Speech by Samia Omar Bwana at Financing the Future: Global Divest-Invest Summit

Samia Omar Bwana, Board Member, deCOALonize

Coal in Kenya
6 min readSep 10, 2019

Capetown South Africa, September 10, 2019, www.decoalonize.org

Good morning distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I wish to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to share with you our testimonial from Kenya, and the story of Lamu.

Lamu is one of the 47 counties in Kenya. It has a biosphere reserve, two national reserves, one marine reserve, the oldest living Swahili settlement in East Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the highest concentration of ruins and monuments in Kenya. A place I am very lucky to call home. Also a place where you would least expect someone to come up with the “bright idea” of constructing a coal power plant. But yet they did!

In 2013 the government of Kenya proposed the construction of a coal power plant in Lamu. Save Lamu, a small community organization, has been on the forefront leading the fight against it since. Save Lamu was formed in 2010 to promote participatory decision-making and sustainable development. Later they formed deCOALonize, the movement I represent today. deCOALonize creates a platform that elevates community voices fighting against coal and encourages joint strategic planning between partners and communities to ensure a multi-pronged approach and coordination amongst those interested in campaigning against coal and for clean energy in Kenya.

So I am not here to speak for the people of Lamu or Save Lamu, I am here to amplify their voices. It is important for me to tell you the story of those who can’t travel all those kilometers to share their tale so that when you leave today, you can seek them out. It is important for me to share about those who don’t have last names that beckon international attention so that you remember who they are. It is imperative that I tell you about those who don’t always make the headline news, so that you can make them front page news. It is important to share the inspirational story of how a small community- based organization made up of a few volunteers brought together individuals of all religions, ethnicities, nationalities and skill sets, to grow a national movement, and inspire people across the world. It is important to share the story of how David beat Goliath.

So in the tradition of my forefathers, my story begins. In Swahili culture we start a story by saying some statements, “Hadithi Hadithi”, meaning “story story”, while the listeners respond back, “hadithi njoo”, meaning “come story”. So when I say hadithi hadithi, you say hadithi njoo… Those from Swahili speaking nations will help me say the rest of the words after that as I won’t have the time to teach this entire room Swahili. So “Hadithi hadithi”… “Hadithi hadithi”… “Hadithi hadithi”…

Paukwa, pakawa. Sahani, ya mchele. Giza, la mwizi. Kiboko, cha moto mkorofi. Na maziwa, ya watoto wa nyayo. Hapo zamani za kale, once upon a time, there was a wise man named Mohammed Ali Baddi. Maalim as many used to fondly call him: a name meaning teacher in Swahili. A teacher he was, not only a teacher in the classroom, but he taught the people of Lamu about the threats faced with a large-scale infrastructure project, the Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor. LAPPSET was however not only a transport project, but included oil and gas exploration, and an oil refinery. The project was proposed without any consultation of the local communities.

Some in the community opposed Maalim, many thought he was crazy to speak against the government, but some were crazy enough to support him. Joined by other revolutionaries, Maalim Baddi formed a local community group named Lamu Environmental Protection and Conservation (LEPAC). A few months later, he met Natural Justice who told him the importance of collecting knowledge and information on our resources before they disappeared, otherwise known as a Bio-Cultural Community Protocol.

Thank you Gino for your support. Natural Justice stood with Lamu through two legal battles fighting for their rights, one being the recent court victory against the Lamu coal power plant.

The BCP grew. It grew faster and bigger than Maalim could ever imagine. The development of the BCP inspired communities to come together under one umbrella to protect their natural resources. In 2010, Save Lamu was formed, consisting of 15 community organisations under one coalition. Three years ago, Save Lamu approached some partners to help amplify the voices of the community onto the national and international level. Together, they worked to form deCOALonize (COAL), which grew to include fellow affected community members in the Mui Basin where there is a proposed coal-mining project. So while Save Lamu led the fight against a coal plant in Lamu, the Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE) led the fight against coal mining in Kitui. Two campaigns united into one, to deCOALonize Kenya from coal.

Endlessly fighting offline and online to raise their voices against coal, he communities became a force to reckon with. Many sacrificing, full of compassion and passion, under one purpose. Members of Save Lamu were arrested and intimidated by police, some gave up their illustrious careers, others have retired since, old, grey and weary of the fights, some passed away and handed the baton to the younger generation, including Maalim Baddi whom we sadly lost at the end of last year.

Nine years after it was formed, and three years after Save Lamu took the government to the National Environmental Tribunal (NET) opposing the development of the Lamu coal plant, the judges ruled in the favour of Save Lamu. The environmental license of the plant was cancelled. Sadly Maalim was not there to see that day.

Most stories end with, “and they lived happily ever after,” but this is not how the story ends. The court win by Save Lamu is short lived as the project proponents have appealed the decision. The movement is still however going strong, seeking a divestment model to campaign against the financiers of the project, such as: Centum, Gulf Energy, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) who is the main financier, The General Electric and African Development Bank who have been approached to support the project. This is why were are here today.

Lamu has been under threat since the 70s. From oil and gas exploration, and more recently coal power production. For many years, Save Lamu fought this battle alone. But I am here to say they are not alone, and neither are all those communities like Lamu. Because they have you.

Many countries across the continent, like us in Kenya, are feeling the pressure to invest in fossil fuels. The hope and inspiration that Save Lamu’s story accords to similar small, unknown communities out there, could therefore not come at a better time.

It was not just the legal win that has made many excited, but that we have the power to change history, no matter how powerless we feel. Even as community members. It is overwhelming to see the hope that has been inspired when other grassroots community groups in Africa and worldwide call us to congratulate us and that they are motivated that they too can challenge the status quo. So it’s not whether we win or loose our battle that matters, but the symbolism that together, we all can make small strides towards one common goal.

Save Lamu and deCOALonize are a testimony that bringing together ideas, and people with passion and compassion can make a difference. The earlier that we come to the realization that Lamu’s and Kitui’s win, is Kenya’s win, that Kenya’s loss, is the world’s loss. The earlier we will all win. Let us work to link together grassroots communities with organizations and individuals to build their capacity and help amplify, rather than silence their voices.

It is in the same spirit of unity and collaboration that led Save Lamu to forming deCOALonize, that we can all work together to build a brighter future by financing clean energy, and a fossil fuel free world. With that, I invite you all to deCOALonize Africa, and deCOALonize the world. Yes, the journey may be long. And the quest for success will be tough. But at least we will not be alone.

Learning from history, decolonisation (spelled COL) wasn’t fought for by one man, nor one woman, not one organization nor one country. In that same way, deCOALonizing (COAL) from coal and financing a brighter future free of fossil fuels cannot be done in isolation. It may have started with me and you, but investment in fossil fuels ends with us.

Thank you!



Coal in Kenya

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