Tag Archives: LAPSSET

Unintended Consequences: A Fitness App Reveals a Secret US Military Base in Kenya

Fitness tracking Strava App reveals outlines of secret US bases (because people jog around the perimeter) around the world and as well as potentially sensitive information about military personnel on active duty.

Here’s what US Forward Operating Base Camp Simba in Lamu County, Kenya looks like.

The long vertical line in red is Camp Simba’s runway recently expanded to accommodate Hercules C-130 transport planes.

(Don’t yet see signs of Al-Shabaab – KDF running around circles in the nearby Boni forest)

The Lamu Port – Progress versus Preservation

Lamu Port: Development vs. Preservation?

The multi-billion dollar development project in Kenya could bring much-needed employment and infrastructure, but at what cost to the area’s nature and culture?
ARTICLE | 12   MARCH 2012 – 4:01PM

Lamu, Kenya:
Three African heads of state – Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit and Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi – recently hosted a ground-breaking ceremony in Lamu, a Kenyan island off the country’s undeveloped northern coast.

The purpose of the meeting was to officially launch the construction of a “super-port,” which will be the $5 billion flagship component of a multinational mega-development project as controversial as it is grand.

The proposed 32-berth port will serve as an international gateway for the Lamu Port South-Sudan-Ethiopia Economic and Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), a project which will comprise of a superhighway, a high-speed railway, oil pipelines, and three international airports.

The corridor’s state-of-the-art infrastructure will transport crude oil from South Sudan to China, which buys more than 60% of South Sudan’s crude production, and landlocked Ethiopia. Africa’s newest nation, which seceded from Sudan in July 2011, came away with approximately three-quarters of the former country’s reserves, although little in terms of oil infrastructure. What South Sudan lacks in refining and transport facilities Kenya is now eager to provide.

“This project is expected to play a critical role in enhancing the economic livelihood of over 167 million people in our region,” President Kibaki vowed.

Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga, who also attended the ground-breaking ceremony, proclaimed that LAPSSET would open markets in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “It is literally the road toward the realisation of the African century and the African dream”, he said.

Beyond these collaborative ventures, little is known regarding which individuals, companies and/or countries will be awarded (or already have been) the remaining port construction tenders by the Kenyan government.

China, with its big stake in South Sudan’s energy sector, may be a prime contender. The US is also rumoured to be lending a hand to cash-strapped South Sudan.

Keeping it real
If conservationists – both of the natural and cultural stripe – have any clout, the road to realising this vision may prove bumpy.

The port site lies fifteen kilometres outside Lamu’s “old town” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. Scholars hail Lamu’s old town as being architecturally and culturally among East Africa’s richest and best-preserved traditional Swahili settlements. In 2010, however, the Global Heritage Fund identified it as one of twelve globally-recognised sites as being “on the verge” of irreparable loss and damage.

The report cited development pressure and inadequate management as the primary causes. The proposed port could prove the tipping point for Lamu’s delisting by UNESCO.

At present, the vast and largely empty Lamu Archipelago, covering 480 kilometres of coastline on the Indian Ocean, seems to swallow the Arab fishing dhows that have navigated its meandering channels for centuries. Among the settlements visible from the sea are grass-hut villages dotting mangrove-forested islands.

But within ten years, the mainland will have been converted into what the Kenyan government hopes will be a modern “growth area” replete with oil refineries, high-speed railways, an international airport and a resort city. If projects live up to artists’ renderings, the area will be East Africa’s answer to Dubai, though distinguished from the Gulf’s boomtown by a high tide of vice, chiefly prostitution and drugs.

Residents of Lamu are finding it difficult to fathom that in a short time coral reefs prized for snorkelling and offering habitat to the endangered dugong, a manatee-like aquatic mammal, will be dynamited, the picturesque dhows displaced, and channels dredged to accommodate the daily passage of up to ten Panamax container ships, the world’s largest operating commercial vessels.

No news is bad news
Champions of the port cling to promises that construction and infrastructure will guarantee jobs for thousands, if not millions, of impoverished Kenyans who are already being lured from other parts of the country. Opponents of the port, they argue, are enemies of development and out to thwart realization of the African dream. The pro-port viewpoint was well summed up by Steven Ikua, Lamu District Commissioner who said: “You can’t eat the environment.”

Members of the largely Muslim Swahili community say they have suffered a long history of marginalisation long before the port project began taking hold.

Government secrecy, failure to include local leaders in decision-making processes, violations of law, and, most contentiously, the use of legal loopholes to redefine the indigenous population as squatters has led to the creation of Save Lamu, a local grassroots coalition of civil society organisations.

Local concerns had fallen on deaf ears until community members filed a legal petition in the high court arguing that the Kenyan government had violated several sections of the new constitution with its installation of LAPSSET.

“Lamu people have had a prosperous port and maritime economy for centuries…they cannot oppose the construction of a new modern port,” asserted Mohammed Ali Baadi, the chief petitioner from Lamu Environmental Protection and Conservation. “What they (the Lamu people) oppose is the ‘secrecy’ in which the project is being implemented, failure to implement an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and lack of consultation with the Lamu people.”

Last week, Save Lamu members learned that an EIA had been quietly submitted to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) on March 1, the day before the ground-breaking ceremony.

Bubble trouble
Despite tourist kidnappings in the Lamu area in September and October 2011, land prices around the proposed port continued to escalate as they have been speculatively since inside information about the project was shared.

A politician and real estate agent boasted that, since 2009 when plans for the port seemed to be taking hold, “heavies” from Nairobi’s Harambee House [Office of the President] have been coming in “turn-style fashion” to check on progress of their illegally obtained title deeds.

In 2010, he remarked, wealthy whites, local Swahilis, and politicians were buying up land from the port site all the way up to Kiwayu, near the Somali border.

Another speculator claimed he knew the land rush was on when a committee consisting of local politicians in towns near the port site insisted he quickly buy land near the port site.

Well-connected individuals allegedly got in early, grabbing up property to flip it to incoming speculators or sell to the government. Whipping up the frenzy of speculation naturally created a positive-feedback loop, driving up already escalating prices.

A Lamu landowner residing in the upscale enclave of Shela reported on the condition of anonymity that an acquaintance takes “phone orders” for land he has expropriated, and for which he has manufactured title deeds. “Kenyan politicians have sold their soul and earth in the name of greed and profit,” the anonymous source added.

Kenyan officials’ remedy is to revoke the bogus titles, reverting ownership from private hands to the government.

According to Save Lamu, this real estate will be classified as government-owned, though in such a way as to allow the financial elite to access and utilise it – all the while members of the local indigenous population are still regarded as “squatters” on ancestral lands.

The government claims it is giving title deeds to farmers, but these are for house plots, not for much-needed land suitable to agriculture.

Identify and register
SECURE, a USAID-funded project, is a nationwide programme for identifying and registering community lands. Lamu is its pilot site and focuses on areas specific to indigenous tribes near Kiwayu and Kiunga and the Boni hunter-gatherer tribe near the port site. “The government does not recognise these tribes as land-owners”, says a spokesman for SECURE.

Robertson Kabucho, a spokesman for INUKA Trust, a human rights non-profit founded by Kenyan “anti-corruption tsar” and whistle-blower John Githongo, hopes that land reforms under Kenya’s new constitution will curb further land-grabs.

To help bridge the gap between locals and government, the Ministry of Transport appointed former Lamu county councillor Abdullah Fadhil chairman of the port project steering committee. This body’s job is to collect information from various sectors of the community, for relay to the government.

“Our main mandate is to get views from environmentalists and religious leaders to government leaders,” Fadhil explained.

The Lamu port project has been in the pipeline since the 1970s and residents wonder why launch the port now. Fadhil attributes the timing to “regional pressures from South Sudan and Ethiopia, as the Kibaki government is coming to an end.”

A member of Save Lamu, however, suggested: “It’s an election year. If the new constitution of the port is implemented under county government, then Harambee House heavies won’t have money in the coffer for their campaigns.”

Another likely pressure comes from the north and Somalia. Raids by Somali marine bandits, and a rash of kidnappings they’ve carried out within Kenyan territory, make the prospect of the massive security required by a port of this scale attractive to many. This may produce another visible aspect of project’s multi-national cooperation; as Fadhil put it: “The South Sudanese will not tolerate their oil being pirated every now and then.”

