Kenya coal updates: August 2020

Lamu County had its first confirmed case and death from Covid 19 on 7 July, prior to the return of air travellers. As of late July, according to Save Lamu, 20 residents acquired the illness; those with close contact tried to self-isolate. Kenya’s Ministry of Health counts 10 confirmed cases in Lamu. Lamu County has a largely geographically dispersed population of 150,000, but residents in Lamu Old Town live in more dense traditional and informal housing. Lamu island has a central hospital, but there are no intensive care unit beds in any Lamu County health facilities.

Save Lamu board member Mohamed Athman appealed to the national government to step up, establish a special fund, and thus provide support to the Lamu community, which has been profoundly affected by the pandemic, particularly economically in the fishing and tourism sectors.

Kitui County averaged about 400–500 new diagnosed cases per day as of mid-late July, according to the county’s Ministry of Health. Kitui has a total population of 1.1 million people. In July, two hospital nurses at Kitui County Referral Hospital tested positive for Covid-19, as did one patient. As of 3 July, media reports found that Kitui was “ill-prepared” to respond to Covid-19, calling preparedness “sluggish with a paltry 74 bed capacity spread across its four isolation centers despite receiving funds from the national government to fast track the procurement of the beds.” In April, Kitui’s textile industry received international media attention after switching “overnight” into the production of surgical masks, starting at 30,000 per day.

As of early August, 3207 teen pregnancies were recorded in the county. The agricultural sector, which dominates the county, was affected by pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, slowing trade, and other inefficiencies. One illustrative example is the chilli pepper market, which experienced perishable crop losses.

General updates

From July into August, Save Lamu continued to operate and conduct some online anti-coal advocacy, while also supporting vulnerable community members through social services, such as the distribution of food and sanitary towels to girls. Save Lamu also continued to serve as a community source for reliable information about Covid 19 as well as the energy and infrastructure projects under development.

On 21 June, Save Lamu’s founding member and longtime chairman Abubakar Mohamed Ali Al-Amudy passed away. He actively chaired and provided direction for the organisation until his passing, which followed extended illness and medical treatment and surgery in Mombasa. Save Lamu gathered some of the many condolences on Twitter. This short video features remarks from vice chair Mohamed Mbwana. Natural Justice also paid tribute. The Daily Nation reported, “Lamu’s anti-coal project key crusader Abubakar Al-Amudy dies.” The Star reported, “Lamu mourns environmentalist Al-Amoody [who] fiercely opposed the establishment of a Sh200 billion coal plant.”

On 26 June, to mark the one-year point since the court ruling, Save Lamu held an online discussion on the journey (in Kiswahili).

Media

On 1 June, Natural Justice and deCOALonize Communications Officer Abiud Onyach published an opinion piece in Business Daily warning against coal. Save Lamu, CHRCE, and deCOALonize put out several video testimonials on coal, including why coal sucks from Save Lamu board member Raya Famau and testimony in opposition to coal mining from Kitui Mui Basin community leader Veronica Jane.

On 7 June, “Covid-19 locks Kenya’s future in green energy” was published in the Nation, a collaboration between energy expert Dan Kammen and Save Lamu coordinator Khadija Shekuwe. In August, Greenpeace published a blog making the case against Lamu coal plant and encouraged people to sign onto Save Lamu’s petition.

Generally, media coverage has focused on calls for a greener better path to economic recovery following the pandemic. At the end of May, WHO and partners declared that the pandemic “intensifies the urgency to expand sustainable energy solutions worldwide” in a jointly released statement.

In mid-June, the Financial Times reported, “Polluting projects also face mounting financial and political risks from lawsuits and protests by local activists groups, as well as forecasting failures that have seen some nations overestimate their need for fossil fuel-powered energy production. The FT noted the “landmark” 2019 court ruling that halted Lamu coal plant construction.

On 11 August, The Star reported, “Lamu residents want land back over delayed compensation. They have not been paid for 975 acres acquired five years ago for a coal plant… The land owners have, however, given up hope that the project will ever take off to pave way for their compensation.”

Relatedly, in the 23 July Daily Nation, Natural Justice’s Eva Okoth and Rose Birgen argue that the government should promptly and fairly compensate communities when they engage in compulsory land acquisition. The attorneys drew attention to two contrasting pieces of legislation that pertain to compensation. They find the Land Value (Amendment) Act of 2019 “oppressive to the ordinary citizen” for allowing the government up to one year after compulsory land acquisition to compensate those affected. In contrast, the Prompt Payment Bill, introduced into Parliament in February, mandates that the government must pay for services, works, or goods by contractual deadline or otherwise within 90 days. They noted, “The difference in treatment between ordinary procurement transactions and compulsory land acquisition is glaring.”

