We now see what price our government is willing to pay in the name of diplomacy. And i ask what is diplomacy? Is it selling off the right of your people so that the heads of state of the 2 countries can chat over coffee? Is it marginalizing the citizens of your country so that we can have good neighborliness? Is it selling the birthright of the Lake Turkana communities because we think speaking out on a project as it has already began would cause some form of unfriendliness? I don't know what diplomacy is according to my country. But one thing i know is that as citizens of Kenya, the Government of Kenya has a right to protect us. What is the trade off here? The trade off is to sell off the non tax paying Kenyan citizens to get apparently cheaper power, get my word here apparently.
They denied me education, they denied me medicare, they even denied me protection when attacked from across the borders and with all that I survived. Then they saw my resilience and sought more ways to inflict injustice upon me and I fought on, I fought for my survival and that of generations to come. I used what I had and the illiterate knowledge they forced upon me to survive, I adapted to my survival strategies.
Then one day some learned people came to visit me, they call themselves socio economists. They said they wanted to do a study for a development bank on the impact of a dam being built across the border. They asked me questions, and from my illiterate knowledge i told them that I knew for them to have even start a project they were supposed to speak to me, yet they come 3 years later, i believe it is called "Consultation".
Boundaries don't protect rivers, people do. That was the message that filled the air during a week of solidarity for river-protectors at the “Rivers for Life” meeting in Temacapulin, Mexico. The week saw more than 300 people from over 60 countries gather to raise their voices over the threats that face the rivers and those who depend on them. This event brought together dam-affected people and their allies to share experiences, discuss strategies and uplift one another through the struggle. Our amazing hosts the villagers of Temaca – who themselves are in a battle to save their town from being flooded by a big dam – were amazingly welcoming to us all. Despite the language barriers they tried to make us all so comfortable and welcomed, it was difficult to tell that these same hosts who so generously shared their houses and their meals with us were also in a struggle against the El Zapotillo dam, which would wipe out their homes, culture, livelihoods, and unique history.
In that one week in Temaca, I moved from one venue to another, joining discussions and being part of the plenary, sharing experiences and discussing strategies, creating networks that not only support our different struggles but give strength to face the challenges ahead. When sharing meals we engaged in informal discussions of our various struggles; the struggles that bring us together in a movement that tells us “we are not alone”, what we go through others went through. A Portuguese woman’s story of being displaced from her home in the name of development, a dam development that saw her lose her social fabric, a story that brought tears to my eyes, a situation she would not wish on even her worst enemy. Yet she did not succumb to the suffering, she uses her story to give the world the strength and a purpose.
Posters hanging on different walls reminded us of those who have gone before us and were in the struggle; from Chief Kapika of the Himba people in Namibia, to John Muir of the United States. There were so many reminders that this is a broad global movement for the protection of world waters, a movement that knows no boundaries; it is a global movement for the protection of humanity. As I listened to fellow women narrate their stories and their challenges in the struggle, I am able to identify with their stories, being the youngest generation among these strong women, I feel privileged to shake hands and share an embrace with such strong people.
As the days turned into nighst, we gathered together after dinner, and after sharing stories of the struggle we turned down and shared cultures through song and dance, tea and tequila, we got on stage and shared the African energy with our comrades from India, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Honduras, China, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and most of all the people of Temaca.
And now we are back home, we have created new networks, strengthened existing partnerships and made firm the fabric that binds us together, I am filled with strength and inspiration, and as I look forward to Rivers for Life 4 –next time to be held in the mother land. I look forward to sharing the story of my victory, which I know will come, and to listen to stories of more victories in the struggle to protect the World Rivers.
For now, Aluta Continua!!!!
Letter from Lake Turkana Communities
Dear Mr. President, Right Hon Prime Minister,
As we face the daily struggle of survival, extreme drought, increased poverty levels and continuous raids from neighboring countries, we are also witnessing “development” discussions that would see our worsen our problems. We watch as our livelihoods diminish, and our insecurity increase. Shockingly, our own government is a party to this plan. To many people Lake Turkana is a miraculous anomaly in a parched and unforgiving land; the world’s largest permanent desert lake, the cradle of mankind. But to us it is our livelihood, our sustenance, our home. It is our fish-farm; it is the water for our animals, our life, our being. It is a place we identify with pride, and a longtime sense of place. It is home to our ancestors. Though it does not feature much as you read out the sources of foreign exchange but it is our “foreign exchange”.
