On Wednesday 26th June, Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal (NET) made a landmark ruling that set aside the license granted to Amu Power Company Ltd by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to construct a 1050MW coal plant in Lamu.
The tribunal noted that “[p]ublic participation is the oxygen that gives life to an ESIA report” and that there was no evidence that Amu Power properly informed residents of Lamu of the impacts that the coal plant project would have on their environment, livelihood or health.
“Would the members have supported the projects if they know about effects on human health, damage of flora and fauna, immature deaths, and even adverse effects on forests? There might be ways to mitigate the same; however, the residents ought to have been notified of these before a license was issued,” the tribunal ruled.
Members of Save Lamu, who had petitioned the NET to have the Environment and Social Impact Assessment license (ESIA) cancelled, were overjoyed by this ruling. Save Lamu Vice Chairman Mohamed Mbwana thanked NET for considering their petition.
“We’re thankful the NET was able to hear our petition. We’re happy not just as the people of Lamu but the whole country. Obviously we would have borne the major impacts, but the country as whole would have had to pay for this project. And the health impacts in Lamu would have spread all over the country with time,” Mr Mbwana said.
Mohammed Athman, also a board member of Save Lamu who has been vocal against the coal plant project, said the ruling had restored hope among common people who previously lost all confidence in the court processes.
“Now we believe a common man can follow the process as outlined in the law, go to court and get justice. In the past people were hopeless and would suffer in silence. So this judgment has brought a lot of happiness for the people of Lamu,” he said.
The judgment brought to a close a court case that had begun in 2016 following NEMA’s decision to issue the ESIA license to Amu Power – a special purpose company that brought together Centum and Gulf energy for the purposes of building and operating Kenya’s first coal plant.
Lamu County is known for its UNESCO World Heritage site, Lamu Old Town, the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Lamu also attracts a lot of tourists for this reason and also because of its impressive Swahili culture. Besides tourism, most locals earn their living from farming and fishing – all of which was to be in jeopardy if the coal power plant were given the green light.
Raya Famau Ahmed, a resident of Lamu and strong campaigner on women’s issues, said this was a great victory for women and children, who end up suffering the most in any calamity.
“On behalf of the women of Lamu and the indigenous communities, I am very happy. We were worried about this license and the lack of public participation, and the tribunal has confirmed this. I want to tell women that we are [speaking for?] the country and we must keep vigilant.”
deCOALonize board member Samia Bwana, who resigned from her position in the Lamu County government in protest over the plans to build the controversial coal plant, felt vindicated by this ruling. While expressing her joy, she maintained there is a need to remain vigilant.
“I’m so ecstatic, I am overjoyed, I am grateful. I just feel like all those years the community has waited and the sacrifices made are worth it. But there’s still work. Bado mapambano.”
Lamu Youth Alliance board member Walid Ali also expressed his happiness with the ruling, thanking all those involved in making the case strong.
“I am thankful to the researchers and all civil society organizations who helped in making NET realize the report done by Amu Power was hogwash.”
Amu Power has the option to appeal if they are dissatisfied with the ruling. Should Amu Power wish to continue with the coal plant project, the tribunal noted that the company must undertake a fresh, more comprehensive ESIA.
Click here to access the full judgment