In Summary

  • ‘Save Lamu’ enlists the support of the local community to stop the project, which is expected to inject 1,050MW of thermal power into the national grid when completed.
  • On February 26, the Energy Regulatory Commission rejected objections to the project by Save Lamu, saying the affected people are not opposed to Amu being issued with a licence.
  • The National Environmental Management Authority has issued a licence to Amu Power to build and operate the coal plant. Save Lamu has appealed Nema’s decision to the National Environmental Tribunal.

On a hot afternoon in April, the 900-acre bushland, with centuries-old baobab trees scattered around is the venue of a meeting between a community of Bajuni fishermen and small-scale farmers, and Save Lamu, a community-based organisation.

The residents of Kwasasi in Lamu County call this land, now marked with beacons, “box.” The box is the proposed site for the Lamu Coal Plant, a project opposed by Save Lamu, a coalition of more than 36 local organisations dealing with the enormity of projects like the Lamu Port and the Lamu Port South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project.

This April meeting is focused on finding ways and means to put pressure on the government to discard the project.

“This is our ancestral land,” says Mohammed Shee, an elder in the community. “We fish and farm here.”

Mr Shee speaks for thousands of residents who are opposed to the project that kicked off in earnest in 2013, when Kenya’s Ministry of Energy floated a tender for a coal plant at this very site. Gulf Energy and Centum Investment won the bid and formed the Amu Power Company.

The company will build and operate a 1,050 Megawatt coal-fired thermal electricity-generating plant in the Manda Bay area of Lamu County – it will be the largest private sector-led project of its kind in East and Central Africa — to contribute towards the government’s goal of 5,000MW of affordable and reliable power on the national grid.

The need for this, according to Amu’s website, arises from that projects like the standard gauge railway, the Lapsset project, Konza City and steel smelting industries require about 5,000MW of power. By 2030, the peak demand is expected at 18,000MW against an installed capacity of 24,000MW.

Objections rejected

On February 26, the Energy Regulatory Commission rejected objections to the project by Save Lamu, saying the affected people are not opposed to Amu being issued with a licence.

Save Lamu does not agree. Hadija Ernst, a founding member of the CBO, said, “Communities bordering the coal plant don’t know anything about it. It’s so far out in the middle of the bush.”

In March, for example, the community woke up to the sight of bulldozers clearing farms, digging up age-old cashewnut trees for a road half-a-kilometre long into the ‘“box.” Save Lamu learnt of it through a local chief. When the community demanded compensation, the road was abandoned. It is the same story as what happened with the Lapsset project, which set the stage for the coal plant.

“There are changes being planned in Nairobi that we don’t even know about,” states Khadija Shekuwe Famau, Save Lamu’s project co-ordinator. “We don’t feel part of the process. The coal plant is a national project yet nobody on the Lapsset Authority board is from Lamu.”

“The first time the Amu Power Company engaged with Save Lamu was towards the end of 2014,” says Walid Ahmed Ali, Save Lamu’s secretary and co-founder of the Lamu Youth Alliance. It was to discuss an environmental and social impact assessment — required by law — conducted by Amu Power’s consultant.

“Save Lamu and local community leaders told them that we did not want coal. We preferred renewable energy. Amu Power replied that coal is cheap and they were going to use the newest technology to make it less offensive. We then began to investigate and sent six delegates to South Africa to learn about coal mining sites,” said Ali.

“The negative impacts that the team reported after the visit to coal plants and meeting the people living around and working in the coal plants are enormous on health, livelihoods and the environment. Most of these coal plants were financed by elite politicians — and though South Africa has been pro-coal, it is phasing out coal because of the impact on climate change. The South African court even stopped a coal plant from starting up after objections from the citizens,” he added.

Threatened ocean

Among the six delegates was Raya Famau Ahmed, founder of Sauti ya Wanawake (Voice of Women), an organisation focused on gender rights in Lamu. Ms Ahmed said the coal project threatens the ocean.

“We need development but it must be environmentally friendly. What we saw in the coal mines in South Africa was horrible — sick children, women working in the coal plants breathing polluted air — it’s not what we want,” she said.

During this time, the coal plant investors took local Members of County Assembly to China to a coal plant under construction — where they would see nothing of the hazards of an operating coal plant.

Already, the National Environmental Management Authority has issued a licence to Amu Power to build and operate the coal plant. Save Lamu has appealed Nema’s decision to the National Environmental Tribunal.

According to Save Lamu, the assessment lacks expertise and the plant is using old technology and they argue that the measures to mitigate negative impacts are inadequate. In additio