After forcing company to stop a project, communities in Kenya negotiate path forward
By John Mwebe
In April 2021, my attention was drawn to an article highlighting the resumption of operations by the Akiira Geothermal Company Limited in Rapland and Kedong areas in Naivasha, Kenya. This public acknowledgement was of interest to me because in 2018, the Akiira Geothermal Company Limited was not willing to dialogue with the Masaai communities over the violations of human rights. After several trainings in 2017–19 hosted by IAP and local partners, these communities were now in position to determine the use of their indigenous lands and in turn, the fate of the same project. In the article, it was stated that:“Akiira Geothermal Company has the green light from local people to continue geothermal drilling in western Kenya. The ad hoc geothermal energy company in western Kenya has reached an agreement with local residents after months of blockades. Local communities, particularly those in Kedong and Lapland in Naivasha, were concerned about the environmental impacts of geothermal installations. The independent power producer (IPP) also plans to invest in social issues through the construction of water points and support for the education of young people in the surrounding communities.”
This was corroborated in April 2021 through a stakeholders’ engagement organized by International Accountability Project (IAP) and Jaama Resource Initiatives where Akiira Geothermal Company reiterated its commitment to address the concerns from the community as it resumes its operations in their area. Looking back at the support provided by IAP and its partners in Kenya, it’s evident that communities are now more able to organize and their resolve emboldened to stop the violation of their rights.
In 2018, Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project was introduced in Rapland and Suswa communities in Naivasha, Kenya by Akiira Geothermal Limited. The project involved construction of a 70 megawatt electric geothermal power plant with financial support of €155 million (USD 192 million) from the European Investment Bank. From IAP’s initial interaction with the affected communities, it was clear that the fear of loss of land and livelihoods as well as distortion of their pastoralist lifestyle were of great concern to the affected persons.
In April 2018, Narasha Community Development Group with support from IAP conducted a community-led research process in the project area to gauge the community’s level of engagement in the project, set priorities for their communities and outline their demands to the company and investors. This report was followed by engagements between the affected community and civil society actors including Jaama Resource Initiative and Kenya Human Rights Commission where the affected communities demanded that Akiira Geothermal Limited provide for the communitiesʼ full and unconditional participation in decision making during project implementation; hold benefit sharing discussions with the community based on Kenyan laws; ensure access to project information through public education about the project engagements in accessible languages and displayed on public notice boards; and include a County Official as an Ex-Officio on the Project Committees tasked with monitoring and providing feedback to government to compel the company to act upon human rights abuses. The Kambi Turkana community in Loropil village demanded that the company recognize them as part of the project affected communities and eligible for compensation and representation on the project committees. The affected communities emphasized that if these conditions were met by the company, they were open to supporting its operations.
These findings were shared with Akiira Geothermal Limited, the European Investment Bank and the US Government. Consequently, the European Investment Bank withdrew their intended financing in October 2019, thereby halting the project indefinitely. This was a huge stride in the communities’ advocacy efforts as described by Jackson Shaa of Narasha Community Development Group:
“The pull out of the European Investment Bank from funding the Akiira 1 Geothermal Project is a great hope to so many families. It brings great joy to go through a process of advocating for the rights of people and to receive a positive response that seeks to protect the rights of affected persons.”
Through stakeholder engagement meetings conducted by Jaama Resource Initiative in April 2021 and attended by Akiira Geothermal Limited, civil society organizations and officials from the Nakuru County Government, it was established that Akiira Geothermal Limited was seeking alternative financing to carry the project forward. The company planned to involve the affected communities in the phased implementation of the project starting with scientific studies followed by exploration works and finally the development of the power plant. Akiira Geothermal Limited noted that it was open to development of national capacity and capabilities through investment in developing and procuring locally available workforce, services and supplies to facilitate sharing of accruing benefits.
The community leaders on the other hand pledged to work with the company on condition that it addresses the human rights concerns raised. To this end, support to the Kambiturkana community that was evicted from Loropil village is still required and that compensation should be awarded to those that had property and livelihood means destroyed during forced evictions.
Ultimately, the affected communities are pushing back against harmful practices arising from the implementation of the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant project. In the process, IAP and partners facilitated the process of alliance building with other civil society actors and the affected communities. There is commitment from Akiira Geothermal Limited and the county government to address issues arising from project implementation through dialogue with the affected communities. With the progress registered, IAP supports communities and local partners who are further building their own capacities, alliances and platforms to realize their collective priorities.
John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda.