HUNTING FOR THE TRUTH: LAMU COAL PLANT

(From left: Thomas;GroundWork, Saidi, Isha’q, Abubakar, Najjmar, Adam, Lorreine.)  photo: Prince Papa

“My friends and I have left our families at home to come here in South Africa to see for ourselves the impacts of coal and coal power plants on communities. Right now I should be tending to my wife, kids and to the fisher folk whom I serve in my community in Lamu. However my community is a disturbed, we don’t feel safe from the time our government announced the proposal to construct a coal power plant within our community. We’ve watched from  documentaries, we’ve read online and from print media, we’ve listened to various local and international news touching on impacts of coal on communities: and all paint a gleemer future for the communities around coal business. But today and for the next few days we are here in South Africa, we will be taken around these communities in South Africa and we want to see them with our own and naked eyes, we want to hear directly from them with our own ears. We are here to gather raw truth about coal in south Africa because these South Africans have decades of experience with the mineral. These truths will help myself and my community to be able to make an informed decision about the proposed coal power plant in our community.”  remarked Abubakar Swaddiq.

Abubakar Swaddiq is a fisher folk and a community leader of a fisheries unit in Pate Island, Lamu county and , for the first time in his life, he has travelled to South Africa for a community exchange visit in South Africa’s coal infested region of  Mpumalanga and he is in the company of five other community leaders Adam Lali: (Save Lamu board member), Is’haq Khatib: (save Lamu Board Member)  a human rights defender who has survived uncountable police harassment and an arrest due to his hardline stand against the proposed government backed coal plant in Lamu,  Said Salim Said : a paralegal practitioner with Natural Justice in Kenya and community member and Najma jaffar a woman activist and a youth leader.

In South Africa, the Kenyan team is welcomed by Thomas Mnguni, on behalf of GroundWork South Africa. “Welcome guys and enjoy your stay here. For the next few days we’ll visit various coal mining and power plants and also interact with different community members living near or displaced by coal project,” Pitched Thomas, a local who’ve spent most of his life in Mpumalanga and experienced with social justice and environmental issues  surrounding a coal driven South African economy.

A drive around Middelberg, the Kenyan team is taken to Optimum’s abandoned coal mine. What welcomes you in the area is a hospital sign board reading, “TuberCulosis (TB) Clinic” and a very strong nasty, nauseating and sickening pungent smell. Within just three minutes with car windows rolled down, the smell becomes too strong, “Guys, I don’t want you to get sick. Let’s roll up the windows.” Thomas intervenes. This warning comes late as a few of the Kenyan team later on in the day develop health related complications. Abubakar gets really sick and from the following day’s trips that on the following last two days he is left sleeping indoors after medical advice had been sort. 

In Kitui, the Kenya government has proposed a coal mining site with approximate deposit of 450M tonnes of coal. This, if allowed to proceed, will pose the same dangers as that of Optimum and probably worse on closure.

A neighbourhood visit in Hendrina, South Africa’s oldest power station sparks an emotional discussion with the community members. The community surrounding the power plant has lived here for years. The villages are a stone’s throw away from the power station however a bitter and painful truth coming from the hearts of these community members is that throughout the years most of them have never been connected to the power line. Those who have access are subjected to the same higher tariff as those who live miles away from the power station itself. The Kenyan team gets shocked and come to a realisation that back home, Lamu community will not have it smooth either; the $200M, 1050MW plant will have to feed into a national grid before it can be supplied back to the community, making the costs just as high s everywhere else.

Armed with the realities surrounding coal investment in South Africa, the Kenyan team head back to the communities to share their experiences with their counterparts, and that when the time comes, every community member will be able to make an informed decision in connection with the proposed coal investment in the country.

Currently, Kenya boasts of a slightly over 90% of its energy coming from renewables with geothermal generation on the lead (( an exact opposite of South Africa, which has a negligible RE mix). Even though this is a good mix percentage, Kenyan’s still demand for more accountability from their president who promised that by the year 2020, the country’s economy will be run on 100% renewable energy.

Energy experts in Kenya have confirmed that the country is having a surplus power production lasting beyond the year 2030, hence an informed decision by the Kenyan courts to cancel the proposed coal plant in Lamu would have been based not only on community participation but also on  economic viability and suitability of the project.

(By Prince Papa)

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