Kenya: Lamu Port and Power Plant
Accountability Counsel supports community-based organization Save Lamu in its efforts to protect Lamu communities in Kenya from environmental, social, and cultural threats related to the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) mega-infrastructure project and related infrastructure.
Accountability Counsel’s role has focused on the coal-fired power plant component of LAPSSET, which the African Development Bank (AfDB) is considering supporting with a partial risk guarantee. Communities are concerned that the coal plant is being developed without meaningful consultation or consideration of its high environmental, human rights, and livelihood impacts.
The potential impacts of constructing a coal power generation plant in this environment are grave. Highly valuable mangrove forests are under threat of destruction; marine populations will likely decline if the plant’s cooling water is discharged into the nearby bay; and community health will likely be degraded by water, air, and land pollution. Local communities, including Indigenous People, also face a loss of livelihood and traditional ways of life. The current planned location of the plant would displace communities from land that has been used for generations for hunting, gathering, and seasonal farming. More than 3,000 artisanal and indigenous fisherfolk could lose access to their traditional fishing grounds. The impacts will also likely be felt in nearby Lamu Old Town – the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We have exposed the serious flaws with the environmental and social review process for the coal project and are conducting targeted advocacy towards the AfDB staff and Board of Directors, the U.S. government, and other relevant stakeholders and investors to inform them of the inadequacies of the due diligence to date, as well as the other risks of the project. Our environmental impact assessment analysis is also being used for domestic litigation purposes in Kenya.
This case is still in early stages and communities have not yet filed a complaint with the AfDB’s accountability office, called the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).
“We’re not anti-development, but no one in the world has ventured into coal mining and faced no long-term consequences. Coal is dirty energy, and its effects are detrimental.” — Ishaq Abubakar, Lamu Youth Alliance
The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project is a series of interrelated industrial and infrastructural developments, including:
- A large port in Lamu
- A railway, road, and highway network crossing all of Northern Kenya and connecting South Sudan and Ethiopia to the port in Lamu
- A crude oil pipeline and oil refinery
- Several resort cities and airports throughout Northern Kenya
- A coal power plant in Lamu
- All the necessary support infrastructure for metropolis development
Communities in Lamu are particularly concerned about two elements of the LAPSSET project: a multi-berth port already under construction and a planned coal-fired power plant, both of which are moving forward without properly protecting human rights and the environment. Community focus is currently on the coal plant, which, if completed, will be the first coal-fired power plant in Kenya.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) is considering providing a partial risk guarantee covering Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s obligations under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement related to the coal plant.
In 2014, the Kenyan Government awarded a tender to Amu Power Company Limited (Amu Power) to build and operate a 1000MW coal-fired power plant on the mainland coast of Lamu County. This $2 billion plant, the largest in East Africa, is being developed without meaningful community consultation and participation or due consideration of its high environmental, social, and cultural risks.
There is also a concern that the piecemeal assessment of LAPSSET-related projects has failed to fully recognize the social and environmental impacts of LAPSSET as a whole. Directly as a result of the likely negative impacts on Lamu Old Town, a World Heritage Site, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has repeatedly requested that construction of various LAPSSET-related projects be halted “in order to allow time for a full assessment of its wider direct and indirect impacts on the property and for appropriate mitigation measures to be defined and implemented.”
Lamu County is on Kenya’s northern coast and spans part of the mainland and several island, including Lamu Island and Pate Island. Lamu Old Town on Lamu Island is a World Heritage Site, recognized as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Lamu County is also ecologically important. It contains two internationally-recognized national reserves: the Boni-Dodori Forest and the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. The Boni-Dodori Forest is at the northern end of East Africa’s coastal forests, which are recognized as one of the world’s 35 most significant reservoirs of biodiversity that are under threat from humans.
The potential impacts of constructing a coal power generation plant in this environment are grave. Highly valuable mangrove forests are under threat of destruction; marine populations will likely decline if the plant’s cooling water is discharged into the nearby bay; and community health will likely be degraded by water, air, and land pollution. Local communities, including Indigenous People, also face a loss of livelihood and traditional ways of life. The current location of the plant would displace communities from land that has been used for generations for hunting, gathering, and seasonal farming. More than 3,000 artisanal and indigenous fisherfolk could lose access to their traditional fishing grounds. The impacts will also likely be felt in nearby Lamu Old Town.
