Kenyan Indigenous community raise concerns over wind mega-project

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Kenya.
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An Indigenous community in Kenya has raised concerns over a planned gargantuan wind power project. The 1000 MW proposal is nearly three times the size of Kenya’s largest existing wind farm – a project which itself violated the rights of multiple nearby Indigenous communities.

Wind projects in Kenya

In early October, Kenya’s main power producer – the state-owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) – announced its plans to construct a 1000 MW wind project. KenGen intends to develop the project in the central northern Marsabit County.

The project would form part of Kenya’s plan to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Already, the East African country has led the way on the continent. In 2021, it generated over 80% of its electricity from a combination of hydropower, solar, wind, and geothermal sources.

However, many renewable projects in Kenya to date have come at the expense of Indigenous and local communities. A 2022 Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report highlighted the detrimental impacts of renewables in the country. It found that communities had raised land-related human rights allegations for six major projects.

Echoing these findings, two reports from the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) detailed the devastating toll of Kenya’s renewable energy sector on Indigenous communities. From these, the IWGIA concluded that:

communities, as a rule rather than the exception, suffer when these large-scale projects are designed and implemented as they often do not take a human rights-based approach.

The largest wind project in Kenya

Like KenGen’s planned project, Kenya’s current largest wind farm – the Lake Turkana Wind Power project – is situated in the Marsabit county. There, the 310 MW wind project has violated Indigenous rights and land laws.

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Specifically, the project failed to implement international Indigenous rights standards, such as the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). As the name suggests, this entails community consultation and agreement to any given project that will affect them.

Moreover, the project consortium failed to recognise three groups that the project would impact as Indigenous. It did so in spite of their recognition as such under the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). On top of this, the project developers refused to acknowledge the project’s impacts for the single local group it did recognise – the El-Molo Indigenous community. The consortium deemed the El-Molo – Kenya’s smallest tribe – to be too far from the project to suffer any significant impacts.

Harm to Indigenous communities

However, local Indigenous communities and rights groups have reported a number of detrimental impacts resulting from the Lake Turkana project. These include the decimation of the local employment market and land-based livelihoods, the poorly implemented relocation of an entire village, and sparking increased conflict between groups over scarce resources.

To make matters worse, these local communities have no access to the green energy the wind project produces because most of them are not connected to the national grid. While the 365-turbine project makes up 17% of the country’s installed energy capacity, the local communities ironically rely on diesel-powered generators.

As such, members of these Indigenous groups have been fighting the Lake Turkana project in Kenyan courts since 2014. In 2021, they won a historic ruling against the project. The Kenyan Environment and Land Court in Meru found that the developer had acquired the land deeds unlawfully. It gave the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) company a year to ‘regularise’ the land acquisition. This would involve registering the community land and providing compensation.

In May 2023, the Kenyan High Court reaffirmed the ruling when it rejected LTWP’s request for an extension to this process. As a result, the area on which the project sits has reverted back to being community land.

Now, however, KenGen’s plan for another wind mega-project once again threatens local land-based Indigenous communities.

Community concern over KenGen’s new project

The Canary talked to Magella Lenatiyama, a member of the El-Molo people who has previously spoken out against the LTWP project. We asked him about the Lake Turkana ruling and the new KenGen project. In particular, Lenatiyama voiced his concern over the KenGen wind farm. He said that developers would site the new power project closer to the El-Molo community’s lands.

In February 2022, El-Molo community representatives sent an access to information request to the government-owned company. They claimed that KenGen had failed to provide sufficient information on the proposed wind energy project.

In particular, the representatives requested a copy of the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) study, and information on international investors. They also sought confirmation on the estimated construction dates, as well as details on the company’s engagement with the El-Molo community.

In March 2022, KenGen responded. It had yet to complete the ESIA. Significantly, the company claimed to have conducted “community engagements” with those living in the proposed project area. On top of this, it stated that:

Detailed community engagement will be carried out during the ESIA for the communities living in the selected project site.

However, KenGen has now signalled the project’s go-ahead. However, the Canary’s correspondence with Lenatiyama suggested that community concerns still remain.

Despite this, Lenatiyama is actually hopeful that the recent ruling on the LTWP project could pave the way for challenging the KenGen project. He said that it would give the El-Molo “a path to fight for” the land that KenGen is targeting for its new wind project.

International aid ‘part of the problem’

Additionally, Lenatiyama highlighted the responsibility of the international investors of these types of project. He told the Canary that the international governments involved:

are also part of this problem because they are funding the project which is affecting the communities.

In particular, he noted that they are doing so “because of their interests” in these projects. For example, both Denmark’s climate investment fund and Finland’s international development institution held shares in the Lake Turkana project. In March, Finnfund sold these to the BlackRock-led Climate Finance Partnership (CFP). French, German, and Japanese development banks all back the CFP.

A number of European development aid institutions also helped co-finance the unlawfully implemented Lake Turkana Wind Power project. Alongside Denmark’s climate fund and Finland’s aid arm, these included Norway and the UK’s development agencies.

Similarly, France’s Agence Française de Développement (AFD) has funded the feasibility studies for the upcoming KenGen wind project. AFD has reportedly indicated that it intends to continue providing finance for the wind farm’s development.

Rich countries financing Kenya’s green energy transition

Ahead of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, African nations called on rich countries to meet their climate finance commitments. In particular, they asked wealthy nations to fork up the $100bn in annual climate finance they had promised at the COP15 conference in 2009. To date, these industrialised countries have failed to meet the target. Given this failure, rich nations now need to scale up their climate finance if they are to meet the annual target.

As part of this, a number of countries have pledged more finance to help African nations adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. They will direct some of this towards the shift to renewables. For instance, in May Germany vowed to provide financial and technical support to Kenya for its energy transition goals.

Meanwhile, in October, development minister Andrew Mitchell laid out the government’s plans to channel more of the UK’s international climate finance (ICF) through BII. The UK previously provided finance to the controversial Lake Turkana project via its international development corporation, British International Investment (BII). The government-owned corporate development agency gave over $32m to a fund that invested in the project in 2010.

BII also funded the cancelled Kinangop wind project in Kenya. It channelled this support to the project through an investment fund it has poured $30m into. As a previous Canary investigation highlighted, local communities mounted fierce protests against the potential displacement and health impacts of the project.

A just transition should centre Indigenous rights

So, with rich countries lining up to finance Africa’s green transition and their history of investment in similar projects, there is a pressing question around whether they will pour further aid towards this new development that could adversely impact the El-Molo community.

Ultimately, renewable energy projects can cause many of the same problems as their fossil fuel counterparts – particularly relating to community displacement and impacts on land-based livelihood. Given the similar project’s history of harm, Indigenous groups are right to be wary of the upcoming KenGen project.

Crucially, the international community should pay attention to their governments in the coming months. In particular, those with form on financing destructive green capitalism at the expense of Indigenous rights might be tempted to do so again. The rich industrialised countries who have largely caused the climate crisis have a responsibility to provide aid to assist Kenya’s green energy shift. However, it must be a just transition – one which centres the rights of Indigenous communities first and foremost.

Feature image via Lake Turkana Wind Power/Youtube.

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