land in Djibouti to construct a dry port.
A move to Djibouti would deny Kenya business, but there is more that needs to be scrutinized in Kiir’s decision to only use the controversial Joho firm when his war-torn country is currently facing an arms embargo.