The winds of eco-colonialism? The Lake Turkana Wind Project and Sarima Village

Disclaimer:

I want to make it clear, I am not speaking on behalf of the Turkana, Samburu, Rendille, or any other tribe. I am also aware that there are tensions between these groups and it would is misrepresentative to imply that all these groups share the same interests. I respect each group, their differences, traditions, cultures, and respective histories. I will do my best to include what tribe corresponds with which area and the individual problems posed by these projects.

Introduction:

Around the 1920s, what is now Kenya became a colony of the British empire. When they arrived in Northern Kenya, a arid semi-arid environment, they decided that there would be no economic benefits to investing in the area. So Northern Kenya was identified as the Northern Frontier District (NFD) and the local communities were left alone given they stayed within the grazing area allocated to them and paid their taxes. So, Northern Kenya remained relatively traditional. In fact, as a Kenyan all I have ever known about Northern Kenya was that it was dangerous because it shares the border with Somalia, that the Nilotic tribes there were largely pastoralists, and Lake Turkana was considered the ‘cradle of life’. Ironically, the image of the Samburu and the ‘cradle of life’ have long been associated with Kenya internationally but within Kenya the area has remained marginalised. The area remained excluded from ‘development’ due to the lack of interest from the government of Kenya (GoK), sparse investment in the area, associations with Somalia and threats posed by that, tribal conflicts, reputation as the ‘badlands’, and a lack of modernity in the area i.e. roads. In 2009, the president Uhuru Kenyatta was quoted saying: “The NFD was just an empty space on the map.”
That is until a Dutch man had his tent blown away while camping near by the lake and realised the potential of the northern winds.

The Samburu People- Nilotic – over 300,000 in Kenya
The Rendille People – Cushite – less than 100,000 in Kenya
The Turkana Tribe – Nilotic- 2.5% of the Kenyan population

Lake Turkana Wind Project (LTWP)

The Lake Turkana Wind Project began in 2006 and was completed in 2017.

https://ltwp.co.ke/photos/
https://ltwp.co.ke/photos/

The Lake Turkana Project is the second largest investment project to ever take place in Kenya. It is also the largest scale wind farm on the African continent. Kenya is mainly powered by renewable energy sources. So it follows that the largest development project would be renewable energy. Moreover, the wind farm is a part of Vision 2030. A plan by the Kenyan government to make Kenya a middle-income country by the year 2030. A part of this process includes increasing access to electricity.

It covers 150,000 acres in the Lake Turkana area. The project aims to provide up to 18% of Kenyas electricity and play a large role in the expansion of access to electricity all over the country. The issue that has arisen with this project is that given the extensive cost to, and land taken from, the community there has been significant socio-economic costs incurred with the project. The most severe being to the Sarima village mainly inhabited by the Samburu and Rendille people.

The Land

Land in many parts of Africa is associated with wealth. It is culturally, spiritually, historically, and traditionally linked to the people of Kenya. This value placed on land by the community clashes with that of the consortium for the LTWP. Whereas, the LTWP has assigned economic value to the land, for the locals the value of land is holds more depth. It is about the resources that the land provides and the intrisnic value that it holds for the people that inhabit it.

The LTWP is largely a foreign project. The investors are mainly large European companies. Thus, there are different perspectives on land value to the different land owners or overseers. The GoK gave a 99 year (33 years renewable 2 times) lease to the LTWP and the wind farm was built on land that used to house the Sarima village. What complicates matters further is that majority of that land is a buffer zone around the wind project essentially empty land.

Centralisation of power over land in the President has resulted in politicisation of the process of accessing as well as owning land. By making sound proposals for reforming land management and outlining viable legal, institutional, and policy strategies Kenya can adopt land policies that would protect its residents.

AfriCOG

One of the main contestations to the wind farm project is the forced relocation of the Sarima Village. The locals formed a group to protest this ‘colonial takeover’ of their land and to draw attention to the other impacts of this project on local communities.

“Colonial takeover”

Sarima Indigenous Peoples Land Forum (SIPLF)



It has been observed that international companies have taken advantage of weak legislation regarding communal lands. Prior to the lease, this land was ‘trust land’ held in a trust by local authorities. The approval of lease meant that LTWP could privatise their land meaning that they were not bound to compensating the people that had been dislocated by the LTWP. The local community did attempt to fight back taking a case to the nearest high court in Meru province, citing that the sale of the land and resettlement of the Sarima people was unlawful.

“This land is owned by indigenous pastoralists….as ancestral grazing land and cultural heritage site since 1920. In 2008, 150,000 acres of our community land was privatised and leased to LTWP for a period of 33 years. This was done without our knowledge and with no compensation in total disregard to the Kenyan Constitution and other laws.”

