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Rift Valley Institute

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Livelihood concerns as Kenya kicks off regional infrastructure project

A report from IRIN, published in the Sunday Nation, on a meeting convened by the RVI Nairobi Forum to discuss plans for a Lamu Port and South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor. The LAPSSET project includes a port in Lamu, a 1,500km standard-gauge railway line from Lamu to Nakodok along the Kenya and South Sudan border, oil pipelines to South Sudan and Ethiopia, an oil refinery, three airports and tourist resorts in the Kenyan towns of Isiolo and Lamu and on the shores of Lake Turkana

Design for the first three berths of Lamu Port.

A huge transport infrastructure project to link Kenya’s coast, Juba in South Sudan, and Ethiopia by 2030 is raising questions about the potential impact on the livelihoods of pastoralists, and protection and compensation for those adversely affected.

The 1,700km Lamu Port and Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), launched in March 2012 by the governments of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, with Uganda also recently joining, constitutes part of Kenya’s long-term development plan known as Vision 2030, and is projected to boost Kenya’s GDP by at least 3 per cent, according to Jonathan Lodompui of the Vision 2030 secretariat.

Mr Lodompui was speaking at a forum on Lapsset, convened by the Rift Valley Institute.

LAPSSET projects include a port in Lamu; a 1,500km standard-gauge railway line from Lamu to Nakodok, along the Kenya and South Sudan border; oil pipelines to South Sudan and Ethiopia; an oil refinery; three airports; and three tourist resorts — in the Kenyan towns of Isiolo and Lamu and on the shores of Lake Turkana.

Three new berths at Lamu port are expected to be completed by 2017-2018, according to Silvester Kasuku, director-general of the LAPSSET Development Authority, boosting Kenya’s cargo-handling capacity.

The construction of regional highway projects is also under way. The 200-metre wide Lapsset corridor is expected eventually to form part of an equatorial land bridge linking East and West Africa from Juba via Bangui in the Central African Republic to Douala in Cameroon.

Livelihood, security concerns

'The real challenge… is how to realise Lapsset’s transformative prospect in terms of regional integration, wealth and opportunities while safeguarding the environment, and the rights and livelihoods of those whose lands the project will cross,’ said Justin Willis, a historian and professor at the UK’s Durham University.

'Communities through whose land the LAPSSET corridor will pass are worried about potential land grabs and livelihood disruptions,' he added.

In Lamu, some families have been displaced by port construction work and are yet to be compensated, according to Shakila Abdalla, a Lamu Member of Parliament, who noted that there had been inadequate environmental impact assessments, and that Lamu’s infrastructure might not be able to cope with the expected influx of people. Lamu’s population is about 102,000 but could more than double by 2017, noted Ms Abdalla.

According to Abdikadir Omar, MP for Balambala in Garissa County, eastern-central Kenya, while Lapsset will go through an area that has never been developed before, there are concerns about potential adverse effects on pastoral livelihoods with the blocking off of migratory routes.

'There is a need to address these problems from a host community point of view, before a camel and a bulldozer are facing each other,' he said. Ekuru Aukot, a lawyer, said the issue of land and its management is central to the Lapsset project.

'There is no such thing as free land in pastoral nomadic communities. Land is owned communally and this ought to be the route to negotiation over Lapsset,' he said. Mr Kasuku explained that Lapsset had taken environmental concerns into consideration and that Lamu Island, which is a World Heritage Site, will be preserved. To sustain fishing livelihoods, there are plans to create a fishing berth in Lamu and the government has allocated money for scholarships to equip local students with new skills, he added.

Mr Lodompui said that the government is sourcing funds to compensate at current market rates those displaced by Lamu port construction work, while noting that the communal ownership of land is complicating the compensation process as individual land ownership documents are lacking.

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