'GOLD' BENEATH SCRUBLAND

Kedong families evicted for geothermal project

Akiira Geothermal says 'invasions' frustrating the firm’s exploratory drilling

In Summary

• Located inside the vast Kedong ranch, Kambi Turkana is  ‘home’ to the Turkanas,  many of whom have lived there since they were born.

• Familiesserved with an eviction notice to pave way for the construction of a multi-billion shilling power plant by Akiira Geothermal Company.

Vast expanse near Kambiu, Turkana, in Kedong where Akiira Geothermal Company has acquired 1,000 acres for exploration.
HOMELESS: Vast expanse near Kambiu, Turkana, in Kedong where Akiira Geothermal Company has acquired 1,000 acres for exploration.
Image: GEORGE MURAGE

It’s a scorching afternoon as a group of semi-naked boys chase a sheep in the scrub, shouting and kicking up dust.

Their shrieks wake up an elderly woman sleeping outside a makeshift house. She struggles to get up, breathing heavily and walking unsteadily into the mud hut with crumbling walls.

Women in tattered clothes, balancing firewood on their heads, walk slowly home to prepare a meal for their families.

 

Their lined and grimy faces tell of people who have seen it all. They pass a couple of emaciated, mating mongrels that scatter a herd of goats.

It's not much, barren and forbidding, but it's home to more than 100 families living around Kambi Turkana.

Kilometres away, smoke rises from geothermal wells in Olkaria, a KenGen operation. It's a familiar sight against the hard blue sky.

But it portends great change.

The Turkanas live inside the vast Kedong Ranch and many have lived here since they were born.

Their numbers have increased in the last couple of months after word went around that there would be compensation for geothermal energy beneath 'their' scrubland.

They were evicted on Tuesday, however, and their homes and personal belongings torched. A number of people were injured.

 

The families had been served with an eviction notice to pave way for the construction of a multi-billion power plant by Akiira Geothermal Company.

The company has acquired 1,000 acres from the management of KenGen to construct a Sh9 billion power plant expected to produce more than 70MW.

For 72-year-old John Efuu, this was the only home he has known.

Though illiterate, he remembers vividly working as a herder for a mzungu years back before the land changed hands and all the cattle disappeared.

“We took care of the cattle and drove them to a nearby railway station for transportation to Nairobi. But all that's gone," he says through a translator. He stares blankly ahead, into nothing.

Efuu wondered how they could be evicted from their home, adding that he is ready to face his adversaries,  whoever they are.

“I am told our land has been sold and we should move out. But how can people come to the homes we have occupied for years and kick us out?” he told the Star not long before he was evicted.

When he was told a geothermal company has taken over the land, Efuu doesn’t understand what geothermal is and what it has to do with his land.

“They can do all they want but they should keep away from our land, which we have lived on for over 40 years,” he says.

Damaris Arot, a mother of six, has seen heavy trucks crisscrossing the ranch. She knows something's up.

Her fears have increased with the presence of police and government officers in big vehicles. They're subdividing the land.

“There is something going on around our homes and we've been told that some big factory will be constructed here,” Arot says.

She's quick to say that no one has told them what this new 'factory', as she calls it, means for them.

“Our children are saying we have to move out but we are wondering where we shall go as we don’t know any other home,” she says.

Arot gave birth to all her children in her mud-walled hut as there are no hospitals around. She wonders where they will go if they are forced off the land.

Community spokesman Justus Ekeno knows what's going on and calls the situation "worrying".

Ekeno says most of the elderly people in the village arrived as workers in Kedong in the 1960s and 70s. They've been working as herders, that's all they know.

He says they are scattered around villages on the expansive ranch. He says the ranch is owned by powerful individuals in government.

“Many of the elderly people are illiterate and don't understand what's going on. that's why we've decided to support them," Ekeno says.

“We understand there's a private company that wants to drill for geothermal here. We're not against that but they should first resettle the families around the farm."

The Maasai benefitted from 4,000 acres from Kedong for an industrial park. He wonders why the Turkanas have been left out.

“We feel cheated and sidelined as our neighbours have been resettled but we have been sidelined for reasons better known to the community,” Ekeno says.

A local activist who declines to be named says the situation has been worsened by "encroachers" who want to reap where they never sowed.

He admits that tens of families have been "genuinely" living on the ranch for years but says the situation changed when reports of compensation arose.

"There are all communities now living on the 1,000 acres that have been sold to Akiira and they moved in a couple of months after learning there is planned resettlement,” the activist says.

Naivasha deputy commissioner Mbogo Mathioya had confirmed the planned eviction, saying that the land belongs to Akiira and not Kedong.

“The encroachers have been given ample time to move out so that the investors can embark on their project, which includes sourcing for electricity from geothermal,” he says.

He adds that 23 "original" families were awarded five acres each by Kedong for resettlement and that the current crop of encroachers seeking cheap publicity.

“The real squatters on the land that was owned by Kedong before selling the 1,000 acres to Akiira have been resettled and the others are illegal encroachers,” the activist says.

"They should move out since this is not their land and we have made plans to act if they do not obey the orders," he says.

Nakuru county commissioner Erastus Mbui, who toured the land last week, accused a few individuals of misleading their communities about resettlement.

“There is a trend where some people are keen to construct semi-permanent structures on land identified for capital projects and we are keen to stop this,” he said.

He said investigations showed that the majority of those laying claim to the land were outsiders who had been ferried to the area.

“Some fake squatters in this county have resorted to seeking court orders and enlisting lobby groups to restrain implementers of mega projects from developing invaded land,” he said.

Speaking during the tour, Akiira Geothermal Limited spokesman Anthony Kahindi said the invasions were frustrating the firm’s exploratory drilling.

He said the company expects to finalise preparation of the engineering, procurement and construction contract and operation and maintenance contracts by the end of next year.

“It is anticipated that AGL will commence production drilling and power plant construction for the first phase 70MW in early 2020 and achieve commercial operation in early 2022,” he said.

Kahindi said some human rights organisations and lobbies were frustrating the progress of the project through scientifically unfounded reports and malicious allegations.

“We have been accused of all manner of ills by some activists, which are all lies, and we are keen to work with all stakeholders to make sure this project is a success,” he said.

He said Akiira will continue to work closely with the local community to address social and environmental issues to the benefit of both parties.

“Akiira has an effective Stakeholder Engagement Plan and Environmental Management Plan to ensure participatory consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.

The firm's shareholders, include Mvuke Power Ltd (owned by Centum Investment Company), Marine Power Generation Ltd, DI Frontier Energy Carbon Fund (a Danish Power Fund) and Ram Energy Inc.

In the last couple of years, disputes over resettlement have rocked parts of Naivasha, stalling capital projects and displacing hundreds of families.

Maasai families living in Lapland area in Olkaria were resettled by KenGen after years of battles to pave way for geothermal drilling.

Plans are underway to resettle tens of communities affected by the construction of a dry port in Mai Mahiu, Naivasha. Works have already started.

The move has split the community, with one faction supporting relocation to 4,000 acres, while another has gone to court terming the land offered as too little.