The Lamu Port-South Sudan Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) is an extremely ambitious project. There are multiple elements rolled up in this project: the development of a new port at Lamu; an oil pipeline from that port to South Sudan; road and railway links; and a possible line to southern Ethiopia. There are also plans for a new international airport and new ‘resort cities’ along the line of the rail. The completion of any one of these elements would have a significant impact; in combination they might transform the region.
Each one of the multiple elements of the scheme carries a significant price tag, and LAPSSET has been derided by some observers as more of a pipe dream than a pipeline. Others have drawn attention to other kinds of cost, arguing that the project will have negative consequences for environments and communities, from Lamu itself to the many pastoralist groups who live along the planned line of the project. Political volatility in the region, especially in Somalia, is also a challenge. Yet the project evidently also has the potential to promote regional trade and boost national economies, overcoming the limitations of a transport network whose basic architecture is still that laid down in the early years of colonial rule.
The Nairobi Forum of the Rift Valley Institute (RVI) organised a public meeting on the LAPSSET that discussed the opportunities and challenges that this major project will have on individual member states and the wider region. Speakers and participants were drawn from the government, academia, donors, researchers and the affected communities.