Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) is a grassroots organization founded in 2010 that works with and on behalf of the communities within the greater Lake Turkana basin to demand their collective social, environmental, economic, cultural and territorial rights. Recognizing the anti-patriarchal struggle is a vision expressed in all areas of our work.
Through support of friends, family, and community, Ikal led efforts to demand for the protection of Lake
Turkana which was facing destruction from the construction of the Gibe III dam and other upstream
developments on the Omo-Turkana basin, whose impacts would destroy lake Turkana,the peoples livelihoods and our national heritage, which would exacerbate conflicts, increase food security and irreversibly destroy critical ecosystems.
The Gibe III Dam is a 250 m high concrete dam with an associated hydroelectric power plant on the Omo River in Ethiopia. Lake Turkana gets 90% of its water from the Omo River.
Working with and as part of the community, we questioned the intelligence of financiers to
stand behind the controversial dam that was threatening the livelihoods of half a million
indigenous people in both Kenya and Ethiopia. Our efforts bore fruits, with the pulling out of
the European Investment Bank (EIB), which had considered financing the dam's electrical
and mechanical equipment, The African Development Bank which wanted to give a loan for the electro-mechanical equipment of the plant and the World Bank, which dropped out just before pursuing a full feasibility study of the dam in 2008.
While other financiers saw the light, The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) took the bait and approved a loan for the Dam in August 2010. In September 2012, the China Development Bank (CDB) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopia Sugar Corporation for another loan for the construction of sugar factories in the Lower Omo Valley.
Community petition to parliament
Championed by the community and supported by FoLT, Survival International, The
Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank, Counter Balance coalition, International Rivers
and other environmental and human rights organization groups from around the world, a
petition was launched to stop the destructive Gibe 3 dam, which was signed by over 400
In 2012, we filed a case in court challenging the government of Kenya’s move to buy
electricity from Ethiopia, a move which deprived community members living within the Lake Basin off their constitutional rights to life and dignity.
While the court could not prohibit the government of Kenya from entering into further
agreements with the Ethiopian Government relating to the proposed purchase of 500MW
from Gibe III, the court did declare that the community’s right to information was violated
when information on the power purchase and other impacts of Gibe III were withheld. The
court affirmed that the government of Kenya has a duty to disclose all relevant information to
the community. The court called on the government to ensure that no environmental harm arose from the
agreements and projects with the Ethiopian government while attesting to the government’s obligation to protect and conserve the environment and ensure sustainable use of natural resources.
Read the full case here.
Following the ruling, FoLT has continued to demand better management of Lake Turkana, while also wholly pushing for investors, developers and the government to disclose contracts, agreements, ESIA reports and other relevant information on projects within the community to promote transparency and accountability.
Gibe 4 and 5
Since the filling of the Gibe III Dam, which was completed in 2016, water levels in the Lake have dropped by approximately 1.5 meters. With Ethiopia’s plan for two additional dams, Gibe IV and Gibe V, further reduction is expected, with dire harmful effects to the Lake’s ecosystem. While the Ethiopian government holds that the dams will not adversely affect the communities, we continue to push for independent Environmental and Social Impact Assessments to be done that examine the cumulative impacts of the new Gibe dams.
Presented as development, the sugar and cotton plantations in the Omo Basin have not only
led to state-sponsored human rights violations in Ethiopia but, continue to put the
communities living within the Omo-Turkana Basin, both in Kenya and Ethiopia at risk of
losing their livelihoods.
Through abstracting water for irrigation, the plantations are already depleting the Omo river influx into Lake Turkana. As the lake level falls, the water's salinity and temperature increase. These changes threaten the habitat, breeding grounds, food sources for fish stocks and grazing areas along the lake’s shoreline. Increased salinity and runoff containing pollutants from pesticides and fertilizers used on the crops could also increase health risks of
the lake water used for human consumption. The lack of significant and timely intervention continues to threaten our community’s livelihood and identity.
We remain persistent in our fight for the lake, pushing for the stop of additional destructive
projects along the Basin, demanding for the monitoring of the filling of the dams and
following up on international efforts such as engaging UNESCO to maintain the endangered
status of Lake Turkana until both countries show implementable and effective mitigation measures. In our broader sphere of work, our resolve is strong and our fight unrelenting, as we continue to boldly push for our vision of secured territories, an empowered community and sustainable resource governance within the Greater Turkana Basin.