Save Lamu facing intimidation and interference

[Update as of 12 May 2017 below: Approved coal plant demonstration/protest was disrupted by police. County Commissioner restated his evidence-less allegations against anti-coal plant activists in national media. As below.]

9 May 2017
Dear friends,

As the Save Lamu Coalition, we write with concern regarding our security, given intimidation and interference that our communities are facing in accessing and sharing information about major development projects in our community.

Lamu residents have a right to make informed decisions about issues that will so seriously affect us — to be aware of what is happening and make informed decisions around risks posed by large extractive industry projects such as the LAPSSET port project and proposed Lamu coal plant. As advocates for sustainable development, Save Lamu has a right to hold meetings to engage, inform, and discuss with our community. Our mission is to foster better discourse, across Lamu’s many communities, about sustainable development and external threats to our livelihoods, ecosystem, health, and wellbeing.

However, we are experiencing a pattern of intimidation by government officials who have been vocal supporters of these large-scale development projects. Due to these threats to basic security faced by Save Lamu and members of the public, we have been forced to postpone many of our community information sessions.

  • In March, Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri publicly accused coal plant opponents of seeking bribes, despite no evidence for such allegations.
  • On several occasions, government officials have denied us permission to hold community meetings. In some cases, rather than allow a meeting to proceed, local officials would defer the decision by informing higher levels of officials, up to the county commissioner — the same official accusing coal plant skeptics of corruption. In another case, in Mkepetoni, the County Commissioner agreed, only to demand we cancel the meeting at the last minute.
  • Police have been sent to directly interfere in and stop even small meetings when we are able to hold them, intimidating participants and hosts. We have included an account of what happened most recently in Hindi on 2 May.

We need to find a way forward quickly, to get our community better access to information. This very month, critical court hearings will determine the projects’ approval, environmental and social impact, mitigation measures, public participation, and compensation. Yet public awareness of these projects is extremely low, as confirmed by an ongoing CJGEA study. Lamu residents deserve the right to make informed decisions about their land and livelihoods, but there are barriers to their accessing information.

We hope you can support us in these efforts by standing with us in the face of intimidation. We also call upon:

  1. KNCHR, through its legal mandate, to engage with the County Commissioner (Lamu) and other relevant state bodies including the Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security and Coordination of National Government to raise our concerns with regard to ongoing to intimidation and disruption of our lawful operations
  2. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya, through its networks, to follow up on this issue and to highlight the critical role of human rights defenders in the protection and promotion of human rights in our societies free of intimidations as required by our constitution and other human rights instruments
  3. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to raise our concerns with relevant state authorities
  4. Independent Police Oversight Authority to investigate the conduct of National Police Service at Lamu County to hinder the right of citizens to peacefully assemble

Sincerely,

Chair, Save Lamu, and the #deCOALonize campaign

cc Commissioner George Morara Monyonchor, KNCHR, email: gmorara at knchr.org
cc National Coalition on Human Rights Defenders Kenya, email: info hrdcoalition.org
cc Kamau Ngugi, HRDC, email: dkngugi at hrdcoalition.org
cc Independent Policing Oversight Authority, email: info@ipoa.go.ke 
cc Office of the High Commissioner, Human Rights, United Nations, email: civilsociety@ohchr.org; InfoDesk@ohchr.org
cc Waikwa Wanyoike, Katiba Institute, email: waikwa at katibainstitute.org
cc Gino Cocchiaro, Natural Justice, email: gino at naturaljustice.org

Overview of Coal Plant Situation

Accounts of Intimidation & Allegations

1) Accusations by County Commissioner:

In March, Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri publicly accused coal plant opponents of seeking bribes, despite no evidence for such allegations, and as if the only reason to oppose a large-scale coal plant would be for small individual profit, in the face of potential devastation to our communities. These baseless allegations are a brazen attempt to damage our reputation and the public’s ability to trust us.

We understand some individuals here, including activists, have been paid to oppose the project. We also know some went to the extent of demanding bribes but their plans fell through. — Joseph Kanyiri, Lamu County Commissioner

The County Commissioner cited no source whatsoever for his claims. 
Also, he seemed to speak on behalf of coal plant proponent Amu Power. According to the The Star, “Kanyiri said [opponents] refused to support the initiative by Amu Power Company after the firm refused pay them. Kanyiri said some people have been compromised so they can frustrate the project.”

Further allegations: On 13 May 2017, County Commissioner Kanyiri continued to allege without any evidence that anti-coal plant activists are ‘being used as agents by “enemies of development” to frustrate national government projects in Lamu.’ According to Cheti Praxides of The Star, “Kanyiri on Thursday specifically cited the Save Lamu, Wanaharakati Okoa Lamu, Sauti ya Wanawake wa Lamu and the Lamu Youth Alliance as activist groups. He said they were being used by cartels to stall development in Lamu by opposing major projects, including the Sh200 billion coal-fired power plant.”

