Tag Archives: Lamu port

Reporter’s Notebook: Kenya’s Black Gold, ‘Texas Tea’

Kenya’s Black Gold, ‘Texas Tea’

Last week Nairobi hosted the 3rd annual East Africa Oil and Gas Summit at the Kenya International Conference Center ( #KICC ).

Among attendees at the two-day confab were independent exploration and production companies Simba Energy, Milio International, Halliburton, Africa Oil Corp, Tullow, and Horizon Energy. Government petroleum and mining ministers from Uganda, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Madagascar and Kenya attended, too, along with representatives of private security companies that protect oil companies’ infrastructure and onsite personnel.

Seismic studies for oil and gas reserves along Kenya’s coast, as well as discoveries in the Rift Valley by London-based Tullow, indicate that Kenya may soon be a big player in the global energy market. Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Petroleum Davis Chirchir said the country’s recoverable oil reserves in the Rift Basin will likely exceed one billion barrels.

Southern Sudan, by comparison, had 3.5 billion barrels of proved oil reserves as of January 2014 according to a report .

Where infrastructure is concerned, however, experts characterize Kenya as an “immature” player in the oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) market.

A brochure for one international company describes its services as “specializing in upstream, midstream, and downstream operations and infrastructure, often in complex and challenging environments.”

Kenya certainly makes the grade in the “complex and challenging” category.

Be that as it may, Tullow has struck oil and, according to experts, is producing 10,000 barrels/day. However, it doesn’t yet have any means of transporting that oil to the global market. The Cabinet Secretary asserts that Kenya’s Petroleum and Energy Ministry is reportedly “fast tracking” construction of the Uganda-Kenya crude oil pipeline, and promises that a Nairobi-to-Mombasa pipeline will be completed within the coming 18 months.

Gulf Energy reportedly won the tender to develop a 960 megawatt coal plant in Lamu County, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum announced last month. However, the great unknown is not whether the 32-berth Lamu port will be up and running, but when. The Lamu port is to serve as the terminus of the greater Lamu-Port Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor.

Residents on Kenya’s north coast, particularly across the channel on Lamu Island, are concerned about the effects that oil production and the construction of the proposed deep water [facility] might have on the fragile environment and its traditional Swahili culture. Residents in the area rely for their livelihoods on tourism and fishing. (Nearby Kiunga Marine Reserve is a UNESCO Biosphere and Lamu Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). They decry a culture of secrecy at top levels of government, compounded by lack of information, and say these have kept residents mired in a swamp of rumors and half truths since the government began talking seriously about the port project in 2009.

One Dubai-based multinational owns two oil concession blocks covering most of Lamu County and Tana River County. I chatted, on a no-name-in-the-story basis, with its chief operating officer, a tall, poker-faced Texan with more than 40 years’ experience in the oil and gas business. This seasoned COO questions LAPSSET’s financial viability and compares the project’s challenges with those encountered in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system’s constructing, during the 1970s.

“Reserves attached to the Alaska pipeline were 20-plus billion barrels of oil,” he drawled. “So, what we’ve got here at the moment is a discovery that was thought to contain 600,000 barrels, but now we have to build an 1100-km pipeline to get to the coast, at a cost of maybe USD 5-to-7 billion. That’s quite high. I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the [LAPSSET] pipeline. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the near term.”

The COO said he’d put his money on Lamu County’s gas reserves, where exploration is already underway.


But the region’s only concerns aren’t only whether there’s oil and gas and logistics. With Big Oil and Big Gas, there’s always politics in the mix. But in this case, the politics are more than tricky.

The Texan COO’s company had to stop seismic studies after Somali militants slaughtered over 60 people in a small, mainly Christian-populated area of the mainland. “Mpekatoni is right in the middle of our block,” he added, referring to the town that bore the brunt of the bloodletting. But, he says, he’s not worried. “We plan to [resume] studies and exploration early next year.”

A Kenyan politician I spoke with at the summit denied that security is or would be an issue in the area. He described the Mpekatoni attack as a “one off,” “If [insecurity] continues we put Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) to protect the oil infrastructure”. Still, the question remains: Will the company’s presence in Lamu County make the area more or less volatile and vulnerable?
Culture, demographics and environment are serious issues on the table, too.

“If government allows us to handle the local content issues appropriately, it will dampen many problems and frustrations,” the Texan said. “They’re [locals] are gonna have jobs. When we go into the area we always improve infrastructure, they will have better access. It’s a good thing.”