There’s one issue, however, on which all parties to the debate agree: the region around Lamu is in desperate need of infrastructure. Not all residents want a global-scale port, but just about everyone wants ground transportation and logistics. Fadhil notes that even if the port doesn’t pan out, north and central Kenya will at last have highways, more schools and a railroad.

Save Lamu doesn’t disagree, but adds, ”If the grand vision doesn’t succeed, the natural and cultural wonders, like Humpty Dumpty, will be all but impossible to put back together again.”

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About the Author

Margot Kiser
Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. Follow her on twitter.


LAMU PORT ground-breaking ceremony

Kenya’s president Kibaki presided over the much anticipated and often delayed ground-breaking ceremony yesterday for construction of the Lamu port, slated to be the continent’s second largest deep-water port.

The Lamu port is the keystone of Kenya’s ambitious “Vision 2030”, part of a transport and economic corridor — THE LAMU-PORT-SOUTH-SUDAN-TRANSPORT-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORRIDOR (LAPSSET), a multi-billion dollar flagship project under “the Kenya Vision 2030 national development policy blue print”.
LAPSSET is designed to supply oil from South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country, to land-locked Ethiopia as well as open up trade routes between foreign countries and East Africa’s interior.
Located 24 kms north of Lamu town on mainland at Manda Bay, the port will serve as a gateway into East Africa’s interior, especially to oil-rich South Sudan.
According to a brochure given to VIPs attending inauguration ceremony,
LAPSSET is a transportation and economic corridor comprised of the Lamu port, an oil pipeline from port to Juba, in South Sudan, an oil refinery in Lamu, and a railway and roads to South Sudan and Ethiopia, three international airports that will service three sprawling
resort cities.
The construction of the port infrastructure alone – estimated to cost around $23 billion – has polarised residents of the small town of Lamu who rely heavily on tourism and those coming from other parts of Kenya eyeing opportunities.
Three of the thirty-two berths are expected to begin construction almost immediately.
Champions of the port vow that construction and infrastructure will provide jobs for thousands if not millions of the impoverished.
Opponents don’t object to the port per se as much as fear the destruction of the pristine Lamu archipelago, cultural degradation and a potential humanitarian crisis involving the area’s indigenous tribes.

In 2001, UNESCO designated Lamu old town a cultural heritage site as one of the best preserved traditional Swahili settlements in East Africa. Ancient Arab dhows still ply the channels meandering the Indian ocean archipelago. Tourists can pretty much experience the region much as it was 100 years ago.
That, of course, will change when coral reefs are dynamited and removed, dhows displaced to allow passage for ten Panamax cargo and container ships daily.
Residents on Kenya’s mainland, where construction soon begins, have spotted a Chinese construction company surveying for water and the Ministry of Transport has bulldozed a wide swatch of mangrove forest to accommodate a paved road.
Mangrove forests are critical habitat for the fish. Fishing has provided a sustainable livelihood for locals for hundreds of years. Bajuni fisherman from the islands of the same name are also said to oppose the port since they feel the shipping congestion will ruin their livelihoods.

Difficult to tell though whether the celebration portends actual construction or more ado about nothing in advance of presidential elections this December. The Lamu port project has been in pipeline since the ’70s.
Its a reality, a by-stander told me. He was sure because in January president Kibaki and s Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit (with his signature ten-gallon black cowboy hat Kiir is Africa’s answer to a Texas oil tycoon) signed a “memorandum of understanding” stating that the two countries will negotiate a fee for transiting crude oil from south sudan through Kenya and exported to China.

