No sooner had Kenya and Southern Sudan put pen to paper during the week, signing a deal to construct a pipeline from the oil fields in Southern Sudan to the planned new port in Lamu, did a civic group Save Lamu emerge and file legal action against the government seeking to prevent any construction from going ahead.

The group, an umbrella body of about a dozen or so civic organizations and NGOs representing communities and interest in keeping the UNESCO World Heritage Site Lamu as it is. A number of allegations were made against the processes put in place, with claims that local communities were not only not consulted but faced large scale evictions from their ancestral lands in the absence of ever having been given title deeds to their land.

Land speculation and tricked or forced sales also featured in the complaints with Save Lamu representatives claiming that plans are in place to drive off residents and evacuate entire villages in the name of progress and development. Said a regular conservation source from Nairobi yesterday:

They have a right to be consulted and heard when it comes to their ancestral land. They have a right to know what government is planning. No environmental impact studies have been submitted for public scrutiny, it is all done under a cloud of secrecy aimed to keep the truth from everyone but the main beneficiaries of the project, land speculators, deal brokers and collectors of brief cases and brown envelopes. The new constitution gives Kenyans rights and those rights will be claimed in court now. Government has started to resort to intimidation and we expect them to use covert methods to get their way. There is even suspicion they may use the Somali question to pretend clearing Lamu from Al Shabab elements and yet it will be innocent villagers driven off their land to make way for forced acquisition of large tracts of land needed for the port, railway head, roads and infrastructure. The only good thing is that our judiciary is now more independent and might just put an end to this all before it starts.

Local members of parliament too voiced their concern that their constituents were not granted participation or representation at the various stages of planning the project so far raising the prospect of having the matter raised in parliament with the option of forming a special committee to investigate community claims alongside the court case, derailing the ambitious time frame announced during the week for the ground breaking and for construction to commence. Watch this space.

By Wolfgang H. Thome

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