Steel for Anemones

Steel for Anemones

No more Lamu.
Yesterday the Kenyan government invited you to replace the heavenly treasure of Lamu Island with Africa’s largest port.

Lamu, an ancient Arab kingdom and now a quaint beach retreat on the north Kenyan coast will become Africa’s second largest port in less than ten years, and shortly after that, its largest.

The half dozen paradise islands, the nearly two thousand years of quiet peace, the cars-prohibited stone streets, the sweet halva whose recipes have been passed down for generations, the white sands and azure seas will be replaced by supertankers and deep-water berths.


Where oh where is cold fusion?

In order to get your piece of the $16 billion Chinese building fund, you have until October 15 to submit bids for:
– dredging 60 miles of coral reefs;
– plowing away several hundred miles of gorgeous sand dunes; and
– staking out the 1,000-acre port facility.

You can then submit bids for:
– surveying 800 miles of high speed rail from Manda Bay on the mainland opposite Lamu Island to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Juba in the southern Sudan;

or, if you’d rather:
– help with Africa’s largest and longest steel pipeline from the oil fields of The Sudan to Lamu.

Any way you look at it, there’s probably a job in it for your nephew.

Those of us who have watched with wonder the highways being pasted down on our sleepy Africa over only the last few years have little doubt this will happen.

We also watch from afar – not far away in distance, but in memory already drowning in nostalgia.

We can’t stop this and shouldn’t. The government white paper Mr Cyrus Njiru, transport permanent secretary, presented last spring is no longer being scoffed at. There are real and live economists in the world who believe the development transforming Kenya will create Africa’s largest middle class in less than two decades.

Right now there is only one deep water port in all of the east side of this huge continent at Durban, South Africa. The three berths scheduled to come on line by 2020 in Lamu will place it second to Durban’s eight. But ten years later (2030), Lamu will grow from 3 berths to 16!

This is not just the mission statement of a not-for-profit that wants to end polio among bonobo. This is the life story of the Chinese, the society quickly becoming the biggest and richest on earth, but a society with little oil of its own.

It’s a race between Chinese consumption and laying pipe, concrete and rail through the deserts and war zones of Africa. And that’s a story in itself, because it might be the first time anyone’s done something that might really bring peace to this war ragged area.

Can you imagine ExxonMobile or preboom BP planning a project of such historic dimensions in Iraq or Afghanistan? Of course, not! In fact, they refused.

This area is probably much worse than Afghanistan or Iraq. The pipeline and edges of the highway will skirt into territory currently held by Al-Shabaab (Al Qaeda in Somalia). The pipeline will transect the oil fields that have contributed to more than a million deaths, many of them child soldiers, in The Sudan.

But the Chinese can’t say, I’m not sure this is safe enough. This is where they’ve found oil and where they control the rights.

I know this will happen. And I hope it brings peace. The Chinese – unlike the moralists in the west – can care less if women are stoned to death for burning the toast or ancient monuments are used to fill potholes. I’m not saying this offers a rosy picture of our next world society; it’s just the facts, ma’am. Chinese are the world’s ace capitalists.

They need oil. Fast.

Kenya’s figured that out and knows how to deliver.

For a price, of course. The price of prosperity. Less infant mortality for a few miles of paradisiacal coastline. Modern agricultural machinery to grow hybrid corn. Fiber optic cable to create Africa’s Bangalore.

Steel for anemones.

There will still be many wondrous places on the Kenyan coast. Just not Lamu, anymore.