Communities are also concerned that the Kenyan National Land Commission (NLC) intends to allocate title of public land at Kwasasi to Amu Power Company for the project prior to the completion of both an RAP and an ESIA, which would identify the project’s full range of impacts on nearby communities and critical environmental habitats. The land transfer would displace local communities who have farmed the land for generations. An RAP is a core requirement of the AfDB’s Operational Safeguards and is meant to protect and compensate people displaced by this project.
Accountability Counsel has been supporting Save Lamu since early 2012 in voicing community concerns to the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other stakeholders such UNESCO. We have conducted research regarding financing for the LAPSSET project and have held information and training sessions in Lamu with a coalition of civil society organizations from across Northern Kenya, all of whom will be affected by the LAPSSET project. We are currently assisting Save Lamu to raise community concerns with AfDB project staff and Management, and at the level of the AfDB board of directors. Together with Save Lamu, we will continue to pressure the AfDB and other stakeholders to demand compliance with all relevant environmental and human rights standards.
Save Lamu: a Kenya-based umbrella organization that represents over 40 organizations from Lamu, Kenya. Save Lamu’s mission is “to engage communities and stakeholders so as to ensure participatory decision-making, achieve sustainable and responsible development and preserve the environmental, social and cultural integrity of the Lamu community.”
Accountability Counsel and Save Lamu traveled to Abidjan for the AfDB’s Civil Society Forum, where we engaged with the bank’s board members regarding continued inadequacies in the environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu Coal Plant.
Save Lamu sent detailed comments to the African Development Bank calling attention to the many gaps and inadequacies in the environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu Coal Plant. Days after the letter was sent, we received notice that the planned AfDB Board vote on approval of a partial risk guarantee for the project had been removed from the Board meeting agenda.
Upon receipt of Save Lamu’s appeal, NET issued a stay order, halting development of the proposed coal plant during the Tribunal’s proceedings.
Save Lamu files an appeal with Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal (NET) challenging NEMA’s decision to grant the EIA license to Amu Power for the coal plant.
Save Lamu submitted an objection to Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission regarding NEMA’s EIA license for coal plant. This objection included a report by former ERC Chair, Mr. Hindpal Singh Jabbal, advising that the coal plant cannot be justified given “technical, economic, site location, social, and environmental considerations.”
NEMA granted an Environmental Impact Assessment License for the Lamu Coal Plant just days after receiving extensive comments on the proposed project during the required public comment period.
Save Lamu submited comments to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) of Kenya, critiquing the factually inaccurate and incomplete ESIA Study Report. Under Kenyan law, NEMA is the agency responsible for deciding whether or not to grant an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license for the coal plant.
Kurrent Technologies, Ltd., a consultant appointed by Amu power, completed and published an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Study Report on the proposed coal plant.
Save Lamu responds to the AfDB, highlighting additional concerns about the Lamu Coal Plant, including major flaws in the Environmental Project Report (EPR) and the threat of imminent displacement of local communities.
Save Lamu objected to the Kenyan National Land Commission’s notice of intention to transfer land to Amu Power for the Lamu Coal Plant. The transfer would have had the effect of displacing local communities who have farmed the land for generations.
With Accountability Counsel’s support, Save Lamu provided a detailed critique of the EPR for the coal plant. This report failed to comprehensively assess the project’s environmental and social impacts and did not detail any mitigation strategies. It also did not constitute a full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, which AfDB policy requires.
AfDB responded to Save Lamu’s letter with an assurance that the Bank would conduct a careful review of the coal plant’s environmental and social impacts.
Accountability Counsel supported Save Lamu’s letter to AfDB Management expressing concerns about the high environmental, social, and cultural risks of the project and about the lack of community consultation and participation to date. Save Lamu requested: a comprehensive ESIA, further feasibility investigation, and more meaningful community consultations, all with the objective of securing the local community’s free, prior, and informed consent to the project.
Save Lamu subsequently met with AfDB representatives to express their concerns in person.
An Environmental Project Report was released for comment.