The bystander, who was from Nairobi, scratched his head puzzled by futuristic water-color renditions inside the VIP’s brochure featuring balloon-holding bicycle-riding wazungus in resort cities that looked suspiciously like Dubai.
Save Lamu, a Lamu-based grass-roots activist group (comprised of council of elders and Lamu Youth alliance, among other organizations) objects to the way the Kenyan government has so far moved ahead with plans for the port. Its complaints include lack of transparency in neglecting to confer with Lamu citizens regarding the exact nature of the project as well as a failure to complete an Environmental Impact Assessment, a legal requirement the before awarding construction tenders.
The group complains about the Kenyan government allegedly having handed out title deeds that the group say are not the government’s to give away in the first place.
In a televised speech preceding yesterday’s ceremony, Kibaki gestured that the issues would soon be addressed.
Members of Save Lamu say that security had barred them from attending the port launch ceremony even though they held a peaceful demonstration in town the day before.
Kibaki stressed the importance of the port’s security as it persists through its military incursions to prevent Somalia’s chaos from further spilling into its country.
Heavy security – like entering Village market seven times in a span of 30 minutes – and the confiscation of water bottles emptied and unceremoniously littered on the ground may provide an glimpse into the future of life with a potentially never-ending construction site.
Rumours swirled in a popular Lamu area watering hole I will Mahogany Reef that a company out of Mombasa catered the event for the heads of state, dignitaries and in a separate area for the wananchi to the tune of 24 million Kenya shillings — or $292,000 and change. Apparently, the organisers canceled the lunch after the ceremony went over schedule.







Legend of the Lamu Port

Plans for proposed Lamu Port project as presented by Ministry of Transport

Construction for the first three of twenty-one berths of the Lamu Port is slated to begin in November. This may not seem like ground-breaking news, but for a project that’s been in the pipeline since the 1970’s, it’d be one small step for Kenya, one giant leap for Africa.

Yesterday I attended the portion of a two day conference in Nairobi, Kenya, having to do with Phase One of Lamu port construction. The conference called  “TRIPARTITE and IGAD INVESTMENT CONFERENCE”  — Developing Regional Infrastructure in Eastern and Southern Africa — was kicked off at Kenyatta International Conference Center by Kenya’s Pres Mwai Kibaki.

The conference was intended to lure donors, private and public sectors to join the government in investing in the construction of a “land bridge” spanning the Kenya coast to Cameroon on west African coast, and from the interior of Kenya north to Port Sudan in northern Sudan.

The Lamu Port will serve as “the gateway” to this massive land-bridge and to the region-specific Lamu-southern Sudan-Ethiopia corridor a transport corridor (LAPSSET), an infrastructure consisting of a railway, super highway, pipelines to transport crude oil from South Sudan to the Lamu port where it will be refined for export.

Outside the Tsavo ballroom where the conference took place a stall representing the Ministry of Transport featured renditions of what look like plans for a Dubai-sized space-age city.

The ambitious project hopes to be completed by 2030 and requires a total $5.3 billion to build the 21 berths for Panamax vessels and cruise ships, the high speed railway, all weather highways, pipelines, an international airport, refineries on Pate, seven resorts cities, including one on Lamu island, Manda Island, two on Pate island and others toward the south. The size and magnitude of the port city dwarfs the square shape on the legend map designating Lamu as a supposedly protected UNESCO world heritiage site. According to the legend, the will be a

Lamu port plans as presented by Ministry of Transport

resort city within the heritage site.

Businessmen in sharp dark suits snickered when representatives from Lamu town emphasized the urgency of  an Environmental Impact Assessment and spoke on behalf of the needs of its citizens whose livelihoods depend on small businesses like fishing and whose indigenous peoples (IDP’s) need to know where they’ll resettle.

Curiously, more time was dedicated to the improvement and expansion of Mombasa’s existing port.

Lamu project manager, Peter Oremo, beamed when a representative from the San Francisco-based Bechtel company (the largest, most successful engineering company in the US) stood to announce interest in partnering with the government to realize the Lamu port. But when Bechtel rep said he wanted reassurances that Kenya would adhere to a time frame for the port’s completion, to which Oremo was fast to reply, “The future is as quick as you want it to be. Tomorrow is today”.

Oremo pointed a hand waving at the back of the room. A gentleman from south Sudan remarked that while plans for oil refineries and an international airport in Juba were fine, indeed,

Legend for Lamu port plans

and that the region deserves the fruits of trade expansion etc, he added, “It is important to remember that we in south Sudan don’t even have a functioning road. We will be starting from scratch.”

Questions remain —

– how does Min of Transport justify the construction of first three berths without having first submitted an EIA and making that public? Jambo?

– security against pirates and terrorist attacks?

– will the berths accommodate Navy ships?

– what exactly does  the “green zone” mean?

Please, all, feel free to correct information and add your questions, info and concerns.

Legend for Lamu Port plans