This may prove to be a tall order.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced plans to revoke 500,000 acres, where the port infrastructure will be constructed, for title deeds acquired since 2010.

Indigenous peoples – mainly fishermen and farmers – have already been displaced and not yet compensated. Other residents fear government heavies, mostly ethnic Christian Kikuyus, won’t give any jobs to locals, most of whom are Muslim.

County Fisheries Executive Salim Atwa told me,“We no longer have access to the fishing grounds.” Fish-breeding zones have already been allocated to LAPSSET.

“We need to be compensated,” the chairman of the Lamu Fishermen Association told a local reporter. “We will block any construction until the money is released.”

Although Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Mpekatoni attack, President Kenyatta immediately accused a rival leader, Raila Odinga of being an instigator, with the help of an ad-hoc local militia. The allegations sketch a sort of rent-a-terrorist scenario. Ten days later police arrested Lamu County’s governor, Issak Timamy.

Tensions increased when Kenya’s Inspector General slapped a curfew on Lamu Island residents. Locals say they feel the measure is purely punitive and unfairly singled out.

The already endangered tourist industry is now nearly extinct. Curfew hours restrict fishing activities.

“The [Mpekatoni] massacre took place on the mainland, not on Lamu island,” notes Atwa, and asks, “So why are we being punished?”

Lamu’s governor has, for lack of evidence, since been released on bail. And while the island has been peaceful since the attacks, the Inspector General of Police this last Tuesday extended the curfew another month.

Meanwhile land rights violations in Lamu County continue to grow.


Men playing Bao, a traditional board game, Lamu town
Men playing Bao, a traditional board game, Lamu town


Dhow races Lamu Cultural Festival, 2013. #dhow
Dhow races Lamu Cultural Festival, 2013. #dhow


Turtle hatchling
Fragile eco-system: turtle hatchling on Shela Beach, Lamu Island


Uhuru Kenyatta sheikhs it up while campaigning in Lamu for 2013 presidential bid

Former Minister of Finance, Uhuru Kenyatta, spent time in Lamu over the weekend fundraising in his bid to become Kenya‘s next president. He resigned soon after the International Criminal Court at the Hague (ICC) accused him of playing a role in inciting the 2007 post election violence that resulted in the death of thousands of innocents. Still the accession to guilt doesn’t seem to be stopping him from running for president.

In his last attempt at election into office, Uhuru, the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, reportedly dumped thousands of dollars worth Kenya shillings from his helicopter, which fluttered like confetti onto potential voters below. The scramble for the paper bills alone apparently caused fisticuffs.

Forbes Magazine‘s Africa 2011 edition ranked Uhuru Kenyatta number 26 among their list of the continents 40 top richest individuals. According to Forbes, he owns at least 500,000 acres of “prime land” spread across Kenya. The land was acquired by his father in the late 1960s and 1970s thanks largely to funds provided by the World Bank.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential fund raiser in Lamu (photo, Abdulla Barghash, July 2012)

When not campaigning, Kenyatta whizzed around in his private helicopter to inspect the site of the proposed Lamu Super Port at Magagoni, fifteen kilometers north of Lamu, a UNESCO world heritage site. Locals also reported seeing his helicopter land on Pate island, where a Chinese company plans to drill for natural gas.
He spent part of Sunday playing football with the local soccer team. Kenyatta, who arrived in Lamu Friday with an entourage of over a dozen body guards, stayed at the casually swank Peponi Hotel.

Kenya’s next presidential election is now slated for March 4, 2013 – but that could change.


UK Provides High Speed Patrol Boat to Lamu Administration Police

UK-donated Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) “is a sign of all that is strong between our two countries. It is intended to improve the prospect for peace and security in key regions of the world.” (photo, Abadalla Barghash, 2012)

LAMU, KenyaBritish High Commissioner and Kenya’s Administrative Police launched a high-speed patrol boat in a joint effort to buoy Lamu’s tanked tourist industry. The UK donated craft – a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) – will be based on Ndau island, an Administrative Police Marine Unit base, in the Lamu archipelago to help patrol waters near Somali border.
If the dry-land border is deemed porous, the waters are more so. Maritime piracy is only fraction of the problem. Kenya is now experiencing its own wave of “boat people” -Somalis reportedly spilling into Kenya waters to escape a war torn failed state. The identities of the Somalis is largely unknown, but may range from Al Shabaab operatives, pirates, garden variety thieves or refugees looking for relief, opportunity and soft targets in Kenya. Last month, authorities in Kiunga shot dead two aboard a boat trying to cross into Kenya that refused to stop when approached.
“I am delighted to hand over this high-speed patrol boat to Kenyan authorities, who are working hard to maintain security around Lamu,” said newly-appointed British High Commissioner, Dr. Christian Turner, at a press conference yesterday held rooftop at Lamu’s Sun Sail hotel.
The British government bought the boat from UK’s Hampshire Police for £ 40,000, using funds from Africa Conflict Pool Programme. Fully loaded with two new engines, the total amount for the boat cost £65,000 (USD $ 100, 668 or KES 8,434,000). UK gov plans to donate a second RIB boat to the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) based in Kiunga to patrol waters around Kenya and neighboring Somalia.

