Kenya conservation news – Is Lamu the next battle ground between conservationists and developers?

The tripartite launch of LAPSSET, also known as the Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia project, has been announced for March 02nd, when President Kibaki will in the presence of Southern Sudans President Salva Kiir and Ethiopias Prime Minister Menes Zenawi officially launch the project in Lamu.
Already coined as one of Africas most important infrastructure mega projects, when complete it will radically alter the economic and strategic outlook of this part of Kenya but also for Southern Sudan and Ethiopia.
Besides the port itself, and the surrounding city of New Lamu will the planned road, rail and pipeline link connect Southern Sudan with a safe route to the Indian Ocean, while Ethiopia too will create redundancy from their present sole outlet to the sea via Djibouti.
Southern Sudan, which only recently halted all oil exports via their hostile neighbours territory to Port Sudan, has vowed to build a pipeline for crude oil exports via Kenya and the construction of a brand new port in Lamu, with dedicated crude oil loading facilities, will achieve a new secure export route for the new country. In turn, it will at last provide a safe and fast traffic axis on both road and rail to import and export commodities into and from the Southern Sudan, which at present depends on the road route from Mombasa via Nairobi, the Ugandan border and then on to Kampala and Gulu. For Ethiopia equally strategic and economic considerations have brought them on board the new project, and with all three countries committed to co-finance the cost, estimated to be at least 20 billion US Dollars as current prices, the Kenyan government lost no time to set a launch date and get contractors on site. The project, which Kenyas business community has hailed as the most important development project seen since independence, has however also raised immense concerns amongst conservationists, who have already taken their grievances to court over allegations that EIAs were not conducted in accordance with internationally acceptable rules and standards, that community involvement and participation was literally absent and that no meaningful consultations were taking place giving opportunity to discuss, propose, amend or even reject findings and recommendations made towards mitigation. Under the spotlight are the UNESCO World Heritage Status of the Old Lamu Town but also mangrove forests, marine reserves and generally the pristine wilderness found along the coastal stretch on both sides of the Lamu archipelago.
A regular source, close to the seat of power in Nairobi, had this to say in a communication to this correspondent under strict rules of anonymity: The Kenyan government is aware of attempts to stop the project launch in court through an injunction. That is a process which will run its course and I am not speculating on the outcome or the merit of their case here. What I will say however is that Kenya has a unique opportunity to develop a part of the country which has been backward, underdeveloped and underfacilitated. We know tourism is a crucial factor in our economy and we in fact hope that the development of Lamu port will bring investments from the tourism sector to that part of Kenya too. Since our colonial days we have been expanding on Mombasa port and concentrated only on that traffic artery from the coast to Nairobi and on to Uganda. That axis has been saturated now, there is little opportunity to make much more out of it but improve, put the new pipeline, widen the Nairobi to Mombasa highway, make the railway into a standard gauge for faster speeds and greater capacity. But Mombasa port has its limitations. We continue to modernize and improve but the inherent problems of capacity constraints will always be there. With Lamu however we can create a new port and link our neighbours Southern Sudan and Ethiopia to us here in Kenya. The pipeline will give Southern Sudan a secure export route and they get a modern crude oil loading terminal. They and Ethiopia will have a road and rail link to Lamu to facilitate cargo traffic both ways, for imports and exports, and the standard gauge railway will be fast and cheap compared with road transport as it is now. Both countries have hostile neighbours and we are in friendly terms with them where they have nothing to fear. Both countries have interest to join the East African Community and when that happens the trade bloc will be stronger but also needs the facilities, the infrastructure, to fully exploit the integrated economies. The construction of a new sea port in Lamu will bring relief to growing trade volumes now squeezing through Mombasa. The construction of a new city of Lamu will create many opportunities, for investors, for Kenyans looking for jobs. There can be manufacturing under bond, an export processing zone, maybe even a free port. Water and electricity supplies are logistical issues which will be solved along the way. Imagine the opportunities for real estate developments, and in particular for tourism in that part of Kenya. Right now there are very few resorts and yet there are many beaches better than what the resorts north of Mombasa have. I am sure that along the road and rail the Lamu airport will also be expanded and modernized, giving access to business and leisure travelers. One has to highlight the opportunities, and see that we have to move development to parts of the country which since before independence were never really touched. And contrary to what is being said, we know that tourism can be a very big business, already is for the rest of the country. So the mangrove forests and beaches and wilderness will not be spoiled. We have seen the destruction in the Niger Delta and Lamu will be spared so that tourism can find a good environment where resorts can offer what tourists hope to find in Kenya. Did tourism to Mombasa suffer because the city has developed and grown since the 60s and 70s? In fact tourism has grown and they are demanding that the bypass to the south coast is being built to link the airport and Nairobi highway to Ukunda. These developments go hand in hand. We will leave old Lamu intact, there is no intention to spoil the face of old Lamu but it can coexist with the city of New Lamu which has to be created. There are many examples where old and new, heritage and tradition and modern developments, can exist near each other. And with Southern Sudan and Ethiopia on board, the financing is also easier now as the risk is shared amongst the three of us, because the cost for just one country would be hard to bear, considering other infrastructure cost in t country, and those two countries help finance the user fees for the port and transit cost will be much lower for them because they are almost like shareholders.
Conservation sources however denounced the plans as megalomaniac and destructive to the extreme to the life style and traditions of the region, which hitherto largely made a living from fishing and subsistence farming, or through employment in the tourism industry, and to a lesser extent the building of traditional sailing dhows. A regular conservation source in Nairobi, when confronted with the input from official Kenya had this to say in response: It is all good what they say, but we know what our government says and what it does is different. The carving into Nairobi National Park is the most current example for that trend. We simply cannot take their word for it. So, our concerns are over the secrecy of how or if any Environmental Impact Assessment and Social Assessments have been done. Who was consulted and when. Those EIAs if they exist must be put into the public domain to cross check, to see if the assumptions made by consultants are right or wrong. There are consultants who are paid to simply say what their paymasters want as a result and there are many examples for it. So our first step is to have an injunction to stop any work from beginning in Lamu. Secondly we want to have public scrutiny of any contracts and how they were awarded and are being awarded. Profiteering must be ruled out.
Already there is land grabbing in and around Lamu and communities are being threatened with losing their ancestral lands. These people never knew about title deeds, they only ever lived there like their forefathers did. Their livelihoods are threatened and where will government put them? We still have displaced people living in camps since the 2008 violence. Our government does not plan for such issues. Our courts are now more independent since the new constitution came in force and we Kenyans have a say in such matters. We are confident that court will side with us and allow a transparent process to take shape. We have waited for nearly 50 years since independence to develop this part of the country and can wait a little longer surely. And if the Kenyan courts fail us, we will take our grievances to the East African Court of Justice in Arusha which has jurisdiction. Already the Tanzanian government has to defend itself there over their plans to build a highway across the Serengeti and our case for Lamu might head there too. We are NOT anti development but we are also the sole voice of the communities in and around Lamu, the sole voice of the environment and the sole voice of nature. Development and conservation can co-exist but it has to be done with respect for nature and with fully understanding the impact of water extraction, all the issues surrounding waste water, waste processing, preparations for potential oil spillages. This is something which happens regularly in Mombasa port and at the refinery / offloading terminal and we must have mechanisms in place to not only avoid it but to combat a spillage instantly and not let it spread first and contaminate the mangrove forests and coast line citing lack of resources or lack of equipment. We know we are being made look like wanting to keep Kenyans in poverty but it is not true. Tourism last year almost earned 100 billion Shillings and this can double easily in the coming decade but only if we protect our environment and use the strictest guidelines for developments. And that is lacking right now. The people in government are in an election year and all they see is dollar signs. We cannot let that happen without using all legal and peaceful means to make sure nature, environment, heritage and tradition have their rightful place in Kenyan society.
Pros and Cons side by side as the clock is ticking towards the planned party in Lamu on the 02nd of March, not much time left to have a court decide on an injunction or for the Kenyan government make alternative arrangements should one be issued against them. Watch this space as conservation and development are once again seemingly on a collision course in Kenya, adding yet another battle ground where developers and government on one side and the conservation fraternity, local, regional and international are likely to slug it out in court.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for spelling out the differences between opinions of the port, which are basically development at all costs vs sustainable development. Why rush into something that could, if done badly, cost the country much more money in the long run through industrial spillages, oblique tender processes, loss of livelihood for thousands of people . Let us go methodically, transparently and sensibly into such a huge project.

