12: East Africa: Kenya and Tanzania, wildlife and human livelihoods
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This chapter describes environmental conflicts in Kenya and Tanzania. Some are again on biodiversity conservation but we also find conflicts on metal mining, oil and gas, biomass, and waste dumping. The main driver is the growth and changes in the social metabolism. We perceive some themes of African political ecology: the presence of pastoralists, the defence of mangroves; the land sometimes held in common, the presence of ethnic minorities, the threat of a “resource curse”, the links across countries by new means of transport, the strong presence of civil society organizations defending wildlife, and the activist journalists. This chapter arouses many topics, one main one is who has the power to impose one language of valuation above others; or how do environmental justice movements in Africa connect to worldwide movements, how do they confront the “resource curse” and ecologically unequal exchange.


The EJAtlas contains many entries from Kenya, starting in Lamu and going south to the border with Tanzania. The dilemma between militarized conservation and convivial conservation presents itself starkly but most conflicts in the region are caused, not by nature conservation but by the increase and changes in the flows of energy and materials, often for export.

Memorial to Vasco da Gama in Malindi on the Indian Ocean between Mombasa and the Tana Delta – new routes to the commodity frontiers of India (Wikimedia Commons, Ruslik0, 2015).
Figure 12.1

Memorial to Vasco da Gama in Malindi on the Indian Ocean between Mombasa and the Tana Delta – new routes to the commodity frontiers of India

Source:  Wikimedia Commons, Ruslik0, 2015

The first conflict we shall look at takes place in the Tana Delta in Kenya (which I visited in 2008), where the protagonists were sugar cane plantations, pastoralists, small scale agriculturalists and the remaining wildlife (birds, hippopotamus, monkeys, etc.) defended by conservationist organizations. This is where this chapter starts, not far from the spot in Malindi from where Vasco da Gama crossed the Indian Ocean towards Malabar (today's Kerala) in search of a precious commodity, pepper. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, the great Indian historian, explained Vasco da Gama's life, uncouth behaviour and colonialist motives.


The Tana Delta and the HANPP 1

As analyzed by Leah Temper (2016), the Tana Delta, on the east coast of Kenya, comprises riverine mangrove forests, wetlands and rangelands. It is also home to Indigenous pastoralist, farmer and fisher communities, whose traditional multi-user livelihood strategies have helped preserve or at least have been compatible with exceptional local biodiversity. The Tana Delta is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. Supporting over 350 species of birds, the core Delta area covers 130,000 ha and is a rich mix of habitats with thousands of wetland birds as well as hippos, elephants, buffaloes and numerous breeding fish and amphibians. Here, an alliance formed between the pastoralist Orma and the NGOs concerned mainly with biodiversity (including international NGOs and personalities) acted against plans for large sugar cane plantations. There was a quadrangle of interests: the pastoralists, the conservationists, the local agriculturalists (Pokomo) and the plantations who kept an eye on the international ethanol market.

Pastoralists and agriculturalists have often been in conflict in many places. The alliance of pastoralists and conservationists in this case was remarkable. The Orma pastoralists in the Tana Delta used to be nomads who occupied the pastures only during some seasons, but they have become more sedentary, having large herds of cattle. Livestock keeping is the basis of p. 236their livelihood. Nowadays, conservation also plays an important role in the area, allied to ecotourism.

Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) ‒ a state organ ‒ together with Mumias Sugar Company Ltd (MSCL) came into an agreement to undertake sugarcane growing and ethanol production in the Tana Delta on 20,000 ha. An EIA study was done for the project but it received major opposition from environmentalists. Nevertheless, an EIA licence was given in June 2008. A court case put an injunction on this project, but the case was thrown out in June 2009. In April 2009 TARDA decided to grow maize and rice because Kenya was facing a food emergency as a result of the drought. Local communities including farmers and pastoralists were evicted from the area to give way to agricultural developments. In August 2010 a new court case was filed by representatives of Tana Delta local communities in the Kenyan High Court. The court case was widely covered in the Kenyan media and a court hearing to consider the injunction was scheduled for December 2010 and postponed until December 2012.