In the same boat; embattled hoteliers, Bush Garden owner, Ghalib Alwy (above), Peponi Hotel owner, Lars Korschen, and Manda Bay owner, Andy Roberts, thank Kenya Authorities for their best efforts to make Lamu realistically safe for tourists.

“We are determined to work in partnership against piracy and terrorism to make Lamu safer for everyone,” promised Turner,” including the large number of British tourists that visit Kenya every year to enjoy all that it has to offer.”

Senior Administration Police chief, K. Mbugua (far left), Lamu District Commissioner, Stephen Ikua, British High Commissioner, Dr. Christian Turner, and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Security, Simeon Lesirima. (photo, Margot Kiser, 2012)

These reassurances come in the wake last year’s kidnapping on Kenya’s north coast of British tourist Judith Tebbutt (whose husband, David, was shot dead during an attack at a remote beach resort) and of Marie Dedieu, a disabled retired French journalist, kidnapped from Ras Kitau island and who died while held hostage in Somalia.

These abductions followed by those of foreign aid workers at Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee camp and subsequent grenade attacks in churches and other public areas incited Kenya Defense Forces to launch military incursions into Somalia.

Also present at the press conference and boat launch were Lamu District Commissioner, Stephen Ikua, Senior Administration Police Chief, K. Mbugua, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Internal Security, Simeon Lesirima, who emphasized the need to manage Somalia’s “mass exodus” into Kenya.

The UK government lauded the Kenya authorities for their efforts in combating piracy and attacking terrorism and they are a key partner working on the threat from Somalia.

An early supporter of Kenya military’s Operation Linda Nchi, the UK sponsored the recent expansion of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) authorized by the UN in February for Kenya troops to do work AU troops are also doing. Further physical signs of UK support has been through providing KDF with a high-tech maritime Security surveillance equipment fixed to the bottom of one KWS airplane.

Plans are underway to provide Kenyan security forces with 10 more Land Rovers, 64 sets of night vision goggles, construction of a pier at Kiunga naval base near the Somalia border for 24-hour launch capability of naval and administration police boats, installation of cameras and equipment for surveillance in Kenya military aircraft and additional Kenya Wildlife Service and police service aircrafts.

UK gov has helped Kenya assemble a dream-team anti-terrorist unit and 40 sets of body armor.

The British Foreign Office modified travel restrictions to Lamu two months ago and at yesterday’s boat launch underscored need to further ease restrictions for British citizens to travel to Kenya.

“Magical Kenya” hosts more British citizens than any other African country, about 200,000 each year, and Turner resolves to make sure the number continues to rise.

“More visitors will in turn be good for Kenyan and British industry and jobs.”

The British government is one of Kenya’s biggest investors in bilateral trade estimated at KES130billion per year.

“I would like to see that doubled,” vowed Dr. Turner.

The meeting’s mantra was “There is no development or prosperity without security,” and the High Commissioner was not shy to stress that while tourism is vital to the health of the country’s economy, he takes the security of British citizens – as well as for Kenyans – “very,very seriously”.

Attendees at the meeting – mainly Lamu residents and tour operators – brought up need for security in advance of the development of Lamu’s future super port, a main component of the larger Lamu-port-Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport Corridor (LAPSSETT) infrastructure for export of crude oil.

Protection of the environment and land issues were grazed with promises of managed and sustainable growth and preventing the marginalization of farmers.

Lamu residents raised questions about the cost of maintaining the high-speed patrol boats and whether the boat will end up being used as a taxi to ferry people to the mainland hospital.

Ultimately, said Turner, “a stable and prosperous future for Kenya is for Kenyans to decide, not for British officials to come and tell you about. I am pleased to listen, but the time has long passed since the British government waves its fingers at Kenyans and tells them what to do.”

