The pursuit of coal in Kenya
The proposed Lamu coal plant, LAPSSET port project currently under construction, and plans for mining in Kitui
Plans for Kenya’s first coal plant, a 1050-mw and USD $2 billion project, are progressing despite significant concerns over its basic economic feasibility, as well as environmental and health ramifications, from experts and community-based organisations, namely Save Lamu and a broad coalition under the banner deCOALonize.
Plans for mining in Kitui are in an uncertain state. According to The Star on 31 July 2017, “The Energy ministry and a company involved in a project to mine Sh3.4 trillion coal in Kitui Central have remained silent on its progress, leaving area leaders in the dark” (Sh3.4tn Kitui coal project may have collapsed, no word from state, Mutambu says).
The only coal plant currently being publicly considered, Lamu coal plant proponents continue to push the project through regulatory approval processes. Legal suits filed by community and environmental coalitions have taken years to proceed. The latest proceedings are in the National Environmental Tribunal for Lamu coal plant.
The related LAPSSET port project case is being heard in High Court after a delay of several years — during which construction moved forward quickly — and following an appeal to Kenya’s Chief Justice.
Accusations against and intimidation of opponents in Lamu
Coal plant advocates have accused skeptics and opponents of corruption and seeking bribes, without evidence.The Save Lamu Coalition, advocates for environmental and social safeguarding and for sustainable development, over several years has held informational meetings in different towns and villages in Lamu County. However, its most recent meeting, on 4 May 2017 in Hindi village, was subject to intimidation and interference by plainclothes police officers.
Save Lamu shared and published a letter appealing for support from human rights defenders and protection organisations. On 17 May, KNCHR issued scathing statements on the potential devastation that would result from the Lamu “mega projects”, according to Business Daily “KNCHR raises red flag on impact of Lamu mega projects.”
Lamu community public awareness of both the LAPSSET port project and proposed coal plant remain very low, according to CJGEA surveys. A strong coalition has worked to better educate and advocate on behalf of the larger community, while a small number of direct compensation beneficiaries support the projects.
Meanwhile, Lamu and much of the rest of the country are recovering from a devastating drought, which was finally alleviated in April by the first rainfall in 10 months. As of March, it was “estimated that at least 50,000 households and more than 300,000 cattle [were] in dire need of food and water. The drought has not spared wildlife, including hippos, which are dying due to lack of water as rivers continue drying,” according to the Nation.
Kenya’s High Court and National Environmental Tribunal began to hear residents’ legal challenges. Media coverage, though limited, increased, particularly internationally, such as this overview in National Geographic.
These court cases are critical to determining on what terms the LAPPSET port project is permitted to proceed, as well as whether the proposed coal plant will be allowed to move forward — will the concerns of Lamu residents be heard and addressed, and their rights to their own land upheld and respected? Or will their concerns be dismissed in favour of profit and powerful interests?
- On 11–12 May, in Lamu, through a site visit and follow up day in court in town, the National Environmental Tribunal considered a wide range of concerns regarding the sufficiency of the plant’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.
- The Energy Regulatory Commission has yet to issue the electricity generation license for the plant, but its new director has been vocally supportive of the plant. In February of 2017, the ERC summarily dismissed the objection filed by the community coalition and the economic and environmental concerns on which it was based. The previous director abruptly left his position at the end of 2016.
- From May to July thus far, the High Court heard objections on the related LAPSSET port and pipeline project. In early 2017 it briefly considered including the proposed coal plant in the same case, but as of 24 March 2017 the High Court pushed the coal plant matter back to the National Environmental Tribunal.
- Although now indefinitely delayed, the African Development Bank board was scheduled in June to consider a precedent-setting partial risk guarantee for the coal plant. The PRG would cushion its investors from significant risk of the Kenyan government’s failure to pay for power produced over 25 years. Numerous media reports prematurely announced AfDB lending, endorsement, or support.