There have been numerous “development” projects focusing on plantation crops in this area, primarily fuel crops such as Jatropha, oil seeds and sugarcane. Titanium ores mining and gas and oil exploration have also targeted the region and arrived elsewhere in Kenya. Of these, planned sugarcane projects represent the largest area (although many are now p. 237defunct), such as the Tarda project (20,000 ha), MAT International and another from Kwale International Sugar Company Limited (Kiscol), of 8,000 ha. Following a court ruling in 2013, all projects were put on hold pending a planned Master Land Use Plan for the Delta that resulted in large part through the advocacy of Nature Kenya and other organized opposition. The Master Land Use Plan was finalized in 2014 but there was no further news of these projects being reinitiated.

The TARDA-Mumias project was first stopped by a court decision in 2013, and in 2016 the project was finally discarded: the alliance between Orma pastoralists in the delta (including their political representatives) and Kenyan and foreign conservationists was successful. In this case, the pastoralists led to a victory of conservation, over plans for an economy of sugarcane for ethanol exports to the detriment of their livelihoods and wildlife. Leah Temper (2016) contributed a novel analysis of this case in terms of the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP), an indicator used by system ecologists that quantifies human-induced changes on the production and harvest of biomass flows. HANPP is calculated by seeing how much of the net primary production (NPP) of biomass flows created through solar energy and current photosynthesis are appropriated by human activity, and how much is left in the ecosystems for other species. Her article (2016) introduced calculations of the HANPP in political ecology by not only studying the distribution of biomass between humans and non-humans, but also (and this is the main point) between different groups of humans.

To make the point clearer let us give a numerical example. Imagine that the biomass potentially produced per year (NPP) from an area without human intervention equals 100 units. These 100 units are used by other species, in other words, are used by nature herself. Some pre-industrial humans appear, and in the form of pastures and/or agricultural products appropriate 20 units of NPP, the remaining 80 units continue to be used by other species. The HANPP is 20 per cent. Human intervention will regularly decrease the amount of NPP (because of deforestation, paving…) but in exceptional cases (irrigation, fertilization) the NPP might increase through human intervention. Let us think of the Tana Delta converted into a fertilized sugarcane plantation, with an NPP of 120. Humans might use 80 of these units for the national and international market for sugar and ethanol, 10 units for the crowded-out local population, and only 30 for the “wildlife”. This would be an analysis in terms of the HANPP and its distribution among diverse classes of humans, and among humans and other species. In a sugarcane plantation with irrigation, biomass production and the proportion of it appropriated by humans would increase, the Orma pastoralists and the Pokomo farmers would be dispossessed, less biomass would be available for local ‘wild’ biodiversity, and a much larger proportion of the NPP would be exported as sugar or ethanol.

Meanwhile, upriver in the Tana, another conflict confronted Pokomo farmers, not with pastoralists, but with conservationists. This was the famous Tana River Primate Reserve established in 1976 to protect the remaining forest and the most threatened primate species: the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Mangabey, both endemic to these forests. These species are threatened by habitat loss and forest degradation. The potential sugarcane plantations would remove more forested areas. In 1996, the World Bank donated US$ 6.2 million on a period of five years to help Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) protect and manage the Tana River Primate Reserve. The project aimed at relocating communities living in the reserve to an alternative site. However, it faced a lot of resistance from the locals who refused to relocate, and therefore it did not provide a solution.p. 238

Conflicts on Energy: Coal and Wind in Lamu 2

Nearby the border with Somalia, the city of Lamu is much appreciated by tourists and is the seat for various investments recorded in the EJAtlas, not least a large port and airport. A pro-industry report (Ochieng 2019) announced:

Though Lamu County is positioning itself to become the next frontier for energy production in the country, companies and investors involved […] are not happy about the myriad of “roadblocks” placed on their path by various stakeholders. The proposed three power projects are namely; the 300-MW Kenwind Power project in Bahari area in Mpeketoni, the 1500-MW Amu Coal Project in Kililana area in the mainland and the 200 MW Zarara Oil and Gas Project in Pate Island.

Among such projects, one was related to imported coal and one to local wind. Coal may be seen in Europe (with the exception of Poland, Greece and still Germany) as an old-fashioned fuel. However, in the world at large coal extraction increased seven times in the twentieth century, and has increased again, at a lower rate, in the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.

Therefore, the bulk of the energy supply in the world is still fossil fuels, and it is growing in absolute terms. “If you check all industrialised countries, coal has been a significant factor in their growth”, Amu Power Chief Operating Officer said. And in Lamu, a beautiful place, as well as in uglier places, there are grievances and claims against both coal and wind energy. First, against coal, with an alliance of local civil society groups, local government and some interventions of outside international NGOs such as 350.org. The construction of the US$ 2 billion, Chinese-financed coal-fired power plant in Lamu was planned for December 2015. However, by 2019, the project was suspended.

