As a project which is expected to pour $20 billion into the economy and construction industry, the creation of Kenya’s second transport corridor should be an exciting development.
Unfortunately, what appears to be a flagrant lack of proper consultation or process has galvanised local opposition and turned the whole thing into an example of how not to go about a huge infrastructure project.
Boasts on the part of the government about the value of the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET) – the key objective of which revolves around the creation of a new port at Lamu in Kenya’s east and transport links to the South Sudanese capital of Juba and also to Ethiopia – are hardly modest.
As a ‘Kenya Vision 2030’ flagship project, the government says, LAPSSET will foster transport links with neighbours South Sudan and Ethiopia, promote regional development in the country’s north, east and northeast, enhance cross border trade and add two to three per cent overall to the country’s economy.
Not surprisingly, the project will generate huge volumes of construction work, with key project components including a new port at Manda Bay, a standard gauge railway line to Juba, a new road network, oil pipelines in Southern Sudan and Ethiopia, a new oil refinery at Bargoni, three new airports and three resort cities.
Be that as it may, the consultation and environmental management process has been appalling. The project was approved by President Mwai Kibaki in July last year with no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) having been conducted nor any consultations with affected communities having taken place despite both being required by Kenya’s Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA). There was also a feasibility study carried out in 2010 spelling out extensive impacts upon terrestrial and marine life.
Likewise, no measures to protect indigenous communities and cultures have been put in place despite the feasibility study stating these were of fundamental importance. In January, the government tore through farms in the Kililana area to prepare for the port launching site without offering any form of relocation assistance or compensation to those affected.
Above all, the process has been shrouded in secrecy, with much information being limited to the Provincial Administration, government officers and select community leaders.
Unsurprisingly, local opposition has coalesced amid concerns about environmental degradation and the impact on local fishing and tourism industries surrounding the area of the envisioned port at Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Save Lamu, a coalition of groups dedicated to protecting the Lamu Archipelago, says much of the marine life lies close to the proposed port site and coral reefs which provide a significant tourist attraction lie in the heart of Manda Bay, through which ships will have to travel to reach the port. The group has demanded the development proceed only after proper community consultation and adequate planning to manage environmental risks.
Kenya’s new transport corridor may well provide the kind of long term benefits the country’s government talks about, but the poor process undertaken by the government serves as an example of how not to go about managing a significant infrastructure construction project.