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Lobbyists should take Lamu coal wars to foreign firms

Kenyan officials took advantage of this year’s World Environment Day last week to try to rally the public around a tree planting campaign meant to boost the country’s forest cover and tame the destructive effects of climate change.

The “Panda Miti, Penda Kenya” campaign championed by the new Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko looks to have one billion trees planted across the country.

Influential conservation NGO World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Kenya), backed by its strong community networks in most parts of the country, has rolled out a similar programme called “Keep Kenya Breathing” which has set itself an even higher target of 1.8 billion trees.


If both campaigns succeed, Kenya could well be on course to restoring its forest cover to the internationally recommended minimum 10 per cent much faster than imagined.

But will it?

Fat chance that – especially if the country doesn’t fix its governance flaws and policy contradictions that always seem to conspire to hold back its progress.

Recent media reports suggest that much of the money allocated to the government-backed tree planting campaign for seedlings is already stolen.

The board of the Kenya Forest Service, the agency responsible for protecting forests, was only reconstituted last week after Mr Tobiko disbanded the former governing body for abetting graft.


The government’s tendency to speak from both sides of the mouth on some particularly hot environmental issues has also raised questions about its commitment to its own climate change agenda.

Take its approval of the controversial plan to construct a coal-powered plant in Lamu, for example.

The idea of a dirty energy project this century contradicts the government’s stated aims in its original Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan, which emphasises low carbon investments.

Revelations by the energy regulator last week that the plant’s production capacity might be cut by half due to higher costs of excess power indicate that even the economic benefits are becoming dodgy.

A standoff with environmental campaigners has raised a cloud of dust over the project and a public interest suit is before a local court.


But the campaigners won’t feel too confident about their efforts, having recently failed to stop the Chinese from excavating their way through national parks to give us the standard gauge railway.

Their best bet seems to lie in putting pressure on the foreign firms who have invested or are planning to invest in the coal plant in future to pull out or keep off, starting with the American energy firm GE Power which was late last month reported to have bought itself a big stake.

Multinationals are increasingly reluctant to make money at the expense of the environment and public health in their home countries but have little qualms doing so in places like Africa.; @otienootieno

This article first appeared on Daily Nation