In 2016, the Lamu County Assembly rejected an ESIA on the coal-fired power plant. The assembly wanted the project owners to come up with a resettlement plan for residents who will lose their land. The plant was to be set up at Kwasasi by Amu Power Company, which was formed by Gulf Energy, Centum Investments and Power Construction Corporation of China. This was Kenya's first coal project, part of the Government's plans to generate 1,920 MW of electricity from coal by December 2017.

There were several conflicts involved. First, Kenya would have had to import coal from South Africa. Second, the Lamu area is an untouched nature paradise, the population lives from soft tourism, fishing and agriculture, which could be destroyed by the pollution caused by a CFPP. The desalination system from the water cooling might destroy the rich sea life, which is why banners claimed “Coral yes, Coal no”.

The locals did not want the project, but they were not informed. The local governance system had no clout against the multinational corporations. However, Amu faced intense hostility from activists. “Save Lamu”, a community-based organization, led residents in mounting pressure on the county government to halt the project. By 2019, a court decision stopped the project at least for the time being. As reported in QUARTZ by Abdi Latif Dahir in June 2019, Kenyan judges at the National Environmental Tribunal said that officials had failed to conduct a thorough assessment of the plant's impact. The tribunal cancelled the licence issued by the National Environmental Management Authority and ordered developer Amu Power to undertake a new evaluation. The court also faulted the power plant for unclear plans for handling and storing toxic coal ash.

The ruling was a win for environmental activists and local communities. “It really is a great day for the people of Lamu”, said Mark Odaga, a lawyer from the non-profit group Natural p. 239Justice. The judgment dealt a blow to Kenyan authorities, who argued that the CFPP would help meet the country's fast-growing demand for electricity.

The project was another example of Beijing's efforts to push its Chinese corporations to develop CFPP overseas. African countries have welcomed Chinese investment of different kinds: in Kenya itself, the new Nairobi-Mombasa railway has been built with a high degree of approval. After 2019, Amu Power could still apply for a new licence or appeal the decision. Local communities were celebrating the win. “We’re now old, but we inherited a clean and healthy environment from our fathers, and it's our duty to give our children a clean and healthy environment as well”, said the vice chair of NGO Save Lamu, Mohammed Mbwana. By November 2020, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China withdrew all financing because of the environmental and social risks of the project.


Another Lamu energy and land grabbing conflict is on wind energy, one of a growing number of such conflicts around the world (Avila 2018; Temper et al. 2020). The main issue about wind energy is not the property rights on the wind itself but the land requirement to set up wind energy parks. Also, the material and energy requirements to build the windmills, and the length of their working lives before replacement. In the Lamu Cordisons Wind Power Project a conflict arose between wind energy projects (Cordisons against Kewind) and also with landowners complaining about low compensations for “land grabbing”. This started around 2013. Cordisons International intended to implement a Wind Power project in Lamu County. In May 2013, an EIA for the project was submitted to NEMA, to which Nature Kenya's main concerns were the need to carry out detailed biodiversity surveys and set baselines, to adopt avian safe wind farm design and turbine placement, and to develop and implement a biodiversity monitoring framework. However, the EIA was approved without incorporating these issues and implementation of the project began. Land rights are also a potentially conflictive issue in the Lamu region, as the large majority of the population does not have title to the lands they occupy. In 2016, the conflict escalated between two firms, one foreign and one local, Cordisons and Kenwind, trying to get land for wind power projects in Baharini Village in this region.

In an article cited previously (Ochieng 2019), it was reported that Lamu county would advance by energy projects to be an economic and industrial zone spurred by the Lamu port, which would be the next logistics and trans-shipment hub besides Mombasa. Unresolved land issues and environmentalists’ concerns remained a thorn in the investors’ skin. The Kenwind Project ran “into headwinds especially from a fellow prospective company (Cordisons) that has also been seeking land for a wind power project”. Kewind had to deal with court cases brought forward by Cordisons International, a private energy company seeking to be allocated 11,000 acres of land by the Lamu County government in 2009, but denied the rights by the National Land Commission (NLC) because they did not meet the requirement to operate at such a scale. The legal mess was shown by a Court of Appeal application lodged by Cordisons International in May 2018. The firm, despite getting approvals from the Lamu County government, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the NLC, could not operationalize its wind power project. Cordisons in turn accused the NLC of favouring Kenwind and resorted to lodging a flurry of court cases that delayed the progress of the Kenwind Project. Kenwind was hoping that once the Resettlement Action Plan was concluded, with the affected 375 farmers p. 240being compensated, the project would kick off. Kenwind was backed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank.