Business as usual: Lamu Port’s first three berths are completed, without environmental violations addressed

While Covid 19 caused severe economic disruption, some activities continued unabated. Lamu Port and related road construction continued in disregard of a landmark court ruling from April 2018, which found rampant environmental violations in the project, and awarded damages to the fishing community. The ruling has languished ‘pending’ appeal and has not been implemented. Save Lamu asks, when will farmers and fishermen get their rights? Is this a time to celebrate or cry for the welfare of the communities of Lamu?

On 30 July 2020, LAPSSET Authority Director Sylvester Kasuku announced that three berths are complete at Lamu Port, part of the LAPSSET mega-infrastructure initiative that cuts diagonally across Kenya. Construction had continued despite Covid 19, a national nighttime curfew, mobility restrictions, and a four-month-long ban on flights. (In response to Covid 19 in March, port authorities had mandated that all workers live within the port area, to restrict movement of people.) The government is now finishing the tarmacking of the main road connecting Lamu Port south to the rest of the Kenyan coast.

Lamu Port is part of the Lamu Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transportation Corridor Project, or LAPSSET. The government is moving forward with “construction of the remaining 29 berths and other components of the corridor, including… a standard gauge railway line, road networks, oil pipeline and refinery, international Airports, port at Lamu and resort cities in Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana,” despite concerns over the economic viability of the port given competition, with questions over its attractiveness for existing commerce. To ensure economic use for the port, Shippers Council of East Africa (SCEA) chief executive Gilbert Langat noted the need to build new shipping and commodity business in Lamu.

The planned oil pipeline could also be made redundant by other projects and routes. The Africa Report details how African oil industry and French corporation Total are seeking permission for a “vast” oil pipeline through Uganda and Tanzania, potentially connecting South Sudan and DR Congo to the Indian Ocean.

The potentially 32-berth Lamu Port and its ancillary projects, including an oil pipeline and refinery and sprawling Special Economic Zone, situated on Manda Bay, profoundly threaten Lamu’s ecosystem and traditional ways of life — regardless of whether Lamu coal plant is built.

Other notable developments

In another landmark decision from Kenya’s courts, the Owino Uhuru community was victorious in its suit against a battery recycling metal refinery plant, which caused serious lead poisoning illness and deaths. The Environment and Land Court ordered the Kenyan government and the private investor who had operated the plant to pay 1.3 billion KES (USD $12 million) in damages. An appeal is expected.

Kenya’s Daily Nation (Edwin Okoth) reported on details from the newly exposed contract for the controversial Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. “Kenya’s key strategic assets at home and abroad will not be protected by ‘sovereignty’ and risk being seized by the Chinese government should there be a default in repaying [the loan]. The contract “allows the Chinese lenders to take over other critical resources — anything from airports and natural resources to embassies abroad.” (SGR pact with China a risk to Kenyan sovereignty, assets)

In June, Kipeto wind farm, funded by General Electric (GE), succesfully completed installation of all 60 wind turbine generators. In 2018 the US corporation had announced a deal to invest in Lamu coal plant; while not finalised. As of 2019 GE indicated it is still considering investing; in 2020 GE did not respond to Save Lamu’s inquiries.

The African Development Bank Group suspended China-based Sinotec for three years for fraud — a move that will likely delay the second phase of a $150 million electricity project, which was targeted for completion in 2021. They are involved in the Last Mile Connectivity Project to extend the electrical grid to remote communities.

Events, conferences, and reports

Save Lamu marked the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July 2020. “Unesco warns that mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses.” Also, in May, Save Lamu had also planted over 4000 mangroves along the Kililana shores for #WorldEnvironmentDay2020 while maintaining social distancing. Tree plantings are held every year. (Photos below.)

The Africa Coal Network held its Africa Coal Conference virtually on 5 August 2020. The half-day event included updates from different countries on the progress made in Africa on coal phase outs and wins, presentation of the vision of a Just Transition towards renewable energy and away from coal, next steps of advancing the network, and highlighting of existing coal struggles in Africa. Contact Lorraine Chiponda of groundWork to get involved.

In August Natural Justice launched its latest (third) edition of “Living Convention: Compendium of international laws for Indigenous peoples and local communities

Other reports, conferences, and webinars

Funding opportunity

The Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) has launched 2020 Rapid Response Grants Program to respond to risks and difficulties induced by the COVID-19 crisis (reallocation of budget at the national level and reduction of budget for PAs, economic consequences for staff, health and security of staff, reduction of incomes from ecotourism, economic consequences for local community livelihoods, health and security of local communities, environmental crimes, etc…) The Rapid Response Grants aim at increasing the resilience of protected areas and local communities’ livelihoods facing the risks and difficulties of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more of the Covid 19 in Kenya, click here:

Lamu County will mark the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July
Lamu County the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July

Compiled research and news about ongoing attempts to develop a coal industry in Kenya. #deCOALonize