Background on Lamu community and its land rights
For generations, the indigenous and traditional communities of Lamu, Kenya — merchants, hunter-gatherers, farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, boat builders, mangrove harvesters, and more recently tour guides — have managed their land and shared natural resources and cultural traditions, in spite of losses due to insecure land tenure and political marginalization. This system of informal communal management of land has been critical to Lamu maintaining its remarkably pristine and historically and naturally rich ecosystem, including significant forest cover, biodiversity, coral, threatened species like sea turtles, and 70% of the country’s mangroves — a notable asset for the country and region, and a carbon sink for the world.
Since Kenya won its independence in 1963, the communities of Lamu have faced significant economic and political marginalisation. A key element is a continued denial of the Lamu community’s property rights. Following Kenya’s independence, Lamu County was designated as government land, an implicit recognition of longtime informal communal use. (In Kenyan law, land is defined broadly, including marine & terrestrial, and includes all natural resources.)
However, the national government soon privatised land for new agricultural settlers. Lamu’s traditional communities further lost access to their lands through illegal privatisation schemes, including national government settlement policy in the 1970s allocating title deeds to previously government land and worsening landgrabbing by local and national elites, while weak government institutions had little political interest or will to address injustices.
Land tenure scandals continue. For example, in January of 2016, the national government revoked the irregularly acquired title deeds for 350,000 acres of land in Lamu. “Title deeds for the 353,770 acres of land were cancelled and the land returned to Lamu County for public use.”
Now, Lamu’s communities are confronted with their most serious threats to date: large-scale extractive industry projects. Lamu residents’ ability to have a voice in dictating how its land and natural resources are exploited, and how its development proceed, will play a significant role in the continued existence of the Lamu community and its means of livelihood.
Speculation over those projects has also caused major land tenure challenges, in February, 2017, the Daily Nation reported…
A National Assembly committee is set to summon the National Lands Commission (NLC) chairman Muhammad Swazuri over allegations of propagating land injustices in Lamu County. NLC is on the spotlight following reported irregularities concerning compensation of landowners whose lands have been acquired for mega national projects in Lamu. NLC is said to be frustrating and duping landowners at the Lapsset Corridor project site in Kililana and Mashunduni and also at the site intended for the establishment of the Sh200 billion coal plant in Kwasasi village.
It also has much broader ramifications for the country of Kenya, in its trajectory for energy and development and for its taxpayers, who are to shoulder most of the risk and financial burden of the projects. Even more broadly, such large-scale extractive infrastructure projects set regressive precedents in the East Africa region by marking a new pursuit of fossil fuel energy: coal to Kenya.
Lamu Old Town, UNESCO Heritage Site
The proposed Lamu coal plant site is 20km from Lamu’s islands and historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
UNESCO designated Lamu town, on Lamu island, as a Cultural World Heritage site: “One of the most antique yet authentic living cities in the Swahili Coast and, arguably, the world… These inherent values and its almost undisturbed authenticity made it possible for Lamu to be declared a World (Cultural) Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001.”
In 2015, a UN reactive monitoring mission documented and predicted irreparable and unmitigable harm to come from the LAPSSET port project. They were able to reach this conclusion even without a site visit, as they remained Nairobi, unable to go to Lamu due to security concerns at the time. At the time construction had barely begun. The report called for the body to reconsider the matter in two years’ time, 2017.
No further threat analysis of either the LAPSSET port project or coal plant has been conducted. An independent watchdog group, World Heritage Watch, has expressed interest in the Lamu situation. The World Heritage Committee will convene in Krakow, Poland, from 2–12 July, 2017. There is no indication that Lamu is on the agenda for evaluation.
Extractive industry projects in Lamu
Already, components of LAPSSET (Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport) Corridor are proceeding with construction, while residents dispute the project’s adherence to environmental management plans and regulations.
Elements of the USD $20b LAPSSET project include an oil and gas pipeline from northern Kenya to the coast, a 32-berth USD $5 billion port at Lamu, the USD $2 billion coal plant at Lamu currently under consideration, and significant additional infrastructure, including highways, railways, and a resort city. Community groups argue that there has been little consideration of the project’s high potential to irrevocably harm the ecosystem, its biodiversity, and the human communities that depend on it for their lives.