Admin Police consult operating manual.
British High Commissioner, Dr. Christian Turner, takes a spin in UK-donated patrol boat. (photo, Abdalla Barghash, 2012)

Anti-Piracy conference in Brussels – Royal Military Academy

I gave what I’m told was a great presentation about Somali piracy and “ruthless tactics of tourist kidnaps” at this anti-piracy conference held this time in Brussels.
Hope to share with the experts what happened to our community, how will military forces better protect international waters, as well as get an idea of what security problems to expect with the Lamu Port.
Will the presence of port and corresponding security keep away or attract more pirates? At the moment, I have an image of pirates drifting in their skiffs near entrance of the port like surfers waiting the next big wave.


The Lamu Port – Progress versus Preservation

Lamu Port: Development vs. Preservation?

The multi-billion dollar development project in Kenya could bring much-needed employment and infrastructure, but at what cost to the area’s nature and culture?
ARTICLE | 12   MARCH 2012 – 4:01PM

Lamu, Kenya:
Three African heads of state – Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit and Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi – recently hosted a ground-breaking ceremony in Lamu, a Kenyan island off the country’s undeveloped northern coast.

The purpose of the meeting was to officially launch the construction of a “super-port,” which will be the $5 billion flagship component of a multinational mega-development project as controversial as it is grand.

The proposed 32-berth port will serve as an international gateway for the Lamu Port South-Sudan-Ethiopia Economic and Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), a project which will comprise of a superhighway, a high-speed railway, oil pipelines, and three international airports.

The corridor’s state-of-the-art infrastructure will transport crude oil from South Sudan to China, which buys more than 60% of South Sudan’s crude production, and landlocked Ethiopia. Africa’s newest nation, which seceded from Sudan in July 2011, came away with approximately three-quarters of the former country’s reserves, although little in terms of oil infrastructure. What South Sudan lacks in refining and transport facilities Kenya is now eager to provide.

“This project is expected to play a critical role in enhancing the economic livelihood of over 167 million people in our region,” President Kibaki vowed.

Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga, who also attended the ground-breaking ceremony, proclaimed that LAPSSET would open markets in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “It is literally the road toward the realisation of the African century and the African dream”, he said.

Beyond these collaborative ventures, little is known regarding which individuals, companies and/or countries will be awarded (or already have been) the remaining port construction tenders by the Kenyan government.

China, with its big stake in South Sudan’s energy sector, may be a prime contender. The US is also rumoured to be lending a hand to cash-strapped South Sudan.

Keeping it real
If conservationists – both of the natural and cultural stripe – have any clout, the road to realising this vision may prove bumpy.

The port site lies fifteen kilometres outside Lamu’s “old town” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. Scholars hail Lamu’s old town as being architecturally and culturally among East Africa’s richest and best-preserved traditional Swahili settlements. In 2010, however, the Global Heritage Fund identified it as one of twelve globally-recognised sites as being “on the verge” of irreparable loss and damage.

The report cited development pressure and inadequate management as the primary causes. The proposed port could prove the tipping point for Lamu’s delisting by UNESCO.

At present, the vast and largely empty Lamu Archipelago, covering 480 kilometres of coastline on the Indian Ocean, seems to swallow the Arab fishing dhows that have navigated its meandering channels for centuries. Among the settlements visible from the sea are grass-hut villages dotting mangrove-forested islands.

But within ten years, the mainland will have been converted into what the Kenyan government hopes will be a modern “growth area” replete with oil refineries, high-speed railways, an international airport and a resort city. If projects live up to artists’ renderings, the area will be East Africa’s answer to Dubai, though distinguished from the Gulf’s boomtown by a high tide of vice, chiefly prostitution and drugs.

Residents of Lamu are finding it difficult to fathom that in a short time coral reefs prized for snorkelling and offering habitat to the endangered dugong, a manatee-like aquatic mammal, will be dynamited, the picturesque dhows displaced, and channels dredged to accommodate the daily passage of up to ten Panamax container ships, the world’s largest operating commercial vessels.

No news is bad news
Champions of the port cling to promises that construction and infrastructure will guarantee jobs for thousands, if not millions, of impoverished Kenyans who are already being lured from other parts of the country. Opponents of the port, they argue, are enemies of development and out to thwart realization of the African dream. The pro-port viewpoint was well summed up by Steven Ikua, Lamu District Commissioner who said: “You can’t eat the environment.”

Members of the largely Muslim Swahili community say they have suffered a long history of marginalisation long before the port project began taking hold.

Government secrecy, failure to include local leaders in decision-making processes, violations of law, and, most contentiously, the use of legal loopholes to redefine the indigenous population as squatters has led to the creation of Save Lamu, a local grassroots coalition of civil society organisations.

