Cross-scale linkages in geothermal future-making

Geothermal development in Kenya not only contributes to electrification in Kenya, but also has the potential to significantly change livelihoods and future development in the marginalized areas where it takes place. This is especially the case in Baringo, a peripheral and marginalized region in northern Kenya which has been bypassed by infrastructural developments for decades (Greiner, 2016). Geothermal future-making in Baringo is governed by linkages and relations among various stakeholders ranging from international investors such as the KfW and national government actors to county and community representatives (Klagge et al., 2020, Klagge and Nweke-Eze, 2020).

The ‘Energy Futures’ sub-project explores the interaction of these various actors and the resulting cross-scale linkages in geothermal future-making in Baringo County in the Kenyan Rift Valley (KRV). Its main focus lies on investor-community relations because it is through relationships and dynamics at this interface that future infrastructure projects are planned, contested, negotiated, and finally implemented.

The development of geothermal energy ranks high in Kenyan government’s national development strategy and is included in its Vision 2030, an ambitious plan to transform Kenya into “a newly industrializing, middle-income country” (GoK, 2007). The most important national organization in the development of geothermal in Kenya is the Geothermal Development Company (GDC). The GDC was incorporated in 2008 as a 100% government-owned special-purpose vehicle, to take up the riskiest aspects of geothermal development (namely, exploration and drilling) in order to fast-forward geothermal development in the country.


Several rules and laws, such as the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and the Community Land Act, also govern geothermal activities and future-making. The ESIAs provide frameworks for reviewing, predicting and accounting for various positive and negative socio-environmental impacts of proposed projects. The ESIAs testify the sustainability of projects and are also required by international development financing institutions, as prerequisite for providing project financing. Kenya’s new Community Land Act (2016) also plays a key role. It acknowledges customary tenure (which is common the Baringo) and aims to protect community land rights, but also contains loopholes that put communities at risk (Alden Wily, 2018). Overlapping claims of government institutions at national and county level have the potential to further complicate the matter (Orr, 2019).

While these sets of organisations, rules and regulations are in place to balance out interests between investors and the local communities, actual project implementation does not always reflect such balance. This observation resonates current experiences of large-scale investments throughout Africa’s pastoral drylands (Lind et al., 2020). The interests of investors do not necessarily correspond with those of the local communities, and resulting conflicts have the potential to turn into open violence (Greiner, 2020, Mkutu and Mdee, 2020).

So far, geothermal projects are pursued and advanced notwithstanding the existence of some unresolved issues, especially regarding land and compensation. To smoothen relation with host communities, national and international agencies and investors often implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and activities, such as the provision of drinking water for people and their livestock in Baringo-Silali. However, some of these endeavours fail to fully and sustainably address the socio-economic concerns of local communities.

Unfulfilled promises by investors and high expectations of the communities can easily turn into frustration. When unmanaged, these frustrations can result in acts of resistance or even sabotage (Klagge et al., 2020), thereby having the potential to delay or even bring projects to a halt. Our analysis of geothermal development in Baringo-Silali thus shows that practices of future-making are not only top-down processes. Cross-scale linkages are constantly in play, governed by-laws, rules, and practices at various scalar levels.

Article by Project C02, Energy Futures (Prof. Dr. Britta Klagge,  Dr. Clemens Greiner, Chigozie Nweke-Eze and David Greven)



Alden Wily, L. 2018. The Community Land Act in Kenya Opportunities and Challenges for Communities. Land, 7, 12.

Gok 2007. Kenya Vision 2030. The popular version. Nairobi: Government of Kenya

Greiner, C. 2016. Land-use change, territorial restructuring and the economies of anticipation in a Kenyan dryland. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 10, 530-547.

Greiner, C. 2020. Negotiating access to land & resources at the geothermal frontier in Baringo, Kenya. In: Lind, J., Okenwa, D. & Scoones, I. (eds.) Land, investment & politics: Reconfiguring Eastern Africa’s pastoral drylands. Woodbridge: James Currey.

Klagge, B., Greiner, C., Greven, D. & Nweke-Eze, C. 2020. Cross-Scale Linkages of Centralized Electricity Generation: Geothermal Development and Investor–Community Relations in Kenya. Politics & Governance, 8, 211-222.

Klagge, B. & Nweke-Eze, C. 2020. Financing large-scale renewable-energy projects in Kenya: investor types, international connections, and financialization. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 1-23.

Lind, J., Okenwa, D. & Scoones, I. (eds.) 2020. Land, Investments & Politics: Reconfiguring Africa’s Pastoral Drylands, Woodbridge: James Currey.

Mkutu, K. & Mdee, A. 2020. Conservancies, Conflict and Dispossession: The Winners and Losers of Oil Exploration in Turkana, Kenya. African Studies Review, 1-27.

Orr, D. W. 2019. Renegotiating the periphery: Oil discovery, devolution, and political contestation in Kenya. The Extractive Industries and Society, 6, 136-144.

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