The project is ambitious and, if completed, would introduce new complexities into the region’s political and economic interactions. LAPSSET will open large swathes of land in the Horn of Africa to development – development that has traditionally been reserved for the Mombasa-Kampala corridor. Indeed, CEO of LAPSSET, Silvester Kasuku, notes that over 60 percent of much of the water and petroleum-rich northern region remains unexploited (RVI, 2013). In addition to these economic incentives, the project aims to: improve access to government services, enhance regional trade and boost economic links; reduce transportation costs; promote peace and security; and, create business opportunities for communities adjacent to the corridor. These promises are made on the assumption that infrastructure-led growth – an agenda that has been promoted by the African Union’s (AU) New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) – is the best policy option for Africa. Yet the success of infrastructure is reliant on the success of complementary policy – at local, national, and, in this case, international levels. In this regard, LAPSSET presents a number of challenges, the most pressing of which are challenges to security, local livelihood and land access, as well as the geopolitical implications of the reorientation of crude oil routes in the region.
Insecurity along the LAPSSET corridor region is particularly troubling. Lamu is fewer than 100 kilometers from the Somali border and has been an ongoing target for violence and terrorism. Since the two-day assault on Mpetekoni, Kenya from 15 to 17 June 2014, which left more than 60 people dead, more than 40 other people have been killed in related violence. Al-Shabaab has taken responsibility for most of the attacks, claiming that they are a response to the Kenyan military’s presence in southern Somalia. Reports from local residents indicate the violence is due to anger over loss of Muslim lands in the district due to increased land speculation and claims of land grabbing by ‘outsiders’ (i.e., political elites, investors) (Aljeezera, 18 June 2014; Standard Digital, 29 June 2014) as a result of increased land values from the Lamu Port and the corridor. Regardless, placing high-value crucial infrastructure so close to the permeable Kenya-Somalia border may invite further attacks.
Security challenges are not limited to Lamu. Cattle-raiding and land speculation across the northern corridor are widespread. Isiolo, site of a future LAPSSET resort city, has already been experiencing decades of conflict linked to land and resource access that has only been heating up as the number of sedentary communities and overall populations grow rapidly (Grenier, et al., 2011). These challenges only become more acute approaching the Kenya-South Sudan border and into Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan where many areas remain volatile, even after the Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005) and the Juba Declaration (2006).
In response to these concerns, Jonathan Lodompui of the Vision 2030 Secretariat suggests that many of the security issues will be resolved by the nature of transport corridors: the traffic and increased mobility of security forces would discourage crime. He notes that many of the problems in northern Kenya are linked to economic isolation and vulnerability. The corridor should provide long-term employment opportunities for those in northern Kenya through direct employment and, more substantially, entrepreneurship opportunities.
Macro to Micro: Engaging local communities
The rapid shift from relative isolation to bustling corridor hosts is troubling for some observers (See: Rift Valley Institute, 2013 and recommended CSO websites). It is feared that the 200-meter wide corridor will threaten local community land and livelihood stability by exposing new regions to land grabs and elite capture. For example, the population of Lamu county is expected to increase from 100,000 to 1.25 million people in the next twenty years. In addition to population pressure, the Ministry of Lands believes port infrastructure could displace up to 60,000 people (Olopade, 2013).
Others are most concerned about land access for vulnerable indigenous communities who may benefit from ‘communal land’ protections but are also likely to lose large swathes of ancestral lands (e.g., Aweer, Bajuni, see: Nunow, 2012; KHRC, 2014). In Turkana, Friends of Lake Turkana Director, Ikal Ang’elei, reflects on changes resulting from oil development and LAPSSET. She notes that communities are not ‘anti-development’ but are instead concerned with the environmental impacts and barriers to accessing resources that may threaten their livelihoods. Specifically, there is concern that the LAPSSET Turkana Resort City would make portions of the lake inaccessible to those who depend on it. A difficult tradeoff exists for communities expecting the benefits that go along with ‘integration’ into the national economy but who desire many of the effects of this integration process to be mitigated or avoided altogether.
In terms of regional integration, the transportation and trade infrastructure between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan is poor to non-existent. Since independence just a few short years ago, South Sudan has been developing rapidly but is still highly reliant on imports from Kenya and Uganda. At present, the Nimule (Uganda)-Juba road is the most convenient way to get goods in and out of the South Sudanese capital, but the Kenyan extension from Moyale (Kenya) – Juba is greatly needed and highly valued as South Sudan turns towards East Africa post-independence. Southern Ethiopia, a long marginalized region, could also benefit from improved transportation and trade infrastructure. However, the regional implications of the LAPPSET oil pipeline and refinery are highly political.
South Sudan was expected to be the main financial contributor to the oil pipeline and South Sudanese petroleum the focus of the Lamu Port and refinery; however, South Sudan already has two viable, yet unreliable, pipelines via Sudan. As a result of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, northern pipelines were shut down from January to April 2013. South Sudan relies on petroleum exports for an overwhelming 98 percent of government revenues (excluding foreign aid) and thus quickly sought economic independence from Sudan to match its political independence. By March 2013, only two months after the shutdown, the Government of South Sudan signed the LAPSSET cooperation agreement with Ethiopia and Kenya.