  2. LAPSSET is a fantasy Wolfgang, with a good deal of fraud and pocket-lining as the only likely actual benefits. The whole project – Lamu Port plus Railways to Ethiopia and Sudan plus “tourist resort cities” in the desert plus, plus, plus. . . is part of the grandiose Vision2030, which is now a quarter of the way through its life (launched in 2006) having yielded next to nothing. What Kenya needs are infrastructural developments that produce sustainable, tangible, irreversible benefits.

    It’s extraordinary that the same government that has allowed the Mombasa-Nairobi railway to fall almost into total disrepair, and hasn’t even managed to build a tarmac road to Lamu, should think Kenyans will trust them to build thousands of kilometres of brand-new railway and all the rest of it. It simply doesn’t add up, and as yet, whatever ministers in Kenya, South Sudan or Ethiopia may say is going to happen, there is no finance set up for it. $20billion is a lot money – not far off 2 trillion Kenya shillings.

    Building such vast schemes in insecure areas (how ironic that the minister you quote should single out the misery of Nigeria’s Niger Delta, supposedly in contrast to what will happen in Lamu – somebody has at least considered the comparison!) is hardly a recipe for credible progress when so much positive economic development could be achieved across the country for a tiny fraction of the bill – if the will were truly there.

    I’ve blogged about LAPSSET at:

    where there are now also a lot of comments and links.

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