The dam’s construction is now 35% complete with the three diversion tunnels to provide a dry space to build the wall now running, a bridge and preparation for the power station, and digging going on. The Ethiopian Government is seeking international funding from the ADB, European Investment Bank, and World Bank to complete the project.
Kenya is part of this national strategy where KPLC at the meeting suggested committing to purchasing up to 400MW, 21% of the power to be produced, under a power purchase agreement (PPO) that is soon to be created. It is through purchases made as defined under the PPO that Ethiopia will be able to pay back its loans to the financiers, without which there is no incentive to finance the project. Though the discussions at the meeting indicated that PPO is yet to be finalized, it seems like we may not have to wait too long as Mr. Patrick Nyoike, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy called for the opening of champagne bottles to celebrate the anticipated success.
“We are going to do everything in our power to fast track this project,” said Emanuel Nzabanita of the African Development Bank, despite previously acknowledging that there are inadequate studies on the potential impacts on Lake Turkana, which is located downstream of the project site. The project is strewn with several other red flags including the procurement of the contractor, Salini, lack of consultation on the Lake Basin communities, and some illegal detaining of our colleagues in Ethiopia who have assisted with advocacy efforts on the matter.
EEPCo has provided three proposed designs for water outlet during the running of the dam to the Kenyan Delegation that visited the dam site earlier this year, yet to be discussed and finalized. However, most of those opposing the dam are primarily concerned on the infilling period of the dam, not necessarily the pursuit of hydrological power, or dams in general.
The current proposal of EEPCo is supposedly letting out a 25m3/sec of water for “ecological sustainability” during the infilling period, to be increased to 1600m3/sec for a period of 10 days during the flooding period. Considering that the Omo river, upon which the Gibe III dam is located, provides up to 80% of the water of Lake Turkana during it’s flooding period, the environmental impacts on the lake are not to be ignored. Yet Mr. Nyoike was quick to refer to FoLT and other activists against the dam as being “anti-development” and brush me off as I attempted to ask about his evidence on their being no significant impacts on Lake Turkana. Many of those present at the meeting claimed that “the Lake is drying up anyway” when I approached them, despite me pointing out that the natural fluctuation of the depth of the levels of Lake Turkana, which the Gibe III will reduce, has been instrumental in maintaining the ecology of the Lake according to hydrological experts. Mr. Nyoike instead defended the project by calling the researchers “quacks”.
I asked if the Ministry of Environment has attempted to look into this claims to give the government the go ahead. The lack of response, Mr. Nyoike’s disapproval to my presence, and ADBs threats to kick me out of the hotel premises leads me to believe the answer is “no”. There are more questions that remain with no response: Will an extended period of filling the dam be better than filling it in two years? Who from the Government is capable of answering our questions with concrete evidence if the experts we work with are “quacks”? What will the treaty between Kenya and Ethiopia involve and who will oversee it? A feeble attempt was made to cut the topic short through a personal invitation for a one-one-one meeting by the PS of Finance, an appointment which was never made.
I am not against the development of Kenya. On the contrary, I would love to wish away the blackouts that I am frequently given the pleasure of experiencing. However, when such development equates to the loss of livelihoods for over 500,000 of the most neglected communities in Kenya and the loss of a World Heritage Site, then I say “no thank you”, I’ll light up my emergency candle. I will light it not only in tribute to those lives to be lost and affected, but also in protest against the power hungry KPLC.
Can we really sit idle as our leaders sign off yet another natural resource to a foreign power? We now fight to save the Mau based on past misdeed, yet were are not fighting current attacks on Lake Turkana, or even the Lamu port. Similar to the Lamu port fiasco, our leaders have been hypnotized by the promised financial investment and funding of a development project that has put little if any consideration on local interests or environmental impacts. In both projects there has been no community consultation, no environmental impact assessment, and no efforts for mitigation on the government’s side. Instead, the guiding principle of the government has been, “develop at any and all costs.” But by “develop”, they are referring to the confines of Nairobi city and other metropolitan cities while the rest of the country remains in the dark, literally. The new path of the power lines proposed by the team was clearly indicative of this as it winds around from the project site in Ethiopia to Longonot station with no power lines for the areas around the Lake Basin.
The Government of Kenya’s total disregard for human lives and pursuit for power by signing of an agreement with the Ethiopian Government despite its constitutional mandate to protect the rights and livelihoods of all Kenyans is yet another indication of the administration’s inadequacies in governance. Until it takes adequate measures to look into the environmental impacts of the dam on the lake, and then acts hastily to mitigate the impacts and hear the cries of the locals, they are as good as one of the cattle rustlers holding a gun to a young child’s’ head simply to earn an additional cow to their already full herd.