International organisations, from Sierra Club and Greenpeace Africa, have voiced strong opposition to the coal plant and mining plans, based on independent analysis and informed by extensive evidence from comparative projects across the world.
In fact, these large-scale extractive infrastructure projects hold significant potential to harm not only Lamu’s environment and communities, but also to contribute to global climate change in two ways — first by measurably reducing forest cover that is currently reducing climate change by providing a carbon sink, and more significantly through the direct ramifications of a coal processing plant, from toxic particulate matter causing air pollution, to the production of coal ash that must be disposed of and stored safely for perpetuity so that it does not contaminate global groundwater.
The ramifications of these projects will be significant. What remains in dispute is the extent of future damage, the extent to which it can and will be mitigated, and even the means why which progress or violations will be documented, or regulations enforced — particularly in the absence of strong regulatory institutions, a constricted civic space, and virtually no independent or investigative media.
Details of the Lamu coal plant
Even as LAPSSET port construction continues, plans move forward to construct Kenya’s first coal plant at Kwasasi, a small village in Lamu County, on over 800 acres. The coal plant’s proponents estimate that the plant will produce 1050 megawatts, operating at maximum capacity.
In 2013, the Government of Kenya initiated plans for the Lamu Coal Power Plant. The proposed plant is scheduled to generate 1,050 megawatts of coal-fired thermal power on 865 acres of land at Kwasasi, Lamu County. The project is owned by the Kenyan national government, which they have contracted the project out to a private company, Amu Power. “The construction itself will be carried out by Power China. Centum will provide financing and Gulf will lead the technical know-how.”
While reports in the media regarding coal power production have been mainly positive about the economic benefits, many community members in Lamu and several government officials have expressed concern over the environmental and social impacts of the project, while most of the community is ill informed of the plans.
The coal processing plant would require construction of a transmission line for the produced power to reach Nairobi. The coal itself would at first be imported from South Africa and potentially Mozambique and several other countries.
Coal mining pursuit in Kitui
Kenya also seeks to begin goal mining. Mining operations would be developed in Kitui, Kenya, and transferred to Lamu via a railway line that also must be built with taxpayer money. Communities in Kitui continue to oppose the mining plans.
According to its ESIA, “The power plant will utilize 68.5MW for its own use and will export a total of 1050MW to the national grid via a 400kV overhead transmission line to be constructed by KETRACO.”
In 2016, Mohamed Abubakar, Lamu county government’s head of health, sanitation and environment, expressed hope “that an environmental and social impact assessment will lay out how Amu Power… will mitigate against the damaging effects of the plant.”
Financing of Lamu coal plant
The Amu Power company was formed by a consortium of Centum and Gulf Energy. Centum Investment Company Limited is a business conglomerate led by director and largest shareholder Chris Kirubi. He is also owner of Capital FM radio and holds shares in Nation Media Group, as well as several banks.
Tenders for a large coal plant were invited in early 2014 to be installed at Lamu (initially intended for Kilifi, where it was opposed) without any feasibility report, and the contract was awarded to Amu Power Company in September 2014.
The proposed Lamu coal plant project is supported by powerful national actors and backed by international financiers. The primary project proponent, businessman Chris Kirubi of Centum Investment, is a major public figure, one of the wealthiest men in Kenya, and media owner. He owns and operates national radio station CapitalFM, and he has a sizeable stake in Kenya’s largest media house, Nation Media.
Deputy President William Ruto and the current administration have also pushed the Lamu community to let the coal plant proceed: “Don’t scare away investors.” Ruto “assured locals that the intended Sh200 billion coal-fired power plant and the Sh21 billion wind power project will change the course of Lamu’s economy and that of the entire country.”
Ruto “assured residents of Lamu that the government has put in place measures to ensure their welfare is not compromised by new projects being rolled out in the region. Ruto said, “The energy project will have no negative implications on the locals’ health or the environment.”
