Stopping an Oil Superhighway in Kenya

Kenyan activists are turning the tide against a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project that threatens to destroy land, lives and the environment. In 2012, the Kenyan government launched the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transportation (LAPSSET) Corridor, a massive network of ports, highways, railway, oil refineries and a coal plant. As LAPSSET will process oil and coal resources, it could devastate thousands of miles of communities’ land and villages through the heart of the country.

The project is just beginning and, already, the government and developers have harassed and evicted many of Kenya’s poorest communities—nomadic herders, fishermen and women, and indigenous farmers whose lives depend on the natural landscape. It has also damaged vast tracts of grazing land and degraded the delicate ecosystem of the northern coastline. Adding insult to injury, LAPSSET’s architects haven’t yet offered adequate compensation to most of the people living on the path of destruction.

For nearly a decade, seven of AJWS’s grantees have fought in coalitions against several of the largest and most damaging projects—and in April 2018, they secured a court ruling in favor of the environment.

“The judgment is now a critical, indispensable tool for the community to fight for its land rights. It clearly mandates that the State must secure and guarantee the participation of the Lamu community in all aspects of LAPSSET development, their livelihoods and preservation of their cultural heritage." —Waikwa Wanyoike, lead attorney and head of Katiba Institute

After a six-year legal battle litigated by AJWS partner Katiba Institute—with the counsel of environmental legal experts Natural Justice—Kenya’s High Court ruled in favor of the people of Lamu, declaring that the government had failed to adequately consider the negative environmental, economic and social impacts of the port that will be the gateway of the LAPSSET corridor. The Court ordered the government to pay more than $17 million in damages to 4,600 people whose lives and livelihoods were harmed by the construction.

The Kenyan government must now conduct a new environmental impact assessment, in consultation with local communities, to develop a clear plan for how it will preserve the environment as well as the culture of Lamu Island, a UNESCO world heritage site.