Gov't project that could spell doom for Lamu residents

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File image of the Lamu County shoreline

Lamu Port is part of the seven key infrastructural initiatives under the LAPSSET (Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor) project.

It will not only serve as a giant seaport to relieve Kenya’s overstretched port at Mombasa, but also specialize in handling containers and oil cargo between the east African countries and the rest of the world.

Lamu Port will handle 24 million containers a year, which would make it the fourth busiest port in the world, after Shenzhen, Singapore and Shanghai.

Being built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the port is part of Kenya’s bid to become the principal trade hub in East Africa.

So far that sounds like a superb mega plan.

Every country wants to develop and improve her economy, right? The rain began to beat us when the impact of the project began to affect the lives and livelihoods of the local fishermen.

Remember the port zone is close to the tourist island of Lamu, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When Lamu locals got wind of the LAPSSET project and its projected impact, they decided to build a case as they were aggrieved by the manner in which the project was designed and implemented with neither proper public participation nor an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA).

Led by Save Lamu organization, the locals petitioned this courts (Petition No. 22 of 2012) with the Nairobi High Court against the infringement of their traditional rights as a fishing community, issues of land compensation among others.

It has been three years now since the High Court passed a judgment (April 30, 2018) that recognized the right of traditional fishermen to their fishing sites and awarded them Sh.1.76 billion as compensation for the losses incurred.

Despite the ruling, compensation has not been implemented - according to the fishermen.

The project construction has also continued even as the community’s traditional fishing grounds and their right to protect cultural identity had been violated.

In addition, the project commenced without a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), where the ESIA didn't have an Environmental Management Plan, contrary to the Environmental (Impact Assessment and Audit) Regulations of 2003.

At present, the Lamu Port is nearing operationalization. The government intends to launch it on June 15, 2021, which will magnify the environmental impacts on the Lamu ecosystem and further disrupt farmers and fishermen.

The communities are calling on the government and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to swiftly compensate the fishermen thus implementing the court ruling and resolving the appeal.

In general, the effect of this project are loss of wetlands which facilitate unique mangrove species. This also affects livelihoods as a result of poor quality water that is unfavorable for marine life.

Knowing that most of the locals in Lamu depend on fishing as a livelihood, the government ought to uphold their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment as per Article 260 of the Kenyan Constitution, public participation through government projects and the right to compensation, as the courts ruled.

Lamu locals call for a fair and just compensation process, ahead of the Lamu Port launch in June, and for the prompt resolution of the appeal.

The foregoing is an Opinion Article submitted by Mulehi Anne to Pulse Live Kenya for publication, it does not necessarily represent the position of the publisher.

Anne (pictured) is an experienced Communications and Development expert with demonstrated history of working in the civil and social organization industry. She is currently the communications officer of KeNRA, a member of KOGwg, member of the decoalonize campaign, a global advocate alumni and an associate fellow of the Global Shapers Community, Nairobi Hub.

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