Ruto further said, “We don’t want people opposing development projects that they have no knowledge of. These projects are meant to change the lives of our people and I think leaders must have the interests of the people at heart.”
In March 2017, on a political campaign visit to Lamu, “President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto doled goodies to locals, issued title deeds, gave Sh10 million each to three schools, waived land charges for a settlement scheme and launched building of Garsen-Witu-Lamu road. Currently, Lamu county has less than five kilometres of tarmac road.”
The president “issued 2,441 title deeds for three settlement schemes in Lamu.” President Kenyatta arrived to launch the tarmacking of the 135-kilometre Garsen-Witu-Lamu road in Witu… the main entry point to Lamu… in a dilapidated state since independence.”
According to the Daily Nation, “Addressing a rally Thursday at Witu in Lamu, President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto spelt out the Jubilee administration’s development in the county aimed at ending years of marginalisation.”
Lamu Woman Representative Shakila Abdalla commented, “I am looking forward to the President to shed some light on the coal plant project. I am aware that the Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the project despite some of us still having questions about the project which is not safe for our people.”
ERC undergoes sudden leadership change, voices support for coal plant
As of May 2017, the Energy Regulatory Commission is poised to grant the coal plant its energy generation license. Most recently the ERC’s new director has voiced enthusiastic support for the project in media interviews.
This enthusiastic support followed several developments at ERC. First, the premature and sudden departure of its director, Joseph N’gan’ga, eight months before his term was to end, sent “shockwaves in the energy sector” in late 2016. Ng’ang’a, “a trained engineer, has served at ERC for more than seven years and has been in the energy industry for more than 30 years.”
Then, in February, 2017, the ERC dismissed community groups’ objection to the coal plant, which had been submitted with detailed grounds of technical, environmental and social impact. In a brief official gazetted statement, the ERC bluntly denied their concerns and argued that the country needed the energy:
Economics of Lamu coal plant
The particular economics of the proposed Lamu coal plant are notably optimistic. Based on the coal plant Environmental and Social Impact Assessment figures, the plant would need to source coal at well below global prices and become a more efficient and “clean” coal plant than any existing plant. Yet the plans contain few details about the “clean coal” technology that would allow for such production.
The coal plant’s investment group, Amu Power, predicts that electricity from the plant would cost USD 7¢ per kilowatt hour. To achieve this price point, coal would have to be priced at USD $50 per ton and the plant would need to operate at 85% efficiency. It has been over a decade since the price of coal — which fluctuates significant — dropped to US $50 per ton. The average price of coal over the past five years is USD $78.50 per ton. Coal plant efficiency is currently about 67%, and a capacity of 85% has never been achieved.
Also, significant costs such as transportation of coal and the building of transmission lines and railways have not been included in calculating the price of the energy produced, which would be borne by Kenya’s taxpayers. Independent analysis suggests that inclusion the 400kV transmission lies and 300km extended railway necessary for the coal plant, at an estimated cost of US $2.8b, would push the cost of electricity produced from the promised USD 7¢ to a real cost of USD 11.5¢ per kilowatt hour. These costs are estimated in the official ESIA for the Lamu coal plant, as linked (in chapters) below.
State of energy production in Kenya & its climate change emissions
Currently, Kenya’s energy demands are met largely by hydropower and geothermal sources, with Africa’s largest wind power projects under rapid development in some of the same communities, both in Turkana in northern Kenya and in Lamu County — at a separate site from the port project and coal processing plant. Proponents of renewable energy argue that the country can meet all of its energy demands affordably through renewables. For a proposed fossil fuel project, the burden remains on the proponents to argue why renewables are not possible, in order to meet the threshold necessary for licensing approvals.
The proposed Lamu coal plant “would emit nearly 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year” according to calculations by scientists at Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. “This is inconsistent with Kenya’s commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement,” according to Mark Chernaik, staff scientist. “Approving a license for a new 1,050 MW coal-fired power plant that would emit nearly 9 MtCO2e per year would put in serious jeopardy Kenya’s ability to meet the 2030 emissions target it set out.”