Local concerns had fallen on deaf ears until community members filed a legal petition in the high court arguing that the Kenyan government had violated several sections of the new constitution with its installation of LAPSSET.

“Lamu people have had a prosperous port and maritime economy for centuries…they cannot oppose the construction of a new modern port,” asserted Mohammed Ali Baadi, the chief petitioner from Lamu Environmental Protection and Conservation. “What they (the Lamu people) oppose is the ‘secrecy’ in which the project is being implemented, failure to implement an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and lack of consultation with the Lamu people.”

Last week, Save Lamu members learned that an EIA had been quietly submitted to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) on March 1, the day before the ground-breaking ceremony.

Bubble trouble
Despite tourist kidnappings in the Lamu area in September and October 2011, land prices around the proposed port continued to escalate as they have been speculatively since inside information about the project was shared.

A politician and real estate agent boasted that, since 2009 when plans for the port seemed to be taking hold, “heavies” from Nairobi’s Harambee House [Office of the President] have been coming in “turn-style fashion” to check on progress of their illegally obtained title deeds.

In 2010, he remarked, wealthy whites, local Swahilis, and politicians were buying up land from the port site all the way up to Kiwayu, near the Somali border.

Another speculator claimed he knew the land rush was on when a committee consisting of local politicians in towns near the port site insisted he quickly buy land near the port site.

Well-connected individuals allegedly got in early, grabbing up property to flip it to incoming speculators or sell to the government. Whipping up the frenzy of speculation naturally created a positive-feedback loop, driving up already escalating prices.

A Lamu landowner residing in the upscale enclave of Shela reported on the condition of anonymity that an acquaintance takes “phone orders” for land he has expropriated, and for which he has manufactured title deeds. “Kenyan politicians have sold their soul and earth in the name of greed and profit,” the anonymous source added.

Kenyan officials’ remedy is to revoke the bogus titles, reverting ownership from private hands to the government.

According to Save Lamu, this real estate will be classified as government-owned, though in such a way as to allow the financial elite to access and utilise it – all the while members of the local indigenous population are still regarded as “squatters” on ancestral lands.

The government claims it is giving title deeds to farmers, but these are for house plots, not for much-needed land suitable to agriculture.

Identify and register
SECURE, a USAID-funded project, is a nationwide programme for identifying and registering community lands. Lamu is its pilot site and focuses on areas specific to indigenous tribes near Kiwayu and Kiunga and the Boni hunter-gatherer tribe near the port site. “The government does not recognise these tribes as land-owners”, says a spokesman for SECURE.

Robertson Kabucho, a spokesman for INUKA Trust, a human rights non-profit founded by Kenyan “anti-corruption tsar” and whistle-blower John Githongo, hopes that land reforms under Kenya’s new constitution will curb further land-grabs.

To help bridge the gap between locals and government, the Ministry of Transport appointed former Lamu county councillor Abdullah Fadhil chairman of the port project steering committee. This body’s job is to collect information from various sectors of the community, for relay to the government.

“Our main mandate is to get views from environmentalists and religious leaders to government leaders,” Fadhil explained.

The Lamu port project has been in the pipeline since the 1970s and residents wonder why launch the port now. Fadhil attributes the timing to “regional pressures from South Sudan and Ethiopia, as the Kibaki government is coming to an end.”

A member of Save Lamu, however, suggested: “It’s an election year. If the new constitution of the port is implemented under county government, then Harambee House heavies won’t have money in the coffer for their campaigns.”

Another likely pressure comes from the north and Somalia. Raids by Somali marine bandits, and a rash of kidnappings they’ve carried out within Kenyan territory, make the prospect of the massive security required by a port of this scale attractive to many. This may produce another visible aspect of project’s multi-national cooperation; as Fadhil put it: “The South Sudanese will not tolerate their oil being pirated every now and then.”

There’s one issue, however, on which all parties to the debate agree: the region around Lamu is in desperate need of infrastructure. Not all residents want a global-scale port, but just about everyone wants ground transportation and logistics. Fadhil notes that even if the port doesn’t pan out, north and central Kenya will at last have highways, more schools and a railroad.

Save Lamu doesn’t disagree, but adds, ”If the grand vision doesn’t succeed, the natural and cultural wonders, like Humpty Dumpty, will be all but impossible to put back together again.”

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About the Author

Margot Kiser
Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. Follow her on twitter.