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Navigating-Contested-Winds%3A-Development-Visions-and-Achiba/486e3834aa10df81c5eba20e07609a3636bf6cc5

The locals also have found issue with their exclusion from the development project. These new processes involving territorial interests have been brought unforeseen complexities to the Lake Turkana area. For one, it has led to clashes between tribes over forced integration due to displacement. This has also exasperated tensions between tribes regarding hiring practices with some tribes feeling that one tribe was getting more jobs than other. Secondly, it has resulted in the influx of people from other areas of Kenya seeking work. This has led to a spike in criminal activity, prostitution, and an increase in HIV/AIDs. Lastly, despite promises to provide jobs to locals, the LTWP called for specialists and skilled workers both of which could not be found within the Lake Turkana region. This is all in the name of renewable energy development.

https://seeingconflict.org/lake-turkana

Framing

Another issue that was found is that when discussing the project is that there was a tendency to frame Turkana as ‘uninhabited’ or ‘uninhabitable’ by investors and surveyors. Even going so far as to compare the landscape to the moon. A complete erasure of the people living in the area. The information given to locals has been sparse. They have not experienced the promised or expected benefits brought from the project. What is worse is that it is framed as a positive change for Kenya. Meanwhile, the people that have been impacted by the project the most do not get most, if any, of these benefits. The power generated from the wind farm is transmitted to another part of Kenya. It does not do a anything for the area but take up space and provide limited jobs earning minimum pay. This framing of the project as positive and taking place in an uninhabited area has led to the disenfranchisement of an already marginalised group.

What now?

Unfortunately, in 2012 oil was discovered in Lake Turkana area. Ethiopia has also erected a dam that interrupts the river Omo, the main subsidiary of Lake Turkana. This area is facing a lot of external threats to their wellbeing and livelihoods. Majority of the people in Lake Turkana area are dependent on agriculture for their sustenance. These developments are threatening their well-being by encroaching on their land and attracting people to the area. Even though the projects have positive implications for the nation as a whole, all peoples and tribes should be protected. In order to avoid the same happening to other marginalised groups of Kenya, it would benefit the country to implement better land policy for communal and protective measures for marginalised groups.

http://www.ltwp.com

Samburu tribe: either Lokop or Loikop, Samburu means “butterfly”

https://www.atlasofhumanity.com/turkana

https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/07/turkana-people-kenyas-beautiful-semi.html

https://www.iucn.org/news/iucn-42whc/201806/lake-turkana-listed-danger-due-impacts-dam-advised-iucn

https://www.africanstudies.ox.ac.uk/research-projects/lake-turkana-and-the-lower-omo-hydrological-impacts-of-major-dam-and-irrigation-de

Avery, Sean. (n.d.)  What is the Future for Lake Turkana. African Studies Centre University of Oxford
www.folt.com

Cormack, Z. & Kurewa, Abdikadir (2016). The changing value of land in northern Kenya: The case of Lake Turkana Wind Power. Accessed: May 21st 2021.

Mokveld, K. & Eljie, S. (2019) Final Energy Report for Kenya. The Netherlands Entreprise Agency.

Locham, R. Schilling, J. & Scheffran, J. (2018). A local to global perspective on oil and wind exploitation, resource governance and conflict in Northern Kenya. Conflict Security Development. 18: (571-600). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14678802.2018.1532642

Olsen, M. & Kabelmann-Westergaard T. Socio-economic study of key impacts from Lake Turkana. https://www.vestas.com/~/media/vestas/about/csr/20180604_ltwp%20impact%20assessment.pdf Accessed May 21st 2021


2 thoughts on “The winds of eco-colonialism? The Lake Turkana Wind Project and Sarima Village

  1. Interesting article. The lack of policies that protect indigenous rights and marginalized groups appears to me to be one of the fundamental issues presented in your story. This problem can be found in many countries that function with a government established through colonization. The United States is a primary example of this, where currently protests are being held in an attempt to stop the construction of a gas pipeline in northern Minnesota. Were this pipeline to be built, it would stretch through Ojibwe territory, violating treaty rights and threatening the environment were the pipeline to break – a plausible situation as Enbridge, the company building the pipeline, was responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, the Kalamazoo River oil spill. So far, protests have helped spread awareness on these issues but unfortunately, many businesses still attain their desires. Creating policies that protect indigenous rights and marginalized groups, seems to be a step in the right direction. What do you think is currently obstructing that from happening in Kenya?

    https://capitalandmain.com/grandmothers-and-indigenous-groups-join-to-block-a-pipeline-0324

    Like

  2. Very interesting article about (mis)representation. It left me wondering to what extent were affected communities (tribes) involved in the decision-making processes in Kenya, and how would more or less agency have potentially changed the outcome of the wind turbine project.

    You mention that people in the area were given sparse information, which makes me wonder about the priorities of the Kenyan government; its people versus its economy. Or maybe the two are symbiotic?

    On the one hand, it is possible that the government of Kenya gave this project a green light, despite its negative sociocultural and socioeconomic repercussions, in the hopes to improve people’s quality of living while obtaining the Vision 2030 goals. On the other hand, the choice of placement of such a grand project gives the impression that the affected communities are subordinated by their own leaders.

    I also think that this case study can be applied as a great example of social and environmental disparities in other places around the world, even cases of environmental racism. Like Amadeo said correctly in this comment on this blog post, indigenous communities often fall victim to legislative decisions and remain under-represented.

    I wonder what others in this class have to say about potential tools to solve this issue after having completed this course?

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