That is “equivalent to nearly two million cars hitting the road,” according to an investigative news analysis, suggesting that the plant would make it difficult for Kenya to meet its promise “to reduce its CO2 by 30% compared to business as usual by 2030… a carbon budget of around 100Mt,” in the Paris Agreement UN climate deal. Kenya currently emits 70Mt.
According to US government agency USAID’s Power Africa Transactions and Reforms Program (PATRP) analysis in January of 2017, the project “will cause a regression in the clean energy agenda and also cause a slowdown in the adoption of more renewables. In terms of clean energy, Kenya has a very significant share, given its existing large hydro and geothermal generating base. Plus, there is currently more than 2 GW of clean energy projects in the national development pipeline.”
Highly Questionable Energy Demand
Project proponents, from the investment companies to Kenya’s current Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) itself, have justified the proposed coal plant based on extremely high projections of energy demand for the country, citing Kenya’s Least Cost Power Development Plan 2011–2031.
Yet lack of demand has forced the country to forestall other large energy projects. A January article in the Standard “Demand setback now puts Kenya’s mega power plan on the back burner” notes that a power upgrade plan that “aimed to increase the country’s installed electricity generating capacity by 5,000MW” has been stalled, as “Demand has not grown as per the initial expectations and hence slowed down on implementation of the plan.”
“Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter said having such huge capacity and in the absence of enough consumers would have resulted in the existing consumers shouldering the burden of paying to sustain the power stations which would have been rendered idle: ‘When you have the equipment running, you have to bill for maintenance and this pushes up the cost of power. If we introduce more capacity, it means that power will be costly because the demand is not there.’”
Least Cost Power Development Plans (LCPDPs) are designed to examine Kenya’s energy sector holistically, most recently for the period 2011 to 2031. Interestingly, the 2011 and 2013 most recent projections diverge significantly from decades of independent reports. Also, 2011 was the first year in which the report was directly commissioned by the Kenyan government, diverging from its production with the World Bank since 1963, Kenya’s independence. The 2011 LCPDP report was the first to introduce coal energy and clean coal prospects — and the first to significantly revise and steeply raise projections of future demand from 7% to 11.5%. Then in the 2013 updated energy prospectus the figure was revised to a 15% growth rate in Kenya’s energy demand. Yet current estimates by independent financial market investment analysts are consistent with all prior LCPDPs. “Kenya’s demand for electricity will rise at an annual average of 7.9 per cent over the next decade,” according to BMI Research.
While significant needs for reliable rural electrification remain, in the Lamu region and across Kenya, other large-scale programmes are achieving significant progress in connecting communities to the national energy grid. Beyond those efforts, extensive research indicates that rural areas’ needs would be best met through decentralised and rapid electrification means — not large-scale projects like the proposed coal plant. An annual joint study between UNDP and Practical Action, called The Poor People’s Energy Outlook, noted in its 2017 report, “Distributed electricity systems (mini-grids and stand-alone systems) are the least-cost solution for meeting the needs of the majority of those remaining un-connected… serving 73% of un-connected households in Kenya.” In 2016, it noted, “These systems would provide more reliable power than the national grids currently do, and would be deployable in a fraction of the time, swinging the balance even further in their favour…
“Overly focusing on traditional grids is wasting both time and money in most cases. Global and national energy planning, technical assistance, energy literacy and financing efforts must be urgently re-balanced to reflect this.”
Regarding the oversight and risk environment for investors, Daily Nation commentator Jaindi Kisero noted with concern that “Government needs to work harder to support independent power producers. In the Lamu coal project case, the following facts are irrefutable: First, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) completed the environment impact assessment process several months ago. [Written November 2016.] Secondly, public hearings were conducted on August 28, 2016. Which begs the question: Do Nema reports matter to developers at all and if so, is it fair or transparent for the ERC to arbitrarily disregard and throw away what has been approved by the primary regulator on environmental issues and to subject the investor to a totally new process? … At the rate things are going, we will soon start seeing investors and developers in the energy sector seeking insurance against arbitrary regulation and unpredictable changes to the law.”
