PUBLISHED ON July 24th, 2014


When Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho visited the United States at the end of April, I learnt that my home town of Mombasa and the city of Long Beach in southern California were sister cities.

In all fairness, there wasn’t any way to know about the sibling connection. There haven’t been any shared projects between the two cities; no business ventures; nothing to connect the west coast of the United States to the east coast of Africa except for a static website that needs updating.

But the surface similarities between the two cities are impossible to ignore.

Long Beach and Mombasa are both port cities that control a significant portion of the shipping business in their region. The two are ranked among the world’s top container ports: in 2013 Long Beach ranked at number 22 while Mombasa ranked at 117, according to a study by the international shipping magazine Container Management.

The island city of Mombasa was established as a trading centre in the first century AD by the Indian Ocean trade winds, and it is strategically located about half way between the major Middle East ports and the port of Durban in South Africa.

Long Beach, by comparison, is a much younger port and was only founded in 1911. In the last century it has expanded from 800 acres to over 7,600 acres, and has become the second busiest seaport in the United States.

It serves as a major gateway for trade between North America and Asia and connects the two largest economies in the world: the United States and China.

Today Long Beach has 22 terminals and 80 berths, and in 2013 it handled 6.7 million TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units). This is six times the amount of container traffic that Mombasa handled (which was just over 1 million TEUs in 2013, according to the World Ports and Trade Summit 2013) with 19 berths at its Kilindini harbour.

Plans to construct a second terminal in Mombasa by 2016, which will handle half a million containers in its year of completion, are under way and promise to significantly boost capacity as will the Lamu port, which is expected to have 32 berths and handle an estimated capacity of 23 million tonnes.

Upon completion the Lamu and Mombasa ports may come to mirror the relationship between the Californian ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which at present are mired in discussions about whether to merge.

The economies of both Long Beach and Mombasa are therefore heavily reliant on the ports. In the city of Long Beach, one in eight jobs (12.5 per cent) is generated by the port.

While national figures on the number of jobs generated by the Mombasa port are unavailable, the 58,000 membership of the three largest trade unions affiliated to the ports suggests the figure could be as low as six per cent.

Both Long Beach and Mombasa are located on major oceanic reserves — the Pacific and the Indian Ocean respectively — and they have access to a bounty of marine and aquatic life. And so the second T that both Long Beach and Mombasa depend on is Tourism.

Long Beach drew the short straw when it came to warm weather, but its aquatic activities overshadow Mombasa’s attempts.

Long Beach has built an industry around water sports such as sailing, water and jet skiing, kayaking, wind surfing and fishing. The American city is home to some of the most famous sporting activities in the world including the Congressional Cup (one of the oldest and most prestigious match racing events in the world) the Transpacific yacht race and Olympic trial races.

Source: Business Daily

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.