On the surface, all seems well; but upon closer inspection, problems begin to appear. From the beginning, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project promised 2000 new jobs. Unfortunately, this proved to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. Rumours of the new positions spread throughout the region, and new arrivals began streaming into an area that
was accustomed to making do with little. Foreign governments and NGOs had distributed food aid to the region for years, and pressures exerted by the increasing numbers began to reignite old conflicts. Livestock theft, in particular between the Turkana and Samburu tribes, had long been a source of tension, and was not improved by the new arrivals. The wind power project hired guards to deal with these issues, but this seemed to cause only new problems when locals accused the guards of abuses. For his part, Phylip Leferink maintains that the arrival of the guards brought order to the region.
Local residents are not unequivocal in their gratitude for the work done by Winds of Change, according to Mali Ole Kaunga, director of IMPACT, an NGO working to advance the interests of the various tribal communities in the area.
To begin with, the green energy produced by the wind farm is not for them, but is transmitted via huge power lines to Suswa, 428 kilometres away, he says.
“The vast majority of them are unhappy with the windmill project. All the households in Marsabit run on dirty energy, and yes, there are roads and health clinics, but that’s because the consortium needs them to transport windmills and care for their own employees,” says Ole Kaunga.
Mali Ole Kaunga recognizes that local residents value the new schools in the area, but in reality the CSR projects are part of the problem, he believes. They distract from the issue that has led the inhabitants to sue the consortium and their politicians: the wind farm is on land that local tribes believe they have rights to.
“Health and education are the responsibility of the government. CSR projects cannot compensate for the value that corporations are deriving from being here, and they shouldn’t be used to pacify the residents into giving up their rights,” says Ole Kaunga.
He identifies the right to be heard and compensation for the surrender of land claims as examples of these rights.
March 2016 - The Conflict
The chairs before the judge’s bench are filled with men and women in suits, seated close together in row after row. The air is heavy and stagnant, even though all windows are wide open behind their protective grates. The court session is delayed a moment while the
judge weighs whether my photographer colleague and I may observe. I am permitted to stay, but the photographer is sent out, and a few more people find seats in the last rows. In the open doorway, women in traditional necklaces, jewellery and wrap dresses stand alongside men in work clothes and suits. Behind them, a line of local tribal members stretches far down the street.
They squat on a slope outside. Some hold walking sticks; they have walked for as much as three days to get to the courthouse in Meru for this moment, they say. For centuries their tribes have lived side by side in northern Kenya. Their coexistence has not always been peaceful or without conflict, but today they are united. They are suing the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project and the county council in Marsabit for giving their land away without consulting them.
The plaintiffs are from the Rendille tribe, but they claim to represent the tribes of the entire area: Rendille, Samburu, Turkana and El Molo. They are nomads who have lived in the region for thousands of years, settling wherever the climate and provisions were best for man
and beast. They live off the land and use it for ceremonial and spiritual purposes, which they
say makes them the “original and true owners” of the land.
In the courtroom, everyone listens to Justice Njoroge. The parties are exhorted to find a solution, and court is adjourned.
Outside the Meru Land and Environmental Court stands Abdi Hassan, a lawyer for the consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. A group of men in shirts, trousers and red shawls shout and wave their telephones at Hassan, but he dismisses all their accusations. The consortium has repeatedly insisted that the project proceeded after careful consultations with the four tribal communities. Abdi Hassan says that the lawsuit is merely “camouflage.”
“What they want is revenue that is accruing from [the windmill] project,” he says, as the last part of his sentence is drowned in the sounds of protest from the men around him.
I cross through the crowd outside the courthouse to find Roger Sagana, the prosecutor in the case, to ask if Hassan is right. Sagana dismisses it.
“No, actually the issue of revenue is not an issue at all in this particular dispute,” says Sagana.
“This was community land that belonged to the greater part of Marsabit County, with the Rendilles traditionally inhabiting the land. And there is a process that Kenya has in the Trust Land Act for the conversion of community land into private lands. And this process involves quite extensively public participation, it also involves compensation, and it is an elaborate process that was not followed at all,” he insists.
The promises made regarding jobs, health clinics, schools and wells for livestock in the parched regions cannot outweigh a central point: that the tribes do not believe they were consulted before their land was given away to the wind farm project.