Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan have given an undertaking to speed up the implementation of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Project that is lagging behind schedule.
The LAPSSET is the region's largest infrastructure project, bringing the three countries together with key projects that comprise ports, railways and oil pipelines.
During a high-level ministerial meeting held in Addis Ababa last week, the Ethiopian Transport minister Dagmawit Moges said the infrastructure provision remains Africa's top priority as the continent is moving towards integration.
"As Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan have a common goal that aims to attain economic growth and prosperity, narrowing our common infrastructure gap should be our common concern. And this can only be achieved through regional consensus and committed action," said Ms Moges.
Of the infrastructures required along the LAPSSET corridor, it's only the Port of Lamu (one berth) that has so far been completed and launched.
Commissioning of the port of Lamu was delayed thrice over the past two years on funding shortages and operationalisation of all three berths has been pushed to end of the year as authorities seek at least $88 million for the purchase of basic equipment to run them.
The port is expected to play an important role in connecting Ethiopia and South Sudan, which are landlocked and rely on countries such as Kenya and Djibouti for goods coming in from overseas.
Kenya's East African Community and Regional Development Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed said Africa is challenged by low levels of intra-African trade and industrialisation, among other things.
"LAPSSET and similar programmes will play a very big role in reversing these challenges that we are facing today as a continent," he said.
"For Africa to realise its potential of regional integration through transformative regional infrastructure, harmonisation of monitoring policies, standards, the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and improving business climate must be the continued areas of focus for all of us on the continent."
South Sudanese Director General of Road Transport and Safety, Lado Tongun Tombe, said the project would connect his landlocked country to other areas in the region.
African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Raila Odinga said LAPSSET would play a significant role in the African Continental Free Trade Area, pointing to the need for fast-tracking the project.
Kenya has already pledged it would complete the construction of the road from Lamu to the Ethiopian border to make the Lamu port economically viable.
Kenya’s authorities say the Moyale One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) remains operational despite the ongoing political upheavals in Ethiopia that have seen the country announce a state of emergency. A customs official in Kenya’s northern region said the border point with Ethiopia has not been officially closed and that business is going on as usual.
A backlog of ships waiting to offload goods at the key ports around the world is threatening to disrupt the supply chain in East Africa ahead of the Christmas festivities. East Africa relies on imports from China as its largest source market for the bloc’s imports, followed by India and the United Arab Emirates.
African ports are facing a challenge in handling a new generation of ultra-large container vessels due to lack of sufficient infrastructure and shallow berths that hinder bigger ships from calling to these harbours.