Kenya’s emerging prominence in shipbuilding is reshaping the logistics landscape in East Africa, particularly in the utilization of inland waterways for trade. The recent commissioning of the MV Uhuru II, the country’s first domestically-built modern cargo ship, is a testament to this trend. Constructed by Kenya Shipyards Limited in collaboration with Dutch partner Damen Shipyards, the vessel is designed to cater to the growing demand for inland water logistics on Lake Victoria and across the region.
President William Ruto has highlighted the MV Uhuru II as a catalyst for economic growth in the region. This cargo ship is equipped with advanced systems capable of transporting a wide range of goods, including crude oil, cereals, fertilizers, sugar, and seeds. With a capacity of 1063 tons and a cruising speed of 14 knots, it significantly outperforms its predecessor, MV Uhuru I, ensuring more efficient deliveries.
Kenya Shipyards Limited’s ability to build ships extends not only to ocean-going vessels but also inland waterway transport. The company operates as a limited company and is open to shipbuilding orders from countries across the region. Reports indicate that they were handling approximately 20 vessel orders in 2022 from various East African nations.
Zakia Ng’andu, a logistics manager at Famari Investment Limited in Tanzania, emphasizes the crucial role of inland waterway logistics in promoting economic development. These systems can enhance intra-continental trade, especially in landlocked countries, by reducing transportation challenges.
The East African region is experiencing rapid economic growth, with projections indicating further acceleration in the coming years. Utilizing Lake Victoria and other inland waterways for transportation could significantly reduce both time and cost, benefiting countries with access to these water routes, such as Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
Kenya’s achievements in shipbuilding, along with plans for three more similar vessels, position the country as a hub for regional inland maritime logistics. With the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement set to boost intra-African trade, diversifying transport logistics in the region offers substantial advantages, including improved connectivity, reduced congestion, increased efficiency, and sustainable, eco-friendly transportation.
Transport and logistics costs currently account for a significant portion of production costs in East Africa, ranging from 35% to 42%. Recognizing the potential benefits, other East African countries, notably Tanzania, are intensifying their shipbuilding efforts. Investments are pouring into shipyard projects, and innovative vessels are being introduced to enhance transportation across inland waterways.