Opposition to coal plant by former head of ERC
Hindpal Singh Jabbal, the former longtime head of the Kenya Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and a longtime authority within the energy sector, has become an active opponent of the coal plant, most recently serving as a witness in the appeal filed to the National Environmental Tribunal.
He found these inflated projections of Kenya’s electricity demands to be “very high growth scenarios which cannot be realized”. He also argued in his objections to the coal plant that Kenya can meet peak 2030 demand with existing resources and available renewable energy, including currently untapped geothermal and wind capacity.
His opposition rests on a series of grounds:
- inflated projections of Kenya’s electricity demands — in his words “very high grow scenarios which cannot be realized”
- too large proposed plant size for security of supply and best industry practices
- high costs of locating the plant at Lamu, both for storing and transporting coal to the location and transporting electricity produced back to Nairobi, even putting environmental and land concerns aside (US$360 million to store, US$270 million for transmission line, US$1.5 billion for railway line from Kitui)
- Amu Power pushes most of these costs to the Kenyan government and taxpayer: contractual obligations to pay for the total electricity produced at fixed rates for 25 years, and bearing the costs of the land leases, port facilities, and transmission line
- According to that same 2014 Amu Power tender, the Kenyan government (and taxpayer) would have to pay US$362 million every year as capacity charges irrespective of how much power is produced
- Regarding demand, a number of independent sources estimate an energy demand growth rate in Kenya of about 9%, making a coal plant and its 1000MW of power unnecessary.
African Development Bank considering partial risk guarantee
- As stated above, in June, the African Development Bank board considers a precedent-setting partial risk guarantee for the coal plant, which would cushion its investors from significant risk of the Kenyan government’s failure to pay for power produced over 25 years.
- According to one source, the AfDB is “easing the project’s risks on two fronts: the potential breach of contract on Kenya Power and Light Company will be covered with $150 million, and risks of delays for the transmission line will be eased with $90 million.”
- The AfDB board must determine whether the project meets its Safeguard standards in determining approval of the partial risk guarantee. These include potential environmental and social impact, mitigation measures such as resettlement of affected persons, whether public participation was taken into account, likelihood for these measures to be adhered to and enforced, and the ramifications of the interrelated port project.
- The longtime former head of the AfDB, Donald Kaberuka, who served from 2005–2015, is now the chair of Centum, the investment company behind the coal plant.
- In 2013, the AfDB’s African Development Fund approved its first partial risk guarantee in Africa for the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, Africa’s largest wind power project, hailing the PRG and project as contributing to clean energy, increase electricity in rural areas, a fibre optic cable embedded in the transmission line, decreasing fossil fuel dependence, reducing CO2 emissions — all benefits that are in considerable contrast to the proposed coal plant.
Local communities have had little voice or ability to assert their rights to their own land. Kenya’s regulatory and judicial institutions have pushed forward the projects, dismissing concerns and objections outright.
Save Lamu Coalition, composed of 35 local groups from across Lamu’s diverse communities, came together to advocate for their rights to their land and livelihoods. The Save Lamu Coalition has led the pursuit of legal opposition to the LAPSSET port project and now the proposed coal plant. The coalition is calling for all affected communities to have a voice in decision-making processes on the proposed plant and advocates for the recognition of Lamu communities’ rights to their land, including all its marine and natural resources.
Largely, Lamu residents hold out hope for temporary relief and nominal compensation despite skepticism and a gritty awareness of what they are sacrificing, a resignation borne of desperation from sustained economic marginalisation.
Already, residents are experiencing ramifications of the large-scale LAPSSET port project. A handful of Lamu residents and Save Lamu filed complaints over a litany of substantial violations in environmental management in the project’s ongoing construction. Construction is proceeding quickly despite legal complaints filed, with no stay issued.