Kenwind earmarked 3,200 acres of land in the Baharini area in Mpeketoni for the project. Upon completion, the project was expected to generate 90 MW of electricity sold to Kenya Power and Lighting Company under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). However, by 2020 the project was in difficulty on the issue of land availability.

This is a similar case to that of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, in northern Kenya, also found in the EJAtlas. This is taking place on Indigenous ancestral lands of the Turkana, Randile and Borana communities (Loyangalani district, Marsabit County) The Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium (LTWP) planned to provide 310 MW of power to Kenya's national electricity grid with 365 wind turbines. This plan by Vestas is supposed to be the largest wind power project in Africa. There was some opposition to the project, especially from Nature Kenya, due to its environmental impacts. In late 2021 with the project already running, a local court found that the deeds to the land were unlawful though the wind farm will remain standing after the verdict.

Ilmenite for Titanium in Kwale 3

In this section we move south of Mombasa to look at a conflict created by the world demand for a bulk commodity, ilmenite as an ore for titanium. I myself became aware of the world titanium ore boom on a visit to Kwale in 2008 (I used to be an economist ignorant of industrial ecology). Chapter 15 analyzes other conflictive projects on sand mining for metals around the world.

The Government of Kenya allowed the Canadian company Tiomin Resources Inc. to grab the lands of native people for the exploitation of titanium deposits located in the Kwale region and the project was planned to start without an EIA. After years of negotiations, the Government of Kenya approved the project. A coalition formed of local communities and human rights organizations called Coast Mining Rights Forum opposed the mega-project, as it called for the displacement of 5,000 Indigenous Digo and Kamba people and was to contaminate local soil and aquifers with heavy metals. In 2008‒09, the Tiomin company tried to sell the rights to Jinchuan, a Chinese company. The project started in 2013 and led to forced displacements.

In February 2014, it was reported that Kenya did the first shipment of 25,000 tonnes of ilmenite to China, from Kwale Mineral Sands Project, owned by Base Titanium, the Kenyan subsidiary of Base Resources. Rough estimates show that 250,000 tonnes of Titanium ores were to be exported per year.

By March 2019, the company Base Resources was planning to expand the mine. Relocation of local people would be needed. It candidly acknowledged that “despite the company's good work, attempts to expand have been met with constant community hostilities”. Base Resources is an Australian based, Africa focused, mineral sands company with an established operation in Kenya and in Madagascar. By 2021, Base Titanium was pleased, announcing that it “owns and manages Kwale Operation, a high-grade mineral sand mine, located 50 kilometres south of Mombasa”.

Waste Dumping in Mombasa and Nairobi 4

One famous case of urban industrial pollution in Mombasa is the lead-acid batteries recycling factory that impacted on people's and the environment's health. For forcing its closure, Phyllis p. 241Omido won the Goldman Prize in 2015. Using the terminology of the US environmental justice movement of the 1980s, this was a triumph of “popular epidemiology” against environmental racism. In 2007, the Indian company Metal Refinery (EPZ) Ltd. began its operations of recycling lead from old used lead-acid car batteries in Owino Uhuru, in Mombasa. In Owino Uhuru, the people were dying. The smelter satisfied an export demand to India.

There is another impressive case in Nairobi, where one of the largest unregulated landfills causing serious health issues, lies a few kilometres away from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Dandora dump is a sprawling dumpsite, over 30 acres, in the heart of the Nairobi slums of Korogocho, Baba Ndogo, Mathare and Dandora. It opened in 1975 with World Bank funds and was deemed full by 2001. Yet it continues to operate, and people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder come here to make a living from scavenging the waste. This case is a very accurate example of environmental injustice whereby the poor social groups are impacted by waste dumped from the whole Nairobi region, and are polluted with dangerous elements such as lead, mercury, cadmium and PCBs. Yet, it is explained as the best solution for all because the poor people scavenge for materials to sell to the recyclers.