2) Police intimidation:

Two recent incidents illustrate the state of affairs.

On 12 May 2017, as the NET hearing proceeded, Save Lamu planned a street demonstration, following a film screening, which drew 200+ people. They formally notified the County Commissioner days in advance, as required. Yet police intervened in the demonstration, threatening to take away people’s posters and signs unless they stopped the demonstration. An account of proceedings and photos is here.

From 2 May 2017, below is an account of police intimidation and harassment faced at the most recent community meeting that Save Lamu held with Hindi and Makowe residents on the mainland.

Yesterday we had a meeting at Hindi and Mokowe. Unfortunately, things did not go as expected. In the morning, when we arrived there at 8:30 am, as the first thing, normal duty, we have to see the chief. We went with our mobilizer. We informed the chief that we are engaging people on environmental issues and development projects in Lamu. But the chief could not say anything to us, and he referred us to the District Officer (DO), who was nearby.
My colleague went to the DO to inform him that we wanted to have a meeting there in Hindi. The DO also couldn’t say anything and couldn’t give permission to do that, unless he talked to the county commissioner. So the DO then called the county commissioner to inform him there are people from Save Lamu who want to have a meeting. The County Commissioner said we can’t have a meeting unless we go back to OCS to seek permission from them. But we could not do that at that time, and we told the DO that. We said, we have to continue with our meeting. So we continued, since we’d already mobilised people, and people had already arranged everything.
We started our meeting at around 9am. We met from 9am-1pm. Three representatives from Save Lamu facilitated the meeting. About 45–50 people attended: 45 people attended, we three facilitators, and maybe three people who owned the hotel. Not more than that. First we were to have it in a sports hall, but there was no electricity, so we switched to a hotel (restaurant).
When we had just finished and everyone had dispersed, three cars arrived with policemen. I was sitting outside alone. My colleague was inside with other people. Police went in and asked for Save Lamu. People were sitting in a circle. The police were told Save Lamu had already left. Then they wanted to speak to the owner of the place, to harass him. Then they came outside to where I was sitting. The police asked if I participated in the meeting. I said, no, I was just waiting for someone, and so I was able to listen to what the police were saying. The police then went back to the hotel and asked people to close the hotel — not to operate that day. But the hotel people had talked to the police, maybe they gave something to them. They came to agreement, and now the hotel is operating.

From another Save Lamu member:

Save Lamu has had a bad experience with police here in Lamu, whether with meetings, assemblies, or marches. To notify local officials and OCS hasn’t worked well for us here in Lamu in the past. We ask, they refuse, and they refuse to provide a letter saying they refused. Whenever we want to do something on the mainland, they trip us. It’s like they’ve colonised the mainland. They don’t want anyone going there and messing things up for them.
It’s not so easy and quick to have a notification letter stamped as received. Now, we can go present our letter, and when they refuse, we make a scene, because they have to give us reasons why, reasons for refusal. But when they tell us, we’re not giving you permission, then what do you do? Then everything that you have planned gets halted. (Notices aren’t even required unless a meeting has over 50 people, but we try to file them as a courtesy.)
With our meeting in Mpeketoni, they asked us to cancel it at the last moment. And that was after the county commissioner had given the okay for the meeting in advance. I think it is important for those who have discussed going to the mainland and talking with people. You can now see some of the difficulty. Local officials make sure, once we are on sight and have already set up everything, then they cancel it. They want until a few hours before the meeting, and then they call us asking us to cancel it, even after agreeing to let us have it.
They force us to use a lot of resources just to have one meeting. It gets tiresome. These people are very biased and more prone to support the project proponents and national government. It is a David and Goliath situation.

From CJGEA, our partner organisation, on conducting surveys:

We had a similar experience in Faza when we were doing our baseline survey. We approached the assistant chief to tell them what we were going to do. He forwarded us to the chief, who then forwarded us to the deputy commissioner, who said we could not proceed unless we see the county commissioner. That we had to go back to Lamu and see County Commissioner, and of course that is far away. Knowing the distance from Faza to Lamu, that set us back two or three days.
So the county commissioner then said we need a letter and documentation. We had to show proof that we are indeed an organisation, and we are recognised, and we are indeed on the ground doing what we said we would do, we are doing what we say we are working on. We had to show the Constitution, assert our rights. But later on the County Commissioner did agree, and he gave us the go ahead, though he said in the event we were going to implement our study, they have to have a sit down with the committee to give us permission on that.
We were not even trying to have an assembly, but just to conduct a study. In our experience, so far what we uncovered from our study implementation is, the more you notify them, the more you are denied, or given excuses or reasons why you should not carry out your study. They will raise some issue of security, for example suggesting that some NGOs come in the name of research and then recruit people into violent extremism.