PUBLISHED ON January 20th, 2015

Mombasa port has finally come of age

The transportation of goods in standardised steel containers commonly known as twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) is a relatively recent phenomenon in maritime trade.

Whereas TEUs gained global currency in the late 1950s, it was not until the 1970s that Kenya registered sizeable volumes of container traffic.

Container volumes, and indeed port traffic, is a useful barometer of a country’s or geographical region’s economic performance. As the domestic or regional economy grows, so does the volume of goods passing through the port.

In 2014, container traffic volumes at the port of Mombasa surpassed the one million mark, signalling robust economic performance for Kenya and other countries in the region. This feat is testimony to the remarkable journey the port has made since 1975, when it recorded its first sizeable container volumes at 1,278 TEUs.

This historic milestone, like many others, makes it even more poignant that the port of Mombasa, the gateway to the region, could build on the growth of the past five years to handle one million TEUs in 2014.

To get a clearer picture of the port’s growth, one needs to go back to the underlying trends. The past decade has seen Mombasa register exponential growth in container volumes. In 2002, it recorded 305,427 TEUs, rising to 615,733 in 2008 and 894,000 in 2013, an annual growth rate of 10.8 per cent. In 2012, the projected growth rate was surpassed, reaching 903,463 TEUs.

One reason for this is that 2012 was a pre-election year. One sees a similar trend in 2006 and 2007, when container traffic increased by 22 per cent, only to drop to 5.8 per cent in 2008 following the post-election violence.


Applying the estimated 7.1 per cent increase, container traffic for 2014 should have been 959,616 TEUs, but it shot past the one-million mark as a result of the upswing in the country’s economic fortunes following the peaceful 2013 General Election.

The port defied predictions by moving 1,004,500 TEUs, representing 12.1 per cent growth compared to 894,000 TEUs in 2013, a rate that is almost 1.5 times the global maritime container traffic growth for that year.

This “over-heating” is indicative of the immense activity generated by the (regional) economy served by the port of Mombasa. The 44,500 TEUs above the expected throughput of 2014 can be attributed to confidence in the prevailing economic climate. This is further underscored by accelerated regional integration resulting in increased growth and development.

The upshot is that actual performance in 2014 was aligned with the underlying economic fundamentals. In crossing the one-million mark, Mombasa has firmly cemented its place among the world’s leading ports.

To match this new reality, pressure should be managed systematically through harmonised interventions in the port hinterland that stretches all the way to the Great Lakes Region. One such intervention is to eliminate or minimise non-tariff barriers. Also, road and rail infrastructure will need to be in good shape and incidental statutory interventions optimised on the Northern Corridor.

Source: Daily Nation

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.