We have recently featured in the media, expressing our opposition to the construction of Gibe III dam. This dam is being constructed upstream on the Omo River (a transboundary river between Kenya and Ethiopia), to produce and export power to Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti, with Kenya being the main purchaser. Kenya’s involvement gives justification that Ethiopia needs to get funding from donor banks. While we understand our country’s need for energy, we do not believe that this energy should be sourced at the expense of over 300,000 citizens of Kenya. If Lake Turkana’s ecology is destroyed, we are looking at increased salinity, a receding lake, a decrease in fish production, increased hunger and poverty. The past few months have seen a big increase in raids at the border, yet we know there is potential for much worse, and this project will exacerbate the problem. When it comes to the Ilemi triangle a land currently disputed over by Sudan-Ethiopia and Kenya, not forgetting grazing rights of the Ugandan communities, an issue that is still so sensitive to be discussed, yet we deny the fact that current flooding patters at the Omo does diffuse the potential conflicts within this region as it allows for pasture to grow.
Mr. President and Right Hon. Prime Minister: Domestic and International experts have verified concerns about the drastic drop in water to the Lake when the dam is filling, as well as the problems in the plan to allow limited amounts of water out of the dam over time to address Lake Turkana’s ecological needs. Dangers that the dam poses as is currently designed, includes, but is not limited to: retreat of Lake Turkana; increase in lake salinity; destruction of indigenous economies; loss of riparian forest and biodiversity; increase in transboundary conflicts; and hampering of livelihood development. We are appalled that, despite the potential impacts of the dam on the lake’s ecosystem and livelihoods, the Government of Kenya continues to pursue power from this bad dam project, and is doing so without proper consultation with the local communities, in violation of international best practice
Right Hon. Prime Minister, in February 2010, you commented on the inability of Kenya to depend on hydropower due to the increased drought, yet Ethiopia is also subject to drought and climate change, thus it does not seem prudent for the government to invest a lot of time and resources in a huge hydro project that faces so much hydrological uncertainty.
Although we commend both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Government for attempting to meet the power needs of both their citizens, if completed, the Gibe III will be the catalyst to further propagate reduction to the already limited resources, and therefore armed conflict in the region. The Kenyan Government’s agreement to continue with the project with total disregard to our communities is an extreme violation of our human rights. By supporting a dam that will cut off the life flow to the Turkana region, the Government of Kenya is complicit in worsening the precarious humanitarian situation facing Northern Kenya.
As citizens of the Republic of Kenya we request the Government to;
President Mwai Kibaki, Right Hon. Raila Odinga, while we acknowledge and applaud your fight against corruption, restoration of Mau Forest, we would like to request you to acknowledge the effects of Gibe III on Lake Turkana and the lake communities. While we work to save the water tower that the Mau represents, we cannot condone or support projects that will destroy wetlands like Lake Turkana. Mr. President, Right Hon. Prime Minister; are the issues of northern Kenya of less magnitude than other parts of the country, or ARE WE A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE?
It is quite alarming that a couple of Chinese businesses have already dipped their fingers into the controversial Gilgel Gibe III dam project. It is normally not good news when the Chinese get involved in anything in Africa. The reputation that precedes the Chinese in Africa is that they do not care much for the consequences of their projects - as long as they get what they came for. Their entry into the Gibe III fray should awaken all of us who care about Lake Turkana, its environment, and its people as well as the entire Lower Omo basin.
Terry Hathaway of International Rivers first broke the news of the Chinese companies involvement on September 17 saying:
NGOs are outraged after confirmation that the world’s largest bank will finance the destructive Gibe 3 hydropower dam. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is underwriting a $500 million contract awarded May 13 to Dongfang Electric Corporation for the dam’s turbines and electro-mechanical works. Although ICBC has not publicly announced the loan, an official confirmed September 8 by email that the financial agreement between ICBC and the Ethiopian government was signed in July. The funding undermines ICBC’s efforts to build a global reputation as a socially and environmentally responsible lending institution.
Earlier on, Peter Bosshard, writing in Huffington Post had indicated, in August, that China's biggest bank was in discussion with other parties on whether to fund "Africa's most destructive project." Bosshard says:
In May, Ethiopia's government announced that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) would fund a Chinese equipment contract for Gibe 3 with a loan of approximately $450 million. ICBC is China's and the world's biggest commercial bank. Kenya's Friends of Lake Turkana, BankTrack and International Rivers immediately called on ICBC to stay out of the project. "Funding the Gibe 3 Project would seriously damage ICBC's reputation as a diligent, environmentally responsible bank," the three organizations warned in a letter to the bank's CEO.
