Michael Asher: Kenya is better off without Lamu port - The Star

At the Copenhagen Conference last year, Raila Odinga requested funds to help Kenya plant trees and combat climate change.

Declaring that Kenyans were the victims of First World development, he added that in environmental matters, they "weren't waiting for Copenhagen to help".

The other thing the government wasn't waiting for, it seems, was public approval for the construction of a new port at Lamu, a Sh1.23 trillion venture that will cover 1,000 acres, displace thousands of families, and devastate an irreplaceable mangrove forest. "Harmony with the land is like harmony with a friend," deep ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote. "You can't cherish the right hand while cutting off the left."

The new port is envisioned as the hub of a transport scheme that will span much of East Africa, combining an oil refinery, a tanker terminal, an international airport, and an extensive rail network, with Juba as its northern terminal.

Financed by investors from China, the USA, the UAE, Qatar, and India, media hype flaunts the venture as "thoroughly bankable", and urges potential backers to "think bold, think big, and think smart". Beside such an audacious undertaking, what are a few mangrove trees, anyway?

The answer is: almost everything. The pristine mangrove forests along Manda Bay, Mkanda Channel, and Dodori Creek, that will be cut for the project, are part of a crucial world ecosystem, not only mitigating the effects of climate change, but also providing key nutrients for a vast and immensely varied marine ecology.

Seagrass beds nurtured by fallen mangrove leaves and branches are feeding grounds for reef fish, crabs, shrimps, sea-turtles, and the dugong — the aquatic mammal that is among the world's most endangered species. The trees provide a habitat for many terrestrial creatures including fishing-cats and monitor lizards and nesting and resting grounds for thousands of migratory birds.

The catastrophic effect of the new port is likely to go far beyond the trees actually cut down.

Mangroves are highly susceptible to environmental stress, and their exposed roots are vulnerable to clogging by oil-spills — a predictable side-effect of the processing and transport of fossil fuels due to take place in the area.

Quite apart from the mangroves, though, the construction will endanger the notoriously fragile coral reefs protecting Manda Bay and the inland channel by Pate island. It will wipe out the shrimp sanctuary in Dodori Creek, vital to subsistence fishermen, negate the intention of the 60,000 hectare Unesco Biosphere Reserve north of Lamu, and impact both the Kiunga Marine and the Dodori National Reserves — all founded in recognition of the area's outstanding biodiversity.

Raila himself recently pointed out that while 40 per cent of Kenya's land was forested at independence, tree-cover has been reduced to only 1.4 per cent today — a result, he said, of "unbridled greed, mismanagement of public resources and a severe lack of civic responsibility".

That must also include the cutting of mangrove forest which, in East Africa generally, has proceeded at a rate of 3,000 hectares per year over the last quarter-century.

That work on the site starts at a moment when mankind is facing the most devastating natural disaster in our entire history, though, shows a lack of concern for the future that's almost suicidal. In the Deep Ecology movement we believe that no one has the moral right to interfere with any ecosystem, except in the case of vital human need. That cannot be argued for Lamu port: Kenya already has a working port, Mombasa, which, with modifications, could meet all the requirements of the new one. Any employment the new site offers will scarcely offset the claims of the 6,000 families displaced.

As for development, the argument that "the industrial nations have had their turn and now it's ours", simply won't wash: no rational person would argue that because other countries have destroyed their own environment, we should ruin ours. In any case, the wealth generated by the new port will, as usual, fall into the hands of a few powerful individuals, most of them non-Kenyans.

Here in Kenya, we can be wiser than that. We can refuse to rush blindly down the road of development at any price, following the myth of 'progress' that has doomed the industrialised nations, and threatens shortly to engulf the entire Earth.

We can go instead for a sustainable economy based on appropriate technology and renewable resources. We can recognise that our true wealth comes not from the man-made world but from the biosphere. A sustainable shrimp fishery, after all, is of far more enduring value than an oil refinery: you can go on eating shrimps long after the oil has run out.

Asher is an internationally known writer, award-winning explorer and deep ecologist. He has written 20 books, translated into 15 languages and he is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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2 Responses to Michael Asher: Kenya is better off without Lamu port - The Star

Anonymous said...

The proposal for this port is a complete joke. Not only the prawns we get but the whole coral reef of Manda Toto will be a door way for ships, at present it is where all the tourist dhows go to take guests snorkeling. That will be the first to go with the dredging.

Lamu people being employed in good positions, I don't think so.

Lamu is the 'jewel of Kenya' and this port will instantly ruin that. Prostitution, alcoholism will filter into the culture and 1 accident and the coast will be destroyed.

It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Anonymous said...

Karmic kudos to the author of this article! I am a Canadian traveler/teacher/environmentalist/friend of GAIA and Mother AFRIKA and this article is an imperative truth. I discovered LAMU TAMU!(tamu means 'sweet' in kiswahili) 5 years ago, and it's my secret destination of choice for it's somewhat hidden low key identity through the unique cultural beauty of all it's small world charms and it's peaceful(AMANI) people.

Good job on exposing the continuous corrupted flow of pleas and hypocrisy for incoming foreign funds behind the premise of so-called improvements like a port???and the continuous systematic globalization of a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site.
It has already been tainted by over abundant foreign hotels buying out KENYAN lands and killing KENYAN heritage. These foreign/destructive investors, who for the most part, have never even witnessed a Lamu sunset or handcrafted dhow sailboat made from the mangrove trees they wish to eradicate from the coastal jewel of Kenya, is disguised as progress? LAMU or rather AMU (it's true name through the ages) island is a wondrous and absolute archipelago of islands boasting a fragile ecosystem that balances and nourishes the currents and sea creatures in the warm waters of the Indian ocean.
Isn`t it enough that MANDA TOTO and it`s sublime sandy beaches and dunes have been where I swam freely with my KENYAN bros. & sisters, no less than 3 years ago, is now off limits because it has been sold off and exploited for profit!

So much profit with so little respect for KENYANS in their own country, who have lived and flourished on it`s shores and lands since their foreathers and tribespeople can remember. They have been ousted from their own lands by European/foreign investors who have erected their fancy half empty $250-US a night HOTELS/SPAS employing/exploiting local people with insulting employment at pennies a day when they rake in the pesa($)

The islands population`s main lifeforce and means to survival with everything from ecotourism, primary food sources (fishing),is dwindling every year and many are forced to go to the big cities and compete for survival. The money machine is never bigger than the big picture unless we allow it- PROGRESS OR PIRACY?


Signed: MZUNGU(White person) with an AFRIKAN/HUMAN heart- G.M.