Conflict spells disaster for whole of East Africa

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The Independent Online

Kenya's political meltdown is threatening its economic lifeline to Somalia and other neighbouring countries and disrupting the supply of desperately needed relief aid.

The economies of landlocked states such as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, which rely on Kenya's trade links via its Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, are already being hit by the effects of the unrest.

Goods are piling up in Mombasa amid fears of blockages along the main road to Nairobi. Other arteries including the roads from the capital to the western city of Kisumu and the highway between Nakuru and Eldoret have also been blocked. Guillermo Bettocci, the Somalia representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed concern about the cancellation of flights at Nairobi airport, which is used to fly out supplies to Somalia.

He described the situation in Somalia, where fierce fighting has resumed between Islamic fighters and Ethiopian forces sent to prop up a transitional government, as "the world's worst humanitarian disaster" which he said had now overtaken Darfur in terms of a humanitarian emergency. A total of one million people have been displaced inside Somalia by the conflict, including 250,000 in Mogadishu alone.

"The whole environment is going to be much more difficult," Mr Bettocci added, mentioning fuel prices which have jumped in Kenya as a result of the unrest.

Uganda is already reporting fuel shortages, with the main road to the country passing through the Kenyan towns which read like a roll call of death: Naivasha, Nakuru and Kisumu. To make matters worse, vandals last week tore up about a mile of track along the main Kenya to Uganda railway line in the Nairobi slum of Kibera – apparently a deliberate attack to protest against the fact that President Yoweri Museveni was the first president to congratulate President Mwai Kibaki on his re-election.

Ugandan manufacturers have complained that they have lost $34m (£17m) through the disruption of Uganda's external trade.