Construction is currently underway in Lamu, Kenya to develop the infrastructure and facilities for Africa’s new largest port. Lamu County is located in the Indian Ocean off the north-eastern coast of Mombasa and the Lamu Archipelago and it consists various islands which extend south from the Somalia border. Up until the late 19th century, Lamu was a trading centre for slaves, spices and gold. In 2001 Lamu town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Lamu Port, South-Sudan, Ethiopia (LAPSSET) corridor project is led by the government of Kenya and it is a flagship project for the Kenya Vision 2030 a development plan that is expected to boost the country’s GDP by 3%. The $25.5 billion project will link Ethiopia and South-Sudan to Kenya by way of transport and communication.
The objective of this project is to promote socioeconomic development of the district through enhanced cross border trade. The benefits are to promote international trade through global maritime as well as link East and Central Africa to International market. This however has not proved to translate into better life conditions for the people of Lamu District. Reports from UN offices of humanitarian news and analysis services are concerned that thousands of people will be displaced; fishing which is their second source of livelihood after tourism which 90% of the population rely on will be lost due to degradation of marine environment and increase risk of conflict due to land rights. Residents have expressed concerns that they will not benefit from the jobs created from this project and are anxious about the future of this remote and unique region and the impact this project will have on the environment and also if any controls are in place to protect this world heritage site. To date the government has “only” addressed land compensation issues raised by groups that had to be moved to make way for the project. The most significant winners in this project are the MNCs through foreign aid and foreign direct investment.
In the long run the project is likely to foster economic growth and employment and it will enhance the country’s position as a regional economic hub, sadly though the people of Lamu feel this project has so far violated both the Constitution of Kenya and legal international acts signed by the Government of Kenya. A statement by a coalition of local community groups, Save Lamu say “the demands for the rights of Lamu people has fallen on deaf ears”.