Due to the insufficient official scientific bodies in Kenya but also to political clashes, popular epidemiology was used to prove sickness and mortality in Dandora. No official study or statistics have been undertaken, therefore “lay” knowledge is valid. UNEP commissioned a couple of studies: lead and cadmium levels were 13,500 ppm and 1,058 ppm respectively, compared to the action levels in the Netherlands of 150 ppm/5 ppm for these heavy metals. The Stockholm Convention on hazardous pollution, which Kenya has ratified, requires eliminating these pollutants. The promise to act was agreed by the Government, interested stakeholders and the civil society. Unfortunately, nothing was done. On the contrary, more and more waste is sent to the landfill. The City Council of Nairobi was to decommission the dumpsite in 2012, however, conflict between the council and the Kenya Airports Authority over the relocation of the dumpsite to Ruai brought the process to a grinding halt. The community sees that there will be no easy end to the dumpsite.

The Standard Gauge Railway from Mombasa to Nairobi and Related Conflicts 5

This is a new railway that cuts across the Tsavo National Park (East and West), a great area for wildlife, and impacts on the Nairobi National Park. It is an impressive Chinese investment outside China. Leaving aside its social exclusiveness and its ulterior motives in terms of extractivism and primary exports, it is a relative socio-environmental success. The railway has many advantages, but it comes together with plans for a wider road and herders complain of the new barriers that the railway implies. May 2017 marked the launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, connecting the port city of Mombasa to Kenya's capital city Nairobi. The railway replaces the decrepit colonial Uganda Railway that was built during the British rule in the nineteenth century. Construction, which by 2019 was already underway on phase II of the Kenya SGR, was to extend the railway to the Uganda border by 2021.

The prime contractor on the railway was the China Road and Bridge Corporation. The project is estimated to cost US$ 3.8 billion, with 90 per cent supplied by a loan from the Exim Bank of China and 10 per cent coming from the Kenyan government. Ninety per cent of the workers are Kenyans. However, in October 2014, more than two hundred residents in Voi, located 142 km from Mombasa, halted traffic with burning tyres to demand jobs from the Chinese company.p. 242

The design capacity of the railway is 25 million tonnes per year. The Chinese government and official media hailed the completion of the project as another success of the East Africa regional railway network. If things proceed smoothly, the Mombasa-Nairobi line is to eventually link Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and even South Sudan and Ethiopia. The railway is well seen in the country, as a big political success with a positive effect on the economy. Mombasa is of course the main port city. The port of Mombasa is doing nearly 30 million tonnes per year in cargo traffic.

Indeed, the new line will decrease journey times from Mombasa to Nairobi from over ten hours to five hours, with freight trains completing the journey in eight hours. It also represents the biggest investment in rail infrastructure since 1901. There have been some complaints by conservationists and pastoralists. The new railway bisects Tsavo National Park. The railway only has a few bridges under which elephants and giraffes can pass. Conservationists together with Save the Elephants, Tsavo Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service pressure the government to ensure any future highway will include overpasses. There was a significant increase in elephant deaths from train collisions during railway construction.

The National Lands Commission (NLC) said that the Government would offer reasonable compensation to landowners affected by the railway. Addressing locals at Kasemeni Ward in Kinango NLC Chair, Dr Muhammad Swazuri said it is a public project that has benefits for the East African region. “We are pursuing this land for public use and not as a profitability venture. We therefore cannot offer what private investors are offering for land they acquire here”, he said. Some landowners held protests to say they were being offered too little.

Near Nairobi, the railway cuts through Nairobi National Park, a 117 km2 wilderness where buffalo and rhino roam. There were complaints against this, but Kenya's wildlife service, the land commission and national railways authorities agreed to build long bridges. Paul Muya, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), agreed with the solution. After some months of functioning, herders are known to have broken barriers for their animals to pass, and “vandals” are blamed for taking metals away in large quantities.

Amboseli National Park 6

This case is one of several in Kenya classified in the EJAtlas as a “biodiversity conservation conflict”, where “ecotourism” is also a salient feature. The one described here follows the interpretation of Serah Munguti (of Nature Kenya, a conservationist organization). The guiding line is how to bring together conservation of wildlife and community interests as ICCA, the international network, incessantly promotes and was called “convivial conservation” in Chapter 11. The communities here are Maasai (Figure 12.2).