The Chinese Embassy in Kenya is aware of the opposition by groups led by FoLT. The Kenya foreign affairs ministry is also aware that the Chinese bank is intending to fund this catastrophe and FoLT has asked for intervention. FoLT has prepared a petition that they will deliver to the Chinese Ambassador in Kenya stating the dangers that this project poses for the people of Lake Turkana, the Lake's ecosystem and by extension the people of the Lower Omo basin in Ethiopia, and urging the Chinese government to advice against this funding.
How China as a nation and the Chinese government reacts to the concerns raised by a group that represents some of the most marginalised communities in the world is really a question of whether China cares for the environment and marginalised communities or cares more about economic gain - and world domination. Recalling China's entry into the African elephant ivory trade and the consequent rise in incidences of elephant poaching and illegal ivory seizures - with very little action from the Chinese Government - sends chills down my spine. With this bad reputation among elephant people, China has an opportunity to redeem its image a little by saying no to the Bank's and Dongfang's involvement in the killing of hundreds of thousands of livelihoods - and pilaging of a World Heritage Site.
Will China show more concern when not only the ecology, but also people (after all, it is the Peoples Republic of China) are involved? Personally I hope the Chinese government prevails over the two businesses to abandon the project, just like others have done before them. Come on China, show that you care.
With warm greeting for all you dear friends; Your energetic activities and brave fights warms the heart of any human being who is fed up with dam projects around the world that have catastrophic impacts on communities that live and depend on the natural environment, wipe out livelihoods, exacerbate conflict, lead to historical loss, destroy the social fabric of a people coupled with human rights abuses and environment degradation.
From Kenya, we would like to convey our solidarity with the people of Temaca on this day, the 10th November, when dam affected people and their allies around the world join you in the Day of Action for the Cancellation of the El Zapotillo Dam. A dam which when completed will flood the towns of Temacapulín, Acasico, and Palmarejo leading to a grave loss to central Mexican culture and history along with wiping out livelihoods and destroying strong social fabrics, leading to a loss of identity of a people. El Zapotillo like many destructive dam projects is being constructed on the Río Verde in Mexico's Jalisco state to provide water to the neighboring state of Guanajuato. The project is proceeding without the consent of the communities who would be displaced, lacking the appropriate environmental impact assessment, cultural heritage report and land use permits.
Large dams have forced 80 million peoples from their land in the past six decades. Indigenous, tribal, and peasant communities have been hard hit. These legions of dam refugees are in the great majority of the cases, economically, culturally, and psychology devastated. The people by reservoirs are only the most visible victims of large dams. Millions of people have lost land and houses to canals, irrigation schemes, roads, power lines and industrial development projects that accompany dams. Many more have lost access to the clean water, food sources, and natural resources.
While we stand in solidarity, my heart bleeds for the people of Temaca who gave me a different insight to life since my visit to Temaca last month. I saw love among a people, generosity beyond my imagination, and solidarity in the struggle that was evident among the old and the young. And while I reminisce on the week I spent in this amazing town, and the priceless memories, I cannot begin to imagine the corridors where I shook hands being welcomed to Temaca and where I hugged and kissed comrades goodbye will be flooded once the dam is completed, I cannot comprehend why any sane being would want to condemn a people to a life with no identity from a life full of culture, pride and community.
As our struggle to protect and defend global waters, riverine and downstream communities, our strength in the movement is that “We don't accomplish anything in this world alone ... and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something”
Temaca Viva! La lucha sigue!!!
Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, while speaking at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) on climate change in Cancun, Mexico, asked the developed world to deliver on climate change promises made in Copenhagen during COP 15, including the pledge of $30 billion fast track financing, and the commitments of $100 billion annually by 2020. Odinga also said that we as Africans also have a share of the blame in exacerbating climate change through destruction of our forests.
As the world leaders meet in Cancun and engage in yet another round of hot air, the people of Lake Turkana are suffering. For decades now, their pasture has been declining and their animals have been dying. Rampant and prolonged drought caused by climate change is increasingly making it difficult for these traditional pastoralists to continue with their age old traditions of livestock herding. Many are now turning to fishing, a practice that they previously looked down upon.