While South Sudan does not appear to have the resources to finance a southern oil route, new oil development in Uganda and Kenya may change the equation. After protracted negotiations (2006-2013) between the Government of Uganda, Tullow Oil, Total, and China National Offshore Oil Corp. regarding the fate of Uganda’s Lake Albert Basin, an agreement was reached in April 2013 to build a domestic refinery and crude export pipeline from Northern Uganda to the Kenyan coast. This, alongside recent oil discoveries in Kenya’s Turkana region (Tullow Oil), may make the LAPSSET pipeline – and a southern oil route for South Sudan – viable.
If it goes forward, this portion of LAPSSET has substantial geopolitical implications. Sudan is highly reliant on Southern oil travelling through its pipelines to Port Sudan. The 2012-2013 oil shutdown created substantial economic stress on the Sudanese government: austerity measures were implemented, inflation rose rapidly, energy prices doubled, and widespread protests broke out with calls to overthrow Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. In many ways, the LAPSSET pipeline will disrupt any balance of power between Sudan and South Sudan and remove the economic incentive for ongoing peace negotiations, which have already been plagued with several challenges.
Building economic development?
Even though road construction (Lamu – Nadapal and Isiolo – Moyale), the Lamu Port Building, and the Lamu, Isiolo and Turkana Resort Cities are currently moving forward, many components of the project remain behind schedule. While the China Communication Construction Company has won the bid to build the first three berths of the Lamu Port last year, and it is rumoured that Toyota Tsusho has been awarded the oil pipeline contract, little construction is happening on the ground. Considering the slow start, it is tempting to tag the project as a ‘white elephant’, a ‘pipedream’, or the ‘lunatic express reimagined’. It is also not difficult to identify weaknesses in the current LAPSSET plan. However, it is also difficult to argue that infrastructure improvement in East Africa and the Horn would not benefit local, regional and national economies. The central question will be whether the expected and actual benefits of the infrastructure projects outweigh their eventual costs.
Governments and donors alike should be wary of the promise that infrastructure will benefit all or most of society and that economic development and improved service delivery are automatic consequences. Under Kenya’s new constitution and under South Sudan’s Land Act (2009), communities have the right to consultation and appropriate engagement in projects that affect their land. LAPSSET offers a test case for the legal strength of these provisions and the political will of the governments to enforce them.
Upsetting the supposed beneficiaries of the project may weaken the security environment in the region rather than improve it. Indeed, security along the corridor is already tenuous in many areas. While the corridor may provide improved opportunities and better access for security forces, many of the challenges are complex and trans-boundary and, in the case of Al-Shabaab, sometimes having little to do with the location of a road. On a broader scale, LAPSSET will restructure trading relationships in East Africa and the Horn for better or worse. While there will certainly be ‘winners’ for the new trading route (which includes oil infrastructure), there will also be ‘losers’ – both of equal concern for those interested in peace and stability in the region.
Recognizing that such a massive project is difficult to fully dissect in only a few hundred words – please feel free to visit these sites for more information and perspectives on the LAPSSET project.
LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority: http://www.lapsset.go.ke/
Vision 2030 – LAPSSET: http://www.vision2030.go.ke/index.php/pillars/project/macro_enablers/181
NGOs and Civil society organizations:
Save Lamu: http://www.savelamu.org/
Friends of Lake Turkana: http://www.friendsoflaketurkana.org/
Kenya Human Rights Commission: http://www.khrc.or.ke/resources/publications/doc_details/69-forgotten-in-the-scramble-for-lamua-position-paper-in-the-case-of-the-aweer-and-the-fisherfolk.html
Other sites of interest:
LAPSSET Tracker Blog: http://lapssettracker.blogspot.ca/
Aljazeera. “Kenya Mpeketoni attacks: who is fooling who?”. Reported by: Catherine Wambua-Soi. 18 June 2014. http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/africa/kenya-mpeketoni-attack-who-fooling-who
Grenier, Clemens; Michael Bollig and J. Terrence McCabe (2011). “Notes on land-based conflicts in Kenya’s arid areas”, Africa Spectrum 3: 77-81.
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) (2014). Forgotten in the scramble for Lamu: A position paper on the LAPSSET project in the case of the Aweer and the fisherfolk. Nairobi: Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Nunow, Abdirizak Arale (2012). The Displacement and Dispossession of the Aweer (Boni) Community: The Kenyan Government Dilemma on the New Port of Lamu, presented at the Global Land Grabbing II Conference. Cornell: Land Deals Policy Initiative.
Olopade, Dayo (2014). “The infrastructure promise: Depending on a pipeline to bring prosperity to East Africa”, Forefront 48 (1).
Rift Valley Institute (RVI) (2013). LAPSSET: Transformative project or pipedream?: Debating the opportunities and dangers of a transnational megaproject. Nairobi: Rift Valley Institute.
Standard Digital. “Mystery of Mpetektoni attacks deepen as Govenor Issa Timay awaits a day in court”. Reported by: Kipchumba Some. 29 June 2013. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/worldcup/article/2000126371/mystery-of-attacks-deepens-as-timamy-awaits-day-in-court