In Lamu, coal plant opponents face intimidation, threats, and interference by government officials
A pattern of intimidation by government officials has impeded attempts by local groups to hold information sessions to engage and discuss project impacts as a community.
In particular, Save Lamu and many of its member organisations have attempted to hold meetings aimed at fostering better discourse across Lamu’s many communities about sustainable development, the proposed projects, and external threats to local livelihoods, the ecosystem, health, and wellbeing, both during the period in which Amu Power held community meetings and after Amu Power discontinued these meetings in 2015 and 2016. However, public officials have repeatedly enacted barriers to prevent these community meetings from taking place and have even acted to discredit the work of these groups. The intimidation is multifaceted and has continued for many years. Members of Save Lamu have been subjected to mobile phone tracking, and their ability to conduct activities in certain areas of Lamu County, for instance in Mpeketoni and Hindi, has been restricted.
In March 2015, shortly after Save Lamu first began engaging in meetings regarding the proposed coal plant, the organisation and several of its leaders faced serious intimidation in the form of a criminal investigation from the Kenyan Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Apparently using their investigation into the June 2014 terrorist attacks in Mpeketoni as a pretext, members of the CID investigation team accused Save Lamu of being connected to the attacks, got a warrant to investigate Save Lamu, raided the Save Lamu office and took files, secured bank statements from Save Lamu’s bank, and required Save Lamu leadership to go to Nairobi for interrogations. While the CID’s investigation seemed to eventually cease, Save Lamu is not aware of the official conclusion.
On numerous other occasions, government officials have denied groups permission to host public information meetings about the project, or effectively prevented meetings from taking place by repeatedly postponing their decision. In 2017, the Lamu County Commissioner publicly accused activists of demanding bribes and accepting payment to oppose the project, without citing any evidence. In 2018, Walid Ahmed and Ishaq Abubakar, two Lamu-based activists, were arrested following a protest organised to call for the immediate suspension of the Lamu Coal project because the protest route varied slightly from their detailed formal notification regarding the peaceful march. They were later released on bond without charge, although they faced a further week of intimidation and threats that prevented them from traveling or conducting normal activities.
This pattern continued in the weeks before and after the NET judgment revoking the project’s environmental licence, on Save Lamu’s successful appeal. When commenting on the NET decision, the Kenyan government spokesperson described activists as “agents of forces outside this country”, calling on them to “be truthful to Kenyans and tell us whose interest they are serving”: phrases implying treason. Earlier, the same spokesperson condemned critics of the same coal plant as “enemies of progress.” Shortly after the NET decision, Save Lamu’s offices were also raided and ransacked by persons currently unknown; although it is not yet clear whether this crime is related to Save Lamu’s advocacy, the timing is disconcerting, to say the least.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch and the Kenyan National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders indicates that Save Lamu’s experience is not unusual: their research documents harassment and intimidation against at least 35 environmental activists in Lamu county by police, military, and other government officials between 2013–2018. Security forces have broken up protests and restricted public meetings — including those related to LAPSSET and the proposed coal plant — and threatened, arrested, and prosecuted activists on various charges. Additionally, the report documents the disappearance of two people involved in resisting LAPSSET-related land acquisition in Lamu. In 2016, Mohamed Avukame, a land rights activist from Manda Island, was kidnapped in Mombasa by people wearing police uniforms. At the time, he was outside the office of Muslims for Human Rights, where he had taken documents regarding irregular land acquisition and compensation related to the LAPSSET project. He has not been seen since. In a similar incident, also in 2016, Pate Island resident Ali Bunu was kidnapped near his home along with his son and brother; a relative witnessed him being shot by attackers, and he is believed dead. He had been resisting the LAPSSET-related acquisition of his land.
Where intimidation by public officials affects a community’s ability to publicly meet and discuss a project, the World Bank should be taking additional steps to ensure that meaningful consultations take place and that affected communities are free to participate without any intimidation or coercion. The ESIA, which lacks evidence of any consultation meetings whatsoever during the past three years, does not establish the required degree of consultation.
See, e.g., deCOALonize Kenya via Medium “Save Lamu Facing Intimidation and Interference” (9 May 2017) https://medium.com/@deCOALonize/anti-coal-activists-and-save-lamu-face-intimidation-and-interference-3647fad99641
The Star, “Critics of Lamu coal-fired plant are corrupt, says state official” (29 Mar. 2017) http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2017/03/29/critics-of-lamu-coal-fired-plant-are-corrupt-says-state-official_c1533287
Save Lamu “Two Save Lamu Activists Arrested For Organizing Fossil Free Protest” (26 May 2018) https://www.savelamu.org/lamu-break-free-campaign-against-coal-goes-bad-as-2-arrested/
Human Rights Watch and National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders “They Just Want to Silence Us” Abuses Against Environmental Activists at Kenya’s Coast Region” (2018) https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/12/17/they-just-want-silence-us/abuses-against-environmental-activists-kenyas-coast
Capital FM “Lamu’s coal plant ruling, impediment to producing cheap power — Oguna” (Jul. 3, 2019) https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/business/2019/07/lamus-coal-plant-ruling-impediment-to-producing-cheap-power-oguna/
The Star “Enemies of coal plant are enemies of progress — State” (Jun. 21, 2019) https://www.the-star.co.ke/counties/coast/2019-06-21-enemies-of-coal-plant-are-enemies-of-progress--state/