What will the future of rural Africa look like? Seminar on land use transformations by mega-development projects and their implications for local communities in Eastern Africa

By Marie Müller-Koné

Two collaborators of the CRC Consortium, Dr. Kennedy Mkutu (Project B03 Violent Futures?), from United States International University Nairobi (USIU-Africa), and Dr. Eric Kioko (Project A04, Future Conservation), from Kenyatta University Nairobi, have collaborated with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the Kenyan National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) and the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) to organize this seminar. They invited scholars working on large-scale land-use transformations in Eastern Africa to present their research results and to exchange their views and perspectives. The presentations provided insights on rural transformations brought about by conservation, oil development, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), and even “mega” refugee camps.

Mega- development projects were defined as “projects which transform landscapes rapidly, intentionally and profoundly in very visible ways”.  Many countries in Africa are experiencing a boom in infrastructure development, large-scale agriculture, resource extraction and energy projects, but also in conservation projects. The first panel focused on the impacts of the LAPSSET infrastructure corridor, which foresees the construction of roads, railways, an oil pipeline, dams and resort cities in the dry areas of Northern Kenya, crossing seven counties where pastoralist livelihoods predominate. The presentations on land claims and land dispossession in Isiolo county in the context of LAPSSET programming by Evelyne Atieno Owino (USIU) and on the social and environmental risks of oil development in Turkana county by Kennedy Mkutu (USIU) and Augustine Ekitale (Turkana county government) highlighted the increasing restrictions on the grazing of cattle-herds due to oil installations and the fencing-off of land. The spurious leasing of communal land to oil companies in Turkana by the county council and the land speculation taking place in areas of the LAPSSET corridor are testimony of some great expectations and benefits for a few related to the new investments. Repeated demonstrations at oil installations, blockades and destruction of property in Turkana appear to be the result of dashed hopes for quick benefits from oil revenues, which will only materialize after oil production has become fully operational.

The question of whose development these mega-development projects are trying to project was also brought to the fore in the presentation by Gerard Wandera (Director of NCRC) on a public opinion poll among Lamu residents on the LAMU port developments (part of LAPSSET Corridor). The results of the poll show that 57% of respondents in areas closest to the LAPSSET developments had a very negative attitude towards how LAPSSET will affect Lamu County, whereas those living further away were to 55% positive about the future developments. Residents from other areas in Kenya, who moved there with finances and eked out a living, were more positive about the infrastructure developments than the original inhabitants, who have lower education levels and less financial means. The speaker attributed a large part of the policy failure of large-scale developments in Africa to this dominance of non-local residents over original inhabitants. The talk ended with the question of how to generate support by local political representatives to achieve the success of these large-scale projects.

Some of the areas foreseen for LAPSSET developments in Northern Kenya were already subject to development projects in the past, which have by and large failed. A presentation by Dr.  Kazuki Kusunoki (Kyoto University) on the ruins and debris of colonial and post-colonial struggle in the area foreseen for a LAPSSET resort city and a dam on the former Isiolo Cattle Holding Ground (LMD), reminded of past policy failures in instituting rational planning of the cattle holding and quarantine area, which was resisted by the Somali pastoralists in the area who wanted to maintain their autonomy in livestock management. It is no coincidence that certain areas are attracting many people and ambitions yet again, and the questions of what the purpose of the area is – whether it is livestock development, grazing of cattle or a resort city – and who are the legitimate owners of the area are still a matter of contestation.

Another area which has received continuous attention by outside actors is the Laikipia plateau, part of the former White Highlands in Kenya, which now hosts some of the world’s largest private conservancies. A presentation on internal security dynamics in Laikipia by Hannah Muthoni was part of a Second Panel, which tackled mega-development projects of the kind which do not immediately come to mind when hearing the term, namely conservation projects and refugee camps. “Mega camps”, a term coined by the presenter by Dr. Naoki Naito (Kyoto University) to denominate refugee camps with a population of more than 200,000, equally transform the landscapes in which they are situated. The Dadaab refugee camp for Somalian refugees in Northeast Kenya, in which he pursued his research in 2010-2014, has created a virtual-material marketspace between Kenyan traders outside the camp and camp residents, which had to rely on mobile phones to order food from outside the camp, as their movements were restricted. Conservancies are another “mega” development that transforms landscapes in Eastern Africa, initiated by Western conservation agencies. Samburu county in Northern Kenya has been covered by “community-based conservancies” in the last 15 years, and Isiolo county is following this lead. Initial research by Kennedy Mkutu (USIU) on conservancies in Isiolo suggests that the motivations by the different Kenyan actors involved in conservation may yet be very different from Western donors who fund conservancy projects. In a pastoralist environment of mutual cattle-raiding, community-based conservancies do also serve security-related objectives, such as guarding cattle herds or protecting communities through conservancy rangers. As the LAPSSET infrastructure corridor will cut through some of those conservancies in both counties, the future of both the infrastructure projects and the conservancies is uncertain.

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