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Kenya/Global: Big Victory for #SaveLamu/#deCOALonize

AfricaFocus Bulletin
July 2, 2019 (2019-07-02)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

“On Wednesday 26th June, Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal (NET) made a landmark ruling that set aside the license granted to Amu Power Company Ltd by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to construct a 1050MW coal plant in Lamu. The tribunal noted that … there was no evidence that Amu Power properly informed residents of Lamu of the impacts that the coal plant project would have on their environment, livelihood or health.” - #deCOALonize press release, June 29, 2019

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a variety of resources, with both basic and more in-depth background on this historic development in the global campaign against fossil fuels and for the future of the planet. First, a set of recommended videos, as well as a short BBC article summing up the situation in early June, before the ruling from the tribunal. Then, the press release from #deCOALonize. Then, an in-depth interview with Dr. Anita Plummer, based on her recent interviews with Kenyan activists involved in the campaign.

This is followed by a set of additional links for further contextual background, and by a fact sheet on the evidence against the economic viability of this coal-power scheme.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate and the environment, visit For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Kenya, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Recommended Videos

BBC, June 5, 2019 article. Good summary of status of project and protest prior to the court ruling. Includes 2-minute video with local activist Raya Famau Ahmed.

“Coal Power in Kenya: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?,” July 6, 2017
10-minute video with interviews with local opponents and supporters of the project.

Kenya Television Network News, June 11, 2018 – 28 minutes, clear overview by journalist, followed by panel discussion by environmental specialists and activists.

Power in Africa – 22-minute very informative panel discussion on off-grid solar, moderated by Yinka Adeyoke of Quartz Africa, with Jesse Moore of Kenya´s M-Kopa and musician/climate entrepreneur Akon.

Lamu Residents Celebrate the Cancellation of the Lamu Coal Power Plant license

By deCOALonize

June 29, 2019

On Wednesday 26th June, Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal (NET) made a landmark ruling that set aside the license granted to Amu Power Company Ltd by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to construct a 1050MW coal plant in Lamu.

The tribunal noted that “[p]ublic participation is the oxygen that gives life to an ESIA report” and that there was no evidence that Amu Power properly informed residents of Lamu of the impacts that the coal plant project would have on their environment, livelihood or health.

#deCOALonize activists in front of the Supreme Court of Kenya after the winning ruling.

“Would the members have supported the projects if they know about effects on human health, damage of flora and fauna, immature deaths, and even adverse effects on forests? There might be ways to mitigate the same; however, the residents ought to have been notified of these before a license was issued,” the tribunal ruled.

Members of Save Lamu, who had petitioned the NET to have the Environment and Social Impact Assessment license (ESIA) cancelled, were overjoyed by this ruling. Save Lamu Vice Chairman Mohamed Mbwana thanked NET for considering their petition.

“We’re thankful the NET was able to hear our petition. We’re happy not just as the people of Lamu but the whole country. Obviously we would have borne the major impacts, but the country as whole would have had to pay for this project. And the health impacts in Lamu would have spread all over the country with time,” Mr Mbwana said.

Mohammed Athman, also a board member of Save Lamu who has been vocal against the coal plant project, said the ruling had restored hope among common people who previously lost all confidence in the court processes.

“Now we believe a common man can follow the process as outlined in the law, go to court and get justice. In the past people were hopeless and would suffer in silence. So this judgment has brought a lot of happiness for the people of Lamu,” he said.

The judgment brought to a close a court case that had begun in 2016 following NEMA’s decision to issue the ESIA license to Amu Power – a special purpose company that brought together Centum and Gulf energy for the purposes of building and operating Kenya’s first coal plant.

Lamu County is known for its UNESCO World Heritage site, Lamu Old Town, the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Lamu also attracts a lot of tourists for this reason and also because of its impressive Swahili culture. Besides tourism, most locals earn their living from farming and fishing – all of which was to be in jeopardy if the coal power plant were given the green light.

Raya Famau Ahmed, a resident of Lamu and strong campaigner on women’s issues, said this was a great victory for women and children, who end up suffering the most in any calamity.

“On behalf of the women of Lamu and the indigenous communities, I am very happy. We were worried about this license and the lack of public participation, and the tribunal has confirmed this. I want to tell women that we are [speaking for?] the country and we must keep vigilant.”

deCOALonize board member Samia Bwana, who resigned from her position in the Lamu County government in protest over the plans to build the controversial coal plant, felt vindicated by this ruling. While expressing her joy, she maintained there is a need to remain vigilant.

“I’m so ecstatic, I am overjoyed, I am grateful. I just feel like all those years the community has waited and the sacrifices made are worth it. But there’s still work. Bado mapambano.”