Amboseli National Park is an Important Bird Area, with over 400 bird species recorded, including over 40 birds of prey such as the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) which uses the site during its migration period. Wildlife tourism is one of Kenya's main sources of foreign revenue, and Amboseli brings much money from park fees and related tourist activities. In September 2005, the President of Kenya directed that Amboseli National Park become a National Reserve. This meant that the management of the park was removed from the Kenya Wildlife Service and placed under Olkejuado County Council. This move downgrading the status of this protected area, having come ahead of Kenya's first Constitutional Referendum in 2005, was seen as an attempt to get the Maasai Community to support the new constitution. But supporters said handing over management of the park to the local council authorities p. 243 p. 244would allow the Maasai to benefit from Amboseli revenue, correcting what they say was the theft of Amboseli 31 years ago, when the land was taken away from the Maasai people.

Many civil societies and wildlife experts opposed the move, terming it illegal. They filed two cases in the High Court of Kenya: first, to challenge the Government's decision to de-gazette the park and, second, to set an injunction on the decision so that Amboseli would maintain national park status.

In September 2010, there was a victory for Amboseli after the High Court of Kenya reversed the order and found the move to de-gazette the Park illegal. Organizations argued that they recognized the importance of encouraging the involvement of local communities in wildlife conservation and the need for communities to benefit from the resources. However, downgrading the National Park to a National Reserve was not necessarily the best way to achieve this objective. Instead, revenue sharing and community participation in the development of management plans could contribute to the success of a twenty-first-century National Park.


Attacks on the Serengeti National Park 7

I could write more on Kenya but there is neither time nor space, and now we move south to Tanzania, starting with a conflict on a road to be built inside the Serengeti National Park (SENAPA). South from the Amboseli National Park around the Kilimanjaro, crossing the border of Tanzania, we would reach Arusha, from where a road might be built west to Lake Victoria. The SENAPA is famous for its wildlife, the wildebeest migrations and, adjoining the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya, houses all the species of big animals from Africa. The SENAPA, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Important Bird Area, is home to over 450 bird species, including three Tanzanian endemics and two globally threatened species, the Grey-Crested Helmet Shrike and Karamoja Apalis.

Again, this is a conflict between conservationists (and some eco-tourists) against the forces of progress. In 2010, the government of Tanzania proposed to develop a highway consisting of a 480-km road to connect two major ports on Lake Victoria (Mwanza and Musoma) to Dar-es-Salaam on the Indian Ocean, with 53 km of the road passing through the SENAPA. This road would take 3,000 vehicles per day (one every 30 seconds) by 2035. Opponents thought that part of the traffic would benefit the extractive industries and would certainly damage unique wildlife.

Map of National Parks at the border between Tanzani and Kenya (A. Grimaldos).
Figure 12.2

Map of National Parks at the border between Tanzania and Kenya

Source:  A. Grimaldos

After conducting an EIA, it was confirmed that the 480-km commercial highway was unfit for wildlife management. Nevertheless, the EIA was disregarded. This raised immense opposition from environmentalists. In June 2011, the government responded by assuring that the 53-km stretch through SENAPA would not be paved or upgraded and would remain a gravel road. Yet, having a road passing through SENAPA, paved or gravelled, would affect the ecosystem through increased road kills of large mammals, disruption of the wildebeest migration route, increased human interference and easy access for poachers, as well as loss of revenue through tourism.

In March 2012, the East African Court of Justice ruled against objections by the Tanzanian government and decided that the case presented against the Serengeti highway could proceed to a full trial. The project did not involve all stakeholders in the decision making, although the p. 245park is a trans-boundary resource. Local populations were to be consulted. By June 2014, the East African Court of Justice, a significant actor, issued a ruling rendering the construction of the highway unlawful. The applicant had been the African Network for Welfare (ANAW).

The Costs of a Gas Pipeline for Exports: Mtwara to Dar-es-Salam 8

We continue with another transport project, in the southeast of the country. Tanzania signed a contract with three Chinese companies on 21 July 2012 to start construction of a 512-km pipeline leading north from Mtwara to the country's capital Dar-es-Salaam, possibly turning Tanzania into a large gas exporter. It caused protests and violent repression by state forces, but was finally built. The project is financed by a Chinese loan as well as grants from the World Bank (US$ 300 million) and the African Development Bank (US$ 200 million). Another major pipeline is planned by the Total company from Uganda to Tanzania (see Chapter 27, EACOP). And gas is a main commodity in the trouble in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique.

