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Kenya's violence chokes flow of goods to the region

Security concerns are preventing fuel and other goods from leaving a key port.

(Page 2 of 2)

Difficulties moving cargo out of the port have compounded delays delivering it to shore. It's normal for container ships to wait three or four days in Mombasa Harbor before they can unload, and Mr. Castellano says containers often sit in port for a month before the relatively short and secure journey to Nairobi. The election violence has only exacerbated existing blockages at the port and in the country, he says, and that will not be solved until Kenya's roads match up to the shipping facility. "If you have a bigger port maybe you can discharge more, but you need something behind [it]," he says.

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In November, Japan agreed to loan Kenya about $228 million to expand the port and ease congestion. When the deal was announced there were 9,419 containers waiting for import or export. This week there were more than 13,000.

The unrest in Kenya has hit major industries like tourism, but neighboring countries suffer as well. As the region's economic hub, neighbors depend on its manufacturing sector as well as its link to the sea. Since the Kenyan election, Uganda has been suffering major fuel shortages and price hikes. The country depends on fuel arriving daily by truck, and truckers are especially wary of this flammable cargo.

"The crisis will be an eye-opener for a number of countries in the region that have pegged their dependence on stability in Kenya," Ken Mutuma of The South African Institute of International Affairs wrote in an e-mail. "It is likely that Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda will begin to explore the possibility of using Dar es Salaam as their alternative port." The Tanzanian port is less advanced but offers political stability.

Additionally, exports from Kenya and its neighbors have also suffered. Major exports from East Africa include coffee, tea, and canned fruit. Countries in the area import essentials such as vehicles, machinery, fertilizer, and staple crops like wheat, maize, and fuel.

Like other companies, DFS has to pay a daily penalty for containers left at the port. For the moment, there's little the company can do. "The political situation is affecting every aspect of life in Kenya at the moment," says Mr. Rading.

To relieve the blockage, the port is working with private storage companies to store excess cargo in government inland points where containers can pass customs, says port spokesman Bernard Osero. Even so, the port's function is only to load and unload containers. Without trains and trucks to pick up the cargo, bottlenecks are inevitable.

"We are depending on our government," says Mr. Wasera of Kenfreight. But even should the ruling Party of National Unity (PNU) and opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) break their impasse he estimates it will take a month to restore a measure of normality to the port.