Even as they go to fish, their equipment is far too inferior to allow them to really practice commercial fishing that would sufficiently subsidise their dying livestock herding practice. The lake's turbulent waters make it extremely dangerous to practice deep lake fishing using the inferior fishing boats and gear that they currently have and thus the further reaches of Lake Turkana remain unexplored for fish. Some charitable organisations are stepping in to help the people of the lake to practice deep lake fishing. One such organisation is the International Organisation for Immigration (IOM) which on 30 November 2010 announced that with the support of the Japanese government, they were assisting around 450 families in three landing beaches in Kalokol, Lake Turkana, with equipment and boats to enable them take up deep lake fishing. The assistance includes 1 fiber boat for rescue and security, 15 wooden fishing boats and 500 fishing nets.
Such projects are important in order to help transition the communities to more sustainable livelihood practices in the face of climate change. But with the construction of the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopian Omo River these projects are likely to collapse. Already, the lake is shrinking due to climate change. A project of Gibe III's magnitude is certainly going to devastate the already struggling lake - to the point of total dry-out in my opinion. What use will the new boats and fishing gear be if there is no lake to fish in?
As Friends of Lake Turkana, we urge more pressure from the IOM and other organisations that have the interest of the people of Lake Turkana, to cause the Ethiopian government to rethink the project. Ethiopia could benefit from selling electricity to its neighbours but at what cost? There are other ways to generate electricity that do not involve killing the worlds largest permanent desert lake, and its people and ecosystem. A good example is the Lake Turkana wind power project that the government of Kenya is working on - although there have been delays on the project. Ethiopia could also use wind.
The drive to Loiyangalani is fairly smooth till you leave the Isiolo Highway which is still under construction, and then we get on to a dusty rough road which leaves us looking like we were at the back of a truck.
After an eight hour drive, we arrive in Loiyangalani and are greeted by the beautiful scenery of the lake shores, despite the unforgiving environment, the sight is breath taking. We drive on for another 7 kilometers to reach the town and are welcomed by our Eastern Shores Field Coordinator Makambo to a wash to clean off the otherwise rugged look and a hot meal to replenish the haggard bodies.
We settle in to what will be home for the next couple of days, take a bath and we are ready to hit the town, making courtesy calls to the administration offices in charge of the area, letting them know that we have arrived and will be staying for a couple of days, meeting and greeting the people and having various forums within the community. With a go ahead, we met with our partners to finalize the agenda.
Loiyangalani a small district on the south eastern shores of Lake Turkana and is mainly inhabited by the El-moseretu communities; Elmolo, Samburu, Rendille and Turkana. For the El-mosaretu, the lake is simply their life and any threat to this LIFE is met with hostility, fear, and anger but the resilience that they have shown and the unity that the fight for a common cause has strengthened the communities resolve to stand up for their rights and not even for themselves but for the generations to come.
At the community meetings people aired their views, and asked various questions, fear, disappointment, and disbelief in our government’s actions to further marginalize the people and anger filled the air.
“Arai Ekaskout, awei ka esi ngide kang,atojieto kirukit ka esi ngisorok kotere akwap ka ngakipi.Sodi kimomwarata ngide kus anakwap ana emam egielit angalup anatokona kimomwaraa atolomito alongier lokolong kijalakinere.” (I am an old man, and I stand with you my children to fight with you young people for our land, our waters, and our rights. So that your children can enjoy the priceless nature we enjoyed, and live with that nature as we were allowed to) said an old Turkana man.
“Manti gololi gargarun lakene kampen lakahagzata,jiroten abeita nahgabno, ldawa,sukul,shilime,wahatuman beitan kelah,serkal ithoh inokoronta,serkalodan isqabtene bei nahkahatan serkalen inokadabe jiroten ajirotoh shiri be ita nahlakaghate?” (When they make relief food a political good, we have the lake, when we need to pay school fees for our children we have the lake, and when we need medicine we have the lake and the lake provides us with the money to provide for our children, so how can they take that away from us when all these years this government has abandoned and forgotten us, they now want to cross the border and join hands with another government to increase our suffering? –asked a Rendile woman.
We spent the days answering questions at community forums, meeting with our grassroots partners, discussing the protection and conservation of natural resources within the region, and exchanging ideas on community rights and advocacy, as a Samburu woman sold me a necklace at a very cheap price, as she said, “You come to educate us on our rights, so you are my daughter, so I sell for you at a very good price”. And we spent the nights watching movies on our environment, our cultures, and this led to discussions on the influence of our culture within the environment we live in.