The conflict was political (regional versus central interests in Tanzania, and involvement with foreign investors), and it was economic and ecological. The catalyst for the protests was the announcement of the government's decision to construct a gas pipeline instead of a gas processing plant situated in Mtwara. At the beginning, promises were made that a processing site would boost local development. On 27 December 2012, thousands of residents from Mtwara undertook a march protesting the pipeline construction plans. A legislative member and lawyer, stated: “I don’t believe the country is ready to implement the existing systems and laws that will effectively protect our coastal environments”.

During January 2013 protests, around 44 people were arrested in connection with the violence and riots that occurred. When the protesters clashed with police at the end of January, four people were killed and 12 more were injured. On 27 January 2013, protesters destroyed ten vehicles of the District Council, set fire to a court building as well as the district education office and several local officials’ personal homes. On 22 May 2013, street battles and protests erupted again in Mtwara, when residents were not satisfied with the government's handling of the contracts signed for the pipeline project. Police and army forces used teargas and live rounds to shut down the unrest. The country's opposition parties demanded to make public all contracts signed with foreign governments, especially the loans from Chinese government investors. During the May 2013 protests, 90 people were arrested and one person was killed.

In reaction to the protests, President Jakaya Kikwete said that it was unacceptable to call for a stop of the pipeline construction, and affirmed that it “is something unacceptable that national resources can be restricted only to the place where they are found”. The president also reaffirmed the Government's earlier promises to build many factories in the region in order to tackle unemployment. The construction of the pipeline was completed in 2015. Reuters announced that “discoveries off east Africa's seaboard have led to predictions the region could become the world's third-largest exporter of natural gas”.

Map of the Mtwara-Dar-es-Salam gas pipeline.
Figure 12.3

The Mtwara-Dar-es-Salam gas pipeline

Source:  Arielle Landau

Swedish Sugarcane Plantations in Bagamoyo: Land Grabbing for Ethanol 9

Resistance by local villagers who were to be evicted and concern for wildlife stopped the Swedish company Agro EcoEnergy project for sugar and ethanol production in Tanzania. As reported in the Guardian (2015), Per Carstedt, executive chairman of Agro EcoEnergy, dreamt of a Plantation on the north Tanzanian coast. Under his plan, farmers who once depended on subsistence work p. 246would earn wages on a sugarcane plantation or from selling sugarcane to a sugar mill. The factory would process sugar for export as well as ethanol. The fields would be crisscrossed with irrigation canals and treated with a mix of organic and synthetic fertilizer. Within a few years, Tanzania would be the biggest sugar producer in East Africa. “What can a smallholder do if he doesn’t have access to infrastructure, access to market, access to training? Well, he does what he's done for generations – produce the food he needs to survive”, Carstedt said.

In 2006, the company SEKAB signed an MoU with the Government of Tanzania to cultivate 20,000 ha of sugarcane for the European biofuel market. The area targeted by the company is located 20 km from Bagamoyo town. In 2007, SEKAB chose ORGUT, a Swedish consultancy firm, to conduct the ESIA. They found out that more than 1,000 people were living within the project's area and showed some critical issues such as a huge water requirement, the possible loss of biodiversity, the rise in conflicts between communities and the increase of diseases such as HIV and malaria due to the influx of workers. Despite these risks, SEKAB altered ORGUT's conclusions and allegedly submitted a softened version of the ESIA to the National Environmental Management Council, which was approved in 2008. In 2009 SEKAB sold the project to the Swedish company Agro EcoEnergy. The new company revisited the project by planning the production of sugarcane for the local market and the production of ethanol for the generation and supply of electricity. The African Development Bank Group (ADBG) accepted to provide funding for this project on the condition that the ADBG's Involuntary Resettlement Policy and the World Bank's IFC's Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability were complied with by Agro EcoEnergy.p. 247

The company's first Resettlement Action Plan identified 1,374 people to be affected by the project and eligible for compensation. After a year of negotiation, the Government decided to act as if the land was legally occupied and recognized 815 people eligible for compensation. This census didn’t include the Barbaig pastoralists or the illegal charcoal makers. Moreover, the Government's monetary compensation failed to comply with the funders’ standards. For this reason, the company was supposed to bear the costs of providing new houses and land for those living in the area. In 2013, Ecoenergy acquired a right of occupancy for 99 years, but in June 2016 the Tanzanian Government took the decision to halt the project. Action Aid considered this a victory for vulnerable local communities and for the surrounding wildlife.