LAMU PORT ground-breaking ceremony

Kenya’s president Kibaki presided over the much anticipated and often delayed ground-breaking ceremony yesterday for construction of the Lamu port, slated to be the continent’s second largest deep-water port.

The Lamu port is the keystone of Kenya’s ambitious “Vision 2030”, part of a transport and economic corridor — THE LAMU-PORT-SOUTH-SUDAN-TRANSPORT-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORRIDOR (LAPSSET), a multi-billion dollar flagship project under “the Kenya Vision 2030 national development policy blue print”.
LAPSSET is designed to supply oil from South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country, to land-locked Ethiopia as well as open up trade routes between foreign countries and East Africa’s interior.
Located 24 kms north of Lamu town on mainland at Manda Bay, the port will serve as a gateway into East Africa’s interior, especially to oil-rich South Sudan.
According to a brochure given to VIPs attending inauguration ceremony,
LAPSSET is a transportation and economic corridor comprised of the Lamu port, an oil pipeline from port to Juba, in South Sudan, an oil refinery in Lamu, and a railway and roads to South Sudan and Ethiopia, three international airports that will service three sprawling
resort cities.
The construction of the port infrastructure alone – estimated to cost around $23 billion – has polarised residents of the small town of Lamu who rely heavily on tourism and those coming from other parts of Kenya eyeing opportunities.
Three of the thirty-two berths are expected to begin construction almost immediately.
Champions of the port vow that construction and infrastructure will provide jobs for thousands if not millions of the impoverished.
Opponents don’t object to the port per se as much as fear the destruction of the pristine Lamu archipelago, cultural degradation and a potential humanitarian crisis involving the area’s indigenous tribes.

In 2001, UNESCO designated Lamu old town a cultural heritage site as one of the best preserved traditional Swahili settlements in East Africa. Ancient Arab dhows still ply the channels meandering the Indian ocean archipelago. Tourists can pretty much experience the region much as it was 100 years ago.
That, of course, will change when coral reefs are dynamited and removed, dhows displaced to allow passage for ten Panamax cargo and container ships daily.
Residents on Kenya’s mainland, where construction soon begins, have spotted a Chinese construction company surveying for water and the Ministry of Transport has bulldozed a wide swatch of mangrove forest to accommodate a paved road.
Mangrove forests are critical habitat for the fish. Fishing has provided a sustainable livelihood for locals for hundreds of years. Bajuni fisherman from the islands of the same name are also said to oppose the port since they feel the shipping congestion will ruin their livelihoods.

Difficult to tell though whether the celebration portends actual construction or more ado about nothing in advance of presidential elections this December. The Lamu port project has been in pipeline since the ’70s.
Its a reality, a by-stander told me. He was sure because in January president Kibaki and s Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit (with his signature ten-gallon black cowboy hat Kiir is Africa’s answer to a Texas oil tycoon) signed a “memorandum of understanding” stating that the two countries will negotiate a fee for transiting crude oil from south sudan through Kenya and exported to China.

The bystander, who was from Nairobi, scratched his head puzzled by futuristic water-color renditions inside the VIP’s brochure featuring balloon-holding bicycle-riding wazungus in resort cities that looked suspiciously like Dubai.
Save Lamu, a Lamu-based grass-roots activist group (comprised of council of elders and Lamu Youth alliance, among other organizations) objects to the way the Kenyan government has so far moved ahead with plans for the port. Its complaints include lack of transparency in neglecting to confer with Lamu citizens regarding the exact nature of the project as well as a failure to complete an Environmental Impact Assessment, a legal requirement the before awarding construction tenders.
The group complains about the Kenyan government allegedly having handed out title deeds that the group say are not the government’s to give away in the first place.
In a televised speech preceding yesterday’s ceremony, Kibaki gestured that the issues would soon be addressed.
Members of Save Lamu say that security had barred them from attending the port launch ceremony even though they held a peaceful demonstration in town the day before.
Kibaki stressed the importance of the port’s security as it persists through its military incursions to prevent Somalia’s chaos from further spilling into its country.
Heavy security – like entering Village market seven times in a span of 30 minutes – and the confiscation of water bottles emptied and unceremoniously littered on the ground may provide an glimpse into the future of life with a potentially never-ending construction site.
Rumours swirled in a popular Lamu area watering hole I will Mahogany Reef that a company out of Mombasa catered the event for the heads of state, dignitaries and in a separate area for the wananchi to the tune of 24 million Kenya shillings — or $292,000 and change. Apparently, the organisers canceled the lunch after the ceremony went over schedule.