In fact, the port project’s ongoing legal challenges were largely ignored by the judiciary until the appellants appealed directly and formally to the Chief Justice, while the coal plant has moved through hearings and licensing processing at a remarkably pace — despite significant concerns from the community and outside experts over its economic viability and social and environmental ramifications.
According to community members who have seen and experienced these effects firsthand, the port project construction is violating its own terms, damaging marine areas, taking potable water from the island (which taps into a water table under sand dunes) daily and causing shortages. Accounts remain largely anecdotal, but corroborated many times over by residents with firsthand experience. Attempts at documentation have been limited to photography and basic satellite imagery of construction violations.
Indisputably, three years in, affected Lamu residents have seen little sign of the project’s promised benefits and compensation. Project proponents unsurprisingly blame the delays on project opponents, attempting to pit one set of community members against the small number of direct beneficiaries of compensation. Project opponents see the lack of compensation as indicative of how unenforceable promises of compensation will turn out. Based on this bleak experience with the port project, many of Lamu’s residents are leery of 1050mw Lamu coal plant project.
LAPSSET and coal plant proponents, and major figures in the national government, are heavily pressuring the same communities to accept these massive extractive industry projects, despite that threaten the resources they depend on for their livelihoods, through both carrots and brute force.
To persuade communities, private and government actors are offering significant promises of environmental mitigation, desalinated clean water for the entire county, and small compensation for leased land, capitalising on the community’s desperation from decades of marginalisation. The LAPSSET project is proving to be sensitive, lucrative, and politically charged for its stakeholders — and considering that LAPSSET will change the infrastructure, energy, and trade landscape of Kenya and its neighbors, its stakeholders extend from Lamu across East Africa.
Status of news coverage
Reporting on LAPSSET has been limited, and surveys indicate extremely low public awareness. A survey of Lamu residents by the Kilifi-based Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action shows that fewer than 20% of respondents have an awareness or understanding of the LAPSSET project.
Despite the significant size and scope of these projects and their possible ramifications, national and international media reporting has been limited and lacking in depth. International reporting has relied upon basic desk research, interviews, and observation during occasional visits.
National media coverage has been largely positive towards the projects, often giving voice to prominent government officials who were loud proponents of the projects without further critical analysis. In part, this speaks to the complexity of the issue, as well as the challenge of obtaining or validating any information regarding the port construction and its progress, as well as that of analysing complex plans for the coal plant.
What limited national media coverage exists has frequently been inaccurate, demonstrating a pattern of prematurely announcing project license approvals and plant progress, relying on information from sole sources, often project proponents.
In several cases, national media reports have published allegations that project opponents were being bribed, relying only on the word of an individual government official, with no evidence, and no analysis of the validity of opponents’ concerns.
In some cases project proponents have paid prominent business bloggers to visit the site and “learn more” about the plans, leading to optimistic and positive stories.
In 2015, in two posts about his trip funded by Amu Power, blogger Bankelele concluded, “The LAPSSET projects and the coal plant are about 30 kilometers from Lamu town and the picturesque islands that most people in Lamu are familiar; that’s about the distance from Mombasa island to Diani beach and its possible that the two will coexist and mutually benefit like the South coast neighbours.” In 2016, he posted about a debate at Strathmore (University) Extractives Industry Centre (SEIC) in Nairobi on coal in Kenya (though some details were incorrect, e.g. the coal plant is not “guaranteed” or even supported in any way by the African Development Bank as of yet).
The blog Potentash published a piece entitled Here’s what you need to know about Amu Power Plant Project in which author Mwaura Jo Seph stated, “Such a large scale project is capable of generating some adverse environmental and social impacts, but with the plans in place, these issues will be resolved. Coal power plants provide the most stable and reliable source of energy. This project promises to solve some of the problems associated with energy generation in Kenya. Once it commences, it will also create employment for the locals. In the long run, the power plant will lead to the growth of the economy.”