Jatropha in Kilwa District 10

Another case of benevolent European land grabbing for “green” crops was the failed Bioshape Kilwa Jatropha Project. The Dutch company BioShape acquired a 50-year lease in 2006 for 81,000 ha of bio-diverse land in the Tanzanian Kilwa district at a site west of Lindi, about 20 km inland from Kilwa. It planned to sell biodiesel to Europe on the back of an EU Renewable Energy Directive. Jatropha was seen around the world as a wonderful biodiesel crop that could grow without much water. There were many early criticisms.

Huge tracts of land were cleared, much of it ecologically sensitive woodland. But one of the main investors in BioShape, Eneco Energie BV, pulled out in early 2009. In November 2009, the company ceased operations. Areas of dispute stretch back to allegations of irregularities in the EIA. Other concerns were around food security, people leaving farming to work for Bioshape, poor working conditions and compensation paid for land not meeting expectations. Furthermore, there were allegations that Bioshape was more interested in timber from cleared forests to be exported.

We can interpret what happened in this case in Tanzania in terms of a short-lived world boom of interest in jatropha as a fossil fuels substitute. Jatropha caused many conflicts on access to water and land; it did not substitute fossil fuels.

The Rufiji Delta: Mangroves and Shrimp 11

Another biomass conflict in Tanzania of interest around the tropical world is the defence of the Rufiji delta's mangroves against the shrimp industry. When I was writing The Environmentalism of the Poor in 1999‒2000, I had never been to East Africa. Now I know more about this successful campaign against a large proposed commercial shrimp aquaculture which would have destroyed the largest mangrove forest in Eastern Africa. The Rufiji River is about 600 km long, and the delta is the home to approximately 53,000 acres of mangrove forests, which provide protection from hurricanes, preserve quality of life, sustain many species of land and water flora and fauna, and are also the direct source of livelihood of 41,000 people, most of whom are small farmers and fisherfolk.

In 1997, the Tanzanian Government sanctioned the proposal by the African Fishing Company (AFC) to set up a 19,000-ha shrimp aquaculture site within the Mafia Island Marine Park, which would consist of a hatchery, processing plant, and a feed mill, and would replace a part of the mangrove forest reserve. The business was alleged to produce US$ 500 million a year in export profits from the supposedly 6,210 kg of shrimp per ha per year, mainly for Europe and Japan.p. 248

However, the local people and local and international NGOs strongly opposed this proposal. The advisory body of the Tanzanian Government, the National Environmental Management Council, proposed the rejection of the project as it would have a considerably negative impact on forestry, fisheries, land use, water use and agriculture. The pollution would increase eutrophication, toxicity and acidification of surrounding water resources, and destroy endangered species of mangroves as well as other plants and animals. However, the Tanzanian cabinet chose to ignore these recommendations and approved the project.

In February 1998, the East African Wildlife Society started two advocacy campaigns in opposition to the proposed prawn industry. The first was a mass media campaign, led by the Journalist Environmental Association of Tanzania, where activists travelled to the delta for updates on the project and interviewed local communities. The second campaign was geared to people living in the delta. Forums and open public meetings were held for awareness and sensitization of the local people. All these led to a petition signed by 2,000 resident villagers of the Rufiji delta, suing the Government for not involving them in the decision-making process. Finally, in August 2001, it was announced that the AFC would be liquidated, and the project was halted.

Uranium: A Commodity Extraction Frontier in Malawi and Tanzania 12

Whether it is oil or gas, gold or copper, phosphates or timber, the African continent plays a role as supplier of commodities for the industrial metabolism of rich areas. Uranium is relatively new, from Niger, Namibia, Malawi, and also from the Mkuju river in south-west Tanzania near Malawi. I mention in Chapter 28 the remarkable role of the French CRIIRAD laboratory in “citizen science” research in Namibia and Niger. In May 2012, they conducted radiation monitoring in the uranium mine in Kayelekera (Malawi), exploited by Paladin Africa Limited, an Australian company. Radiation monitoring was done with Citizens for Justice and the local communities in Kayelekera. CRIIRAD discovered hotspots in the environment of the mine and a high uranium concentration in a stream entering the Sere River. CRIIRAD shockingly found out that many tonnes of radioactive and chemically polluting wastes were disposed of on a plateau with very negative geological and