It was a preliminary environmental report required under Kenyan law as a step toward granting an environmental license for the project. The EPR failed to comprehensively assess environmental and social impacts and did not detail any mitigation strategies.
Save Lamu wrote to international non-government organizations requesting support for a petition to halt the construction of the proposed coal power plant.
Save Lamu wrote to the Kenyan National Environment Management Agency, the government agency responsible for issuing an environmental impact license for the project. This letter expressed communities’ initial concerns about health, safety, and environmental impacts of the coal power plant and about the inadequacy of the public information sessions.
UNESCO published a report on its Reactive Monitoring Mission to Kenya which was triggered by LAPSSET’s likely negative impact on Lamu Old Town, a World Heritage Site. The report raises specific concerns about the negative environmental and social impacts of the proposed coal plant.
Accountability Counsel’s advocacy on the Lamu case has created impact on both a national and international scale. It has supported coalition-building between Save Lamu and civil society and influenced the African Development Bank.
Accountability Counsel is currently supporting a range of civil society organizations that are rallying around Save Lamu, our primary partner. We assisted Save Lamu to form a coalition with anti-coal groups throughout Kenya, and we are working with them to build a campaign to stop this project. As an outcome of this work, we have seen the development of a more informed community that is aware of the project, the rules that should apply to it, and their options for recourse to address abuses. In particular, our trainings have ensured that community members and their advocates are aware of the African Development Bank’s accountability office and are now prepared, if needed, to file a complaint. We will continue to support (through information, trainings, and legal advocacy) the community organizing needed to achieve change in this case.
At the project level, Accountability Counsel has exposed the significant flaws in the environmental and social review process for the coal plant. We informed the African Development Bank’s staff, leadership and other key investors of these deficiencies. The U.S. government, which sits on the AfDB Board, has been particularly engaged in evaluating the information we have provided about these gaping due diligence flaws.
The AfDB’s approval of a partial risk guarantee for the project has been delayed, in part because of these deficiencies in the environmental and social review process.
The ultimate impact of our work remains to be seen as we are still in active and early stages of this case.
- 15 August 2018 2018 Revealed Just How Ill-Prepared We Are For Climate Change By Terry Gross, NPR, with Somini Sengupta, New York Times
- 27 February 2018 Why Build Kenya’s First Coal Plant? Hint: Think China By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
- 26 January 2018 Lamu coal plant to cost power users Sh37bn yearly By Neville Otuki, Business Daily Africa
- 23 May 2017 Lamu port project has denied us cultural rights, fishermen tell court By Charles Lwanga, Nation Media Group
- 10 May 2017 As the World Cuts Back on Coal, a Growing Appetite in Africa By Jonathan W. Rosen, National Geographic
- 5 January 2017 Kenyans at loggerheads over coal plant at world heritage site By Daniel Wesangula, Thomson Reuters Foundation
- 28 August 2015 In Kenya, Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant Threatens World Heritage Site By Nicole Ghio, HuffPost
- 12 July 2015 Expert says coal plant bad for health By Eunice Kilonzo & Kalume Kazungu, Daily Nation
- 1 November 2014 In Kenya, islanders on heritage site count cost of $25 billion mega-project By Jason Patinkin, The Christian Science Monitor
- 19 August 2014 Violence Imperils Kenya Port Project By Heidi Vogt, Wall Street Journal
- 15 April 2014 Kenya: Oil metropolis threatens coastal paradise By Oxpeckers
- 24 February 2014 Pastoralist aspirations versus policy in the Horn of Africa By IRIN
- 9 October 2013 Livelihood concerns as Kenya kicks off regional infrastructure project By IRIN
- 31 October 2012 Disquiet over Lamu port project By IRIN
- 5 June 2012 Group seeks new bench for Lamu Port petition Sandra Chao, Daily Nation
- 25 April 2012 Kenya Parliament pushes for faster completion of Lamu port link By Edwin Mutai, Business Daily Africa
- 15 April 2012 Toyota proposes to build Lamu to South Sudan pipeline By Giffins Omwenga, Daily Nation
From Our Partners
12 April 2018
The UN Environment Programme published an opinion article by our local partners DeCOALonize, sharing local perspectives on the feared social and environmental impacts of the Lamu Coal Plant.