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Port of Mombasa – A Brief History

A Brief History of The Port of Mombasa

The Port of Mombasa is situated on one of Africa’s oldest surviving harbours. We take a brief look at its history.

The city of Mombasa hosts the chief port of Kenya, and is located on a coralline island in a bay of the Indian Ocean near the Equator in Africa. Before the city established itself as an important trade port, the area had been the site of settlements that were inhabited by Bantu-speaking people who made their living by fishing, farming and local trading.

Port of Mombasa
Image by Africaports.co.za


Not One Port, but Two

Mombasa actually has two ports. The old port is situated on the island’s east side and is now only used by dhows and small craft that are bringing in trade from Arabia, India, and the Persian Gulf. The new port, Kilindini, is a modern deep-water port that has numerous berths in a landlocked anchorage. This new port was created in 1896, with the expansion of trade in Africa and Mombasa becoming the gateway to the interior of East Africa. As the market for Kenya’s agricultural products (cotton, sugar, coconuts, fruits and vegetables), many of these are exported.


The Old Port

The Old Port was built following the arrival of the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, as they pioneered a sea route for their spice trade from Europe that went via the southern tip of Africa. In the 18th and 19th centuries, East Africa was colonised by various nations, including Germany and Great Britain. The port was built near Fort Jesus, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fort was built by Portuguese in 1593-1596 to protect the port, and is one of the most incredible, well-preserved examples of 16th century Portuguese architecture.

Port of Mombasa
Image by whc.unesco.org


The New Port

Work on the railway from Mombasa to Kampula in Uganda commenced in 1895 to facilitate regional trade and open up the hinterland for tea, coffee, skins and ivory. This caused trade to expand in Mombasa, and a more modern seaport was necessary. This led to the creation of the new port in 1896, starting with the first jetty at Kilindini on the west side of the island. Development of the port continued from there on, with the second phase of the second container terminal development commencing in 2017. The Kenya Ports Authority continues to own and manage most of Mombasa.

There is an unspoken but longstanding competition between Tanzania and Kenya to have the best, most important port in East Africa and both countries are developing ports and railway infrastructure to increase their appeal. In 2019, the Port of Mombasa container handling section beat its target of 1.35 million TEU’s, ending the year on 1.4 million TEU’s.

We look forward to watching this strategically important port grow over the next few years.