Lamu Port project meets resistance
By Hadija Ernst
In March this year, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki officially launched the new Lamu Port project, a massive infrastructure project that is expected to cost a whopping $20 billion. The red-carpet affair was attended by his South Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts, Salva Kiir and Meles Zenawi respectively, on a stretch of leveled mangroves, flattened especially for the launch.
The new port is part of a larger project, known as LAPSSET (Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport Corridor), a pearl in the crown of the Kenyan government’s Vision 2030, an ambitious program to propel Kenya’s economy, like those witnessed in Asia.
The LAPSSET project includes an oil refinery, pipelines from South Sudan, transportation hubs for rail, road and air, and a mega port for oil tankers, plus a number of tourist resort cities along its path.
Several months on, very little work has been done, even though President Kibaki committed the finance minister to release funds to enable construction of the first three berths. Rumors circulate that the government lacks financial backing even though the local media ascribes China as the main supporters because of their desire for South Sudan’s oil.
It is no wonder at the speculation. The Lamu Port plans have been shrouded in secrecy ever since the government began its search for capital. The lack of transparency and the dearth of information have created an aura of suspicion and mistrust of the government, particularly among affected communities.
Lamu is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The medieval stone town is the home of Swahili culture and architecture. Its rich history is linked to the Indian Ocean trade-world, connecting China, India and the Arab Peninsula from as early as the 9th century.
Early stone ruins of Swahili towns dot the area under the care of the National Museums of Kenya. Nearby, a marine reserve protects the islands dotting the Lamu Archipelago teeming with coral and mangrove and home to endangered marine animals like sea turtles and dugongs.
Inland, the Boni-Lungi Forest — last of the coastal forests that once spread from Kenya to Mozambique — is listed as a protected biosphere with conservationists actively trying to protect the area because of its concentration of endemic plants and animals and the fast rate at which it is disappearing.
Lamu County is home to five indigenous ethnic groups: Sanye, Aweer, Bajun, Swahili and Orma, who have lived with political marginalization since Kenya’s independence. Each of these communities utilize their natural resources for survival.