One of many #deCOALonize demonstrations in recent years. "Coal ni sumu" means "Coal is poison."

Lamu Youth Alliance board member Walid Ali also expressed his happiness with the ruling, thanking all those involved in making the case strong.

“I am thankful to the researchers and all civil society organizations who helped in making NET realize the report done by Amu Power was hogwash.”

Amu Power has the option to appeal if they are dissatisfied with the ruling. Should Amu Power wish to continue with the coal plant project, the tribunal noted that the company must undertake a fresh, more comprehensive ESIA.

Interview with Dr. Anita Plummer, July 1, 2019

Dr. Plummer is an Assistant Professor of African Studies at Howard University. In research for her dissertation she spent a total of six months in China, in 2008 and 2009, and did additional research in Kenya in 2008 and 2010. She returned from her latest research visit to Kenya on June 18, 2019, after spending three weeks interviewing environmental activists in Nairobi and in eastern Kenya. She is currently working on a book manuscript that explores how Chinese engagements have shifted the economic and political landscape in Kenya.

This AfricaFocus interview was conducted through a Google doc exchange.

AfricaFocus Bulletin (AF): Your recent trip to Kenya came at an auspicious time but a busy time for activists. Can you tell me a bit about who you were able to talk to and what general impression you had of the thinking among activists, and whether they expected this victory in court?

Anita Plummer (AP): Kenyan environmental justice organizers, farmers, and fishers are passionately and resolutely promoting an alternative vision of development. I had the opportunity to attend a community meeting in Mui Basin, the area of eastern Kenya where the government granted concession companies rights to mine for coal. The group of 100 residents, mostly farmers that resist mining, were asked, “What is development to you?” One response resonated with me, a woman stood up and said, “The government should help our community add value to the farming that already exists. We want to grow watermelons, not have coal mines.” The question and her response were simple yet profound. Throughout the meeting, participants reiterated the close connections between the environment and sustainable livelihood, ancestral, and spiritual connections to land, social linkages between communities, land rights, and insurance for future generations. The bottom line was that environmental justice was imperative for people.

I was honored to talk with a diverse group of people with a common purpose of protecting Kenya from coal and promoting sustainable energy and livelihoods. Interestingly, activists in Lamu were cautiously optimistic that the National Environmental Tribunal would rule in favor of delaying the license for the coal plant. Legal experts and advocates in Nairobi were more skeptical that the Tribunal would rule in their favor because they were unconvinced that the judiciary would act independently from the executive. Regardless of the outcome, activists were already planning two and three steps ahead to keep the momentum going by continuing to engage the Kenyan public, pressure elected officials, build international support, and raise future legal challenges. Now that the judgment had been handed down, this sends a powerful signal to the Kenyan government, external actors like China, and the Kenyan people that there is power in coordinated and sustained organizing. I think this was a victory not only for Kenya but for Africa and beyond.

Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng, with representatives of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) and other Kenyan Civil Society groups after a deliberation on the controversial Lamu coal- fueled power project at the embassy in Nairobi. June 28, 2019. Credit: PACJA.

AF: Kenya has been a leader in the use of renewable energy, with geothermal and hydropower now being the principal sources of electricity, the largest wind farm in Africa. Its innovative M-Kopa system has brought home solar systems to 750,000 households in East Africa. Why, then, did the government decide to go for , the most backward of fossil fuels, instead of doubling down on more advanced technology?

AP: Understanding the contrast between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s commitment to 100% green energy by 2020, Kenya’s robust green growth agenda, and the legacy of environmental activism, on the one hand, and the promotion of the Lamu Coal Plant has been a challenge for environmental justice organizers. There is an apparent contradiction between the rhetoric and the actions of leaders. On the one hand the laws are solidly pro-environmental protection and management, and on the other hand, there is poor policy implementation and a lack of resources to ensure consistent enforcement. The sense I got from advocates in Nairobi and local organizers in Lamu and Mui Basin (the coal-rich area of Kitui County, Kenya) was that the lack of political will from the central government to fully realize Kenya’s environmental policy is rooted in the narrow economic and political interests of government officials.

AF: Following up on that, how does the coal plant fit into Kenyan government development goals, and in particular into the LAPSSET Corridor Program.

AP: Kenya’s Vision 2030, the economic development blueprint that was unveiled in 2007, served as the impetus for the Lamu Coal Plant. The rationale was that to industrialize and become a middle-income country, Kenya had to invest in governance reforms, new infrastructure, technology, human resources, land reform, security etc., along with an increase in power generation. The government planners list coal alongside geothermal and renewable sources in the original policy as a new energy source. Unsurprisingly the plan also committed to maintaining a clean and sustainable environment. Activists have clearly stated that there is no acceptable amount of pollution that justifies meeting the goals of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and that a clean environment serves as the basis for sustainable development.

The Lamu Coal Plant was first proposed in 2013. The plant is part of an expansive development project called LAPSSET (Lamu Port- Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project) which is a large scale multi-country infrastructure project that includes a deep sea port in Lamu (which is well underway), an oil pipeline, highways, airports, and railways. The government has been doggedly trying to see this plan through and wants to signal to Ethiopia and South Sudan that it can deliver on its commitments. Along with these regional dynamics, some argue that the government made a bad deal for Kenyan tax-payers and energy consumers when it signed on for the $2 billion project. That implies that the agreement was good for some. I talked to people in Lamu who speculated that government officials with financial interests in the investment companies behind the coal plant stood to benefit from the plant going on line. This theory was supported by an article printed in The Daily Nation noting that the 25-year power purchasing agreement between the Kenyan government and investors included a “take-or-pay” clause that required investors be paid even if the power was not being used or if it’s replaced by power already being generated from other sources.

The LAPSSET Project has been billed as the transport corridor that will bring the regional integration of 160 million people and three countries together. Lamu has become ground zero for an oil refinery, two oil pipelines and a 32-berth deepwater port aimed at international markets. For activists in Lamu, the struggle for environmental protection, management and sustainability go well beyond the coal plant. I talked with community members in Lamu who have relied on fishing and other marine natural resources as their primary source of livelihood, and they presently feel threatened by the construction of the first three berths at the port. Despite calls for investments in renewable energy, here is another case where the Kenyan government is leaning in on investments in another fossil fuel.

AF: Amu Power Company is a Kenyan-based consortium, and the project involves funding and contractors from China and the United States. Critics charged that Kenyan taxpayers and consumers would pay a heavy cost, in addition to the damage done to the local environment and the climate. Who do Kenyans think would benefit?

AP: The people I spoke with were adamant that the coal plant was not being built to serve Kenyan households. I asked who were the intended consumers of the energy from the projected coal plant, and respondents did not know. In sum, people thought the project was a waste of resources, and many were doubtful that Kenya would attract enough industry to justify its output in the future. About 85% of Kenya's energy is from renewable sources, mostly from hydropower, geothermal and wind. In 2016 73.94% of Kenyans lived in rural areas with less than half having access to the power grid. In response to this, the solar energy industry is filling that gap by selling or financing solar units. The M-Kopa system you mentioned earlier is an example of companies providing off-grid alternatives for Kenyans.

You're right that Chinese, America, Kenyan, and Gulf state investors in Amu Power, either as contractors or investors, stand to benefit the most from investments in coal. This is particularly alarming because compared to the US where renewable energy accounts for 12.2% of consumption and China at 38.3%, Kenya at 85% of its energy from renewable sources is in a better position to avoid dependency on outdated and dirty energy sources. Kenya should continue on a progressive, self-reliant path and not tie its energy future to foreign companies and governments.

AF: The successful protest against the project seems to have involved an unusual mix of local activists and national and global organizations. And the charges against it features protection of heritage, protection of the environment, and the global climate crisis. The activists also used not only street demonstrations, but social media and legal strategies. Who took the lead, and how did they bring it all together?

AP: I want to emphasize that this struggle began almost a decade ago when the Kenyan government first released its plans for the Lamu port and oil pipeline in 2010. Since then, as the development plans for Lamu County began to take shape, community members have been resisting projects that negatively impact their livelihood. I learned that it has been a journey and most Lamu residents were initially open to the prospects of job creation especially in light of security threats from Al-Shabaab effectively gutting the tourism industry which aside from fishing generated the most employment. One fisherman told me that he began seeing construction at the site of the port and he and others did not understood what was happening. He, along with other community members, stated that they did not know one person from Lamu that had gained employment. Over time as community members realized that they were not being consulted and decisions were being made in the capital without their knowledge they began asking questions and mobilizing themselves after people stated that their lands were being seized for the site of the LAPSSET project. This led to the formation of the organization Save Lamu. In 2010, Save Lamu joined with Natural Justice, a social and environmental justice organization, to initiate an ongoing consultative process in 34 villages and with 40 organizations in Lamu County that led to the Lamu County Bio-cultural community protocol. This process guided the organizing around the coal plant and port project by emphasizing culturally informed public participation in all activities and development practices in the area. Significantly, the participants developed and presented an alternative vision for development for their community.

In late 2016, a dynamic coalition of organizations that included Save Lamu, Natural Justice, and Greenpeace Africa has created a movement aptly called deCOALonize Kenya to specifically challenge the development of the coal plant in Lamu County and coal mining in Mui Basin and promote 100% renewable energy in Kenya. deCOALonize Kenya have engaged a multipronged approach (including social and earned media, direct action and letter writing) to highlight the negative impacts of coal and target key Kenyan constituencies.

AF: Protesters in South Africa are also confronting the coal industry and a government reluctant to act, and that country has a large installed fleet of coal generation plants as well as others yet to come on-line. Activists there are clearly encouraged by the success in Kenya. Are there lessons they can learn from their Kenyan counterparts?

AP: One of the most effective tactics for organizers has been to build international solidarity with other environmental justice activists. After learning that the coal for the Amu Plant would be imported from mines in South Africa and Mozambique, in 2014 a delegation of organizers from Save Lamu, The Lamu Youth Alliance and Sauti ya Wanawake (Voice of Women) went to South Africa to learn about the environmental and health impacts of mining. A representative from Lamu reported on this trip at the meeting I attended in Mui Basin with graphic details on how air pollution has led to severe illness among miners and their families. This moment in the meeting put the Mui Basin mining in a global context because connections were made with similar communities in South Africa. I got the sense that even though people were primarily concerned with immediate threats to their health and livelihood, their horizons expanded beyond the local. deCOALonize Kenya is a national movement that is connected to transnational movements for environmental justice that are informed by local realities and inspired by global struggles.

Key Activist Organizations Involved

Save Lamu


Katiba Institute

Natural Justice

Pan African Climate Justice Alliance

GreenPeace Africa

Key Sources on Renewable Energy in Kenya

Kenya has been a leader in renewable energy, particularly including geothermal, hydropower, and wind. The country has also been a global pioneer in off-grid solar, as noted in the most recent global report on this technology.

Key Sources on Lamu Project

For background on the court decision see coverage by BBC, PulseLive Kenya,, and Greenpeace Africa.

BankTrack provides a clear summary of the project and the companies involved.

More detail on the contract with GE for ´clean-coal´ technology is available in this news story from May 17, 2018.

Coal declining globally despite subsidies

G20 countries triple coal power subsidies despite climate crisis; Major economies pledged a decade ago to phase out all aid for fossil fuels,” Guardian, June 25, 2019

“US generates more electricity from renewables than coal for first time ever,” Guardian, June 26, 2019 renewable-electricity-coal-power

The Lamu Coal Plant will hinder, not spur, economic growth in Kenya

Misdirected assumptions about construction, capacity, and costs

Press Release

Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)

June 10, 2019

The proposed Lamu Coal plant in Kenya, a three-unit, 981-megawatt (MW) facility, would be a costly mistake, locking the country into a 25-year deal at a cost to consumers of more than US$9 billion, even if the plant never generates any power, according to a report released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The report, The Proposed Lamu Coal Plant: The Wrong Choice for Kenya, examines how the Lamu project was intended to replace the country’s aging diesel-fired generation and strengthen baseload capacity but factors, such as lower-than-projected demand and higher costs for imported coal, have rendered the plan obsolete.

“This project would lead to excess generating capacity in Kenya and sharply increase electricity rates for consumers,” said IEEFA director of resource planning analysis David Schlissel, who wrote the report. “The original assumptions that justified the project, no longer apply.”

Cost projections are unrealistically low and generation assumptions overly optimistic.

First proposed in 2015, the Lamu plant is scheduled to enter commercial service in 2024 at an initial cost of US$2 billion. It is being built by Amu Power Company Limited, a single-purpose entity, 51 percent owned by Centum Investments, a Kenyan investment firm, with the remainder held by Gulf Energy. The construction contract for the plant was awarded to Power Construction Corporation of China in 2016.

The plant would slow the development of readily available, clean and increasingly low-cost geothermal, wind and solar resources.

Highlights from the report:

* The existing 25-year PPA would force Kenya to pay at least $360 million in annual capacity charges, even if no power is generated at the plant.

* Amu Power’s claims for the cost of Lamu-generated electricity are unrealistically low, and assumptions about how much electricity the plant will generate are overly optimistic.

* Using more realistic assumptions, electricity from the plant could cost as much as US 75 cents (76 Kenya Shillings) per kilowatt-hour (KWh), on average, during the years 2024 to 2037—more than 10 times what the plant’s proponents have claimed.

* This estimate does not include costs for port upgrades that would be required to bring coal to the plant, nor construction of the transmission infrastructure needed to distribute the power; dramatically increasing the overall cost and impact on electricity consumers and taxpayers.

* The government’s own analysis demonstrates that, when using the most likely demand growth scenarios, Kenya’s abundant renewable resources render no new coal generation necessary in the country until 2029, at the earliest.

“Building this facility would burden consumers with costly power for years to come,” said Schlissel.

“In addition, the project would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Kenya to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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