Lamu, KNA June 29 2019 by Amenya Ochieng
Four years to this date the Amu Power Company came to Lamu with the promise of acquiring 975 acres of land in Kwasasi area belonging to at least 600 farmers, in order to build a 3 unit 981 megawatt coal power plant.
Yet four years on there has been nothing to show of that promise, as the farmers narrate how they have been forced to leave their land parcels in favour of the Shs 200 billion coal project that has also been the subject of controversy among environmentalists and locals in the coastal county.
Besides the cloud of scepticism surrounding setting up of the Amu Power Coal plant due to environmental concerns, land issues also cast a shadow over the project as well.
Kwasasi Farmers Association Chairman Abdulrahman Aboud pours cold water on the assurances made by Amu Power that the farmers will still be compensated especially with the recent National Environment Tribunal ruling that on Wednesday revoked the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) licence for the Kshs 200 billion Lamu Coal Power Plant.
The tribunal ruled that National Environmental Management Authority failed to consider its own regulations when issuing the license to Amu Power.
“There was a casual approach by Nema in such a serious project, they, therefore, failed to carry out their mandate as required by law,” the tribunal ruled.
The tribunal said the only option was to stop the project and validate the environmental impact assessment report.
This ruling is likely to only surmount to the problems affecting the people as the Kwasasi farmers know too well that the ruling has put a dent to their hopes of compensation thus far.
Aboud states that the ruling will only serve to postpone the Kwasasi farmers plight since none of those affected have been able to farm on their land for the past four years, as they held out for compensation.
“As much as we support the decision of the court, Kwasasi farmers are suffering since we do not know the way forward since our livelihoods have been disrupted, as we cannot farm neither can we continue to survive this way,” Aboud states adding that there seems to be no direction being provided by the National Land Commission over our compensation.
Sentiments echoed by Mzee Hussein Mpate, one of the land owners in Kwasasi who has been affected by the stalled prospects of the Amu Power project.
“Despite telling our plight to the NLC, two Parliamentary commitees, local leaders as well as Amu Power themselves, there seems to be no respite to our suffering as we remain in the dark as we cannot carry out our trade, because we had already relinquished our farms in favour of compensation,” Mzee Mpate reveals.
He divulges that the promise of Kshs 800,000 per acre compensation has been a mirage, with most of the farmers barely able to get by as their livelihoods have been affected.
The National Land Commission had valued the Kwasasi land at Kshs 800,000 per acre though there had been some controversy over the survey and acreage process in which the land owners claimed that their land sizes had been greatly reduced.
Some such as Mzee Abubakar Ali claims that in the NLC survey he is said to own only 8 acres instead of the 20 acres that he claims.
Last year the National Land Commission Chairman Dr. Mohammed Swazuriu had intimated that the compensation would be land to land instead of cash drawing the ire of land owners and local leaders as well.
“Talk of land to land compensation sounds fishy especially since there is no free land in Lamu as is perceived, and even the Boni Forest which they might target is home to the Boni community,” Kiunga MCA Abdalla Babaad, says.
Abdulrahman Aboud, also states that the over 600 landowners said they don’t understand why last minute plans were secretly being made to alter the initial compensation plan.
Aboud said they would not accept anything less than monetary compensation for their lands failure to which they would demand to be given their lands back.
“The issue of the mode of compensation shouldn’t even be an issue because we had long settled it years back and the NLC even came and told us what an acre would be paid for in the compensation,” he laments.
The Lamu County Government led by Fahim Twaha has however chosen to steer clear of the Kwasasi land issue, preferring to instead state that the project is of national importance.
LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority Communications Officer however expresses optimism that although the court cases may be dragging the compensation process for the 600 Kwasasi Farmers, they will still get their dues.
Although, it is unspoken of LCDA is also the single custodian of the title deed for the Kwasasi and Kililana area, deepening the question over how many genuine land owners should expect compensation from Amu Power.
“Only those who have been identified by NLC will be compensated,” LAPSSET Director General Silvester Kasuku notes, adding that all land issues relating to compensation should be channelled to the NLC.
“NLC are the ones with the mandate to addresss compensation issues in the country,” Kasuku adds.
Also speaking separately to KNA, Save Lamu activist Walid Ahmed says that although he sympathises with the Kwasasi Farmers, the National Environment Tribunal was right to revoke as the coal project will affect all the farmers in Lamu.
“Amu Power have been peddling lies over the merits of the coal plant that they want to set up, which is far from the truth as it will kill farming, fishing and tourism in Lamu,” Walid observes.
He outlines the demerits as having being illustrated in an academic environmental report on the disadvantages of setting up a coal plant in Lamu.
“The whole world is moving away from coal, yet some special interests in Nairobi are persisting with it, knowing all too well what it will do to Lamu county,” Khadija Ali, an environmentalist also based in Lamu.
WWF Lamu Coordinator, John Bett commended the NET for revoking the EIA licence, illustrating how the setting up of the coal plant is likely to affect marine life in Lamu.
“Some species of fish will be lost, because of the refuse and hot water effuse that will be released into the ocean, not to mention the damage that the setting up of the Lamu Port which is still being dredged thus destroying the sea bed that has been home to hundreds of aquatic life,” Bett stated.
However Amu Power CEO Cyrus Kirima offers a different take stating that the kind of coal plant that they want to set up will not release poisonous emissions into the air and water bodies.
“We have said time and again that Amu Power is setting up a coal plant that uses Ultra-Supercritical Clean Coal Technology making it one of the most technologically advanced coal fired power plants in the world,” Kirima states.
Kirima further adds that the coal plant’s Ultra-Supercritical technology will guarantee a clean environment through elimination of emissions, and lower the overall cost of power generation in the country.
His assertion comes in the wake of fears by energy experts that the country lacks the demand to match the 981 MW that will be generated by the plant.
According to a Dubai based energy expert Muchui Maingi, who spoke KNA states that the Power Purchasing Agreement in place, the Kenyan tax payer may end up paying more just to maintain the power company.
“We are better of developing our Geothermal power plant if it is a question of increasing the country’s capacity for power generation,” Maingi states.
The Amu Coal Plant is part of the national government’s vision to provide power for the LAPSSET project that will include, a railway line, resort cities as well as a pipeline.
Kwasasi Farmers Association Chairman Abdulrahman Aboud, however has a different take and states that the Amu Power Company needs to do thorough public participation in order for Lamu residents and the country to buy into the project.
“The Amu Power Company in conjunction with the national government needs to take the county and especially Lamu residents through a thorough civic education exercise, to make them know the benefits of coal as we do,” Aboud says.
The Lamu Coal Fired Power Plant project is part of the GOK’s vital and crucial initiative in the energy sector to address present electricity affordability and reliability challenges.