On the last night we showed the environment and cultural movies at the Elmolo village, excitement filled the air as it was rare to have such activities in the village. This was an eye opener for me because I saw what role films can play in community education and awareness among a people. And as we wrapped up at the Elmolo village, the elders gathered as they emphasized the need for more awareness creation and need to struggle on, push their agenda, and stand firm in our fight. “Tene ishuje mpaso nemuta lmoolo” (No Lake, No Elmolo), said an Elmolo elder. The pain and anger in his voice so evident that is brought silence among the elders, all deep in thought about development they know would only destroy their lives.
Days flew by so fast, and when we had a chance, we slipped away to the lake and had a swim, admire some ornaments, some relaxation and yet reflection on what it would be like should the dam be completed; the lake recede, the salinity rises to the levels of acidity, the fish depleted, and Loiyangalani like other lake shore towns will be no more.
As the goats are led to the homestead and children walk away going home, we sit and watch the sun sets on Lake Turkana and I reminisce the days spent here, with the children oblivious to the threat facing them, and the innocence in their eyes is a reiteration that this fight for our rights is not over until the fat lady sings, and when she sings, she needs to sing with an el-mosaretu voice. We are a people, a proud people, with a culture and a sense of identity, an identity that goes down from father to son, mother to daughter. We may not be the big numbers that when killed, make the headline news, or when we suffer injustice is a discussion in the corridors of power, but at the end of the day we are a people. The ELMOSARETU PEOPLE.
On the 3rd International Day of Social Justice, Sunday, 20th February 2011, we gathered at Total Petrol Station in the Hurlingham district of Nairobi as we prepared to march to the Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China to protest against the involvement of some Chinese companies in the construction and funding of the Gilgel Gibe 3 Dam project in Ethiopia. As we unfurled our protest banners - most of them written in Chinese - and tested our solitary bullhorn, we were quite energetic and charged; ready to take on the morning sun and take our case to the Chinese. The day we had been waiting for had arrived.
We picked up our banners, bullhorn was turned on, and we started the big march in the light Sunday morning traffic. We and our supporters were relentless in our chants of "We want justice... "justice be our shield and defender" (as sung in the Kenyan National Anthem)... and "our water our life". There was also the classic Swahili phrase chanted throughout Kenya whenever someone takes their grievances to the streets - the all too familiar "Haki yetu!" (our right).
Earlier in the week, FoLT founder and Director, Ikal Angelei had been advised by the Provincial Police Officer (PPO), Nairobi, against marching to the Chinese Embassy but to instead address FoLT grievances through the Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs - a channel that had borne no fruit. It is public knowledge that our attempts to have this ministry take this matter to the Chinese government has not been successful. Anyway, despite the PPO's 'advice', which we interpreted to be a way of derailing our cause, and after internal consultation, we renewed our resolve to march to, and protest outside the Chinese embassy.
At the Chinese embassy, we chanted our protests and waved our banners for close to 1 hour. Security officers arrived in the first 30 minutes of our encampment outside the high steel gates of the exclusive embassy compound. and we continued chanting as they looked on. We were thankful that the new Constitution of Kenya allows us to demonstrate peacefully for any cause. The police would not touch us unless we got violent. There was none in our ranks who was given to violence. The Chinese, however, remained locked in inside the high walls. Occasionally they would peep through the tiny security windows and try to take pictures. It may have been they were consumed by the fear that is borne of the guilt of shortchanging our people. One man however mustered enough courage to open a door and take some quick photos before beating a hasty retreat into the imposing entrance structure. A senior police officer told us that the Chinese had asked him to chase us away from their entrance.
Whether China will listen to us only time will tell. We have delivered our petition before without media attention, but this time we wanted the whole world to know. And several media people were there. That would explain why the Chinese, speaking via the senior Kenya police officer at the site, declined to come out and recieve the petition. We would deliver it later in the week.
Lake Turkana is a vital resource for our people. Without it, livelihoods will collapse. People will die. In addition, the Lake is an internationally important biosphere reserve and a breeding place for some of the largest Nile crocodiles alive, not to mention a resting place for large flocks of migratory birds from Europe. There are three national parks at the Lake - Sibiloi, Central and Southern Islands - and Sibiloi National park protects the Koobi Fora fossil deposits which are rich in pre-human, mammalian, molluscan and other fossil remains and have contributed more to the understanding of Quaternary Palaeo-environments than any other site on the continent.
The loss of this critically important Lake is unacceptable. And FoLT will do anything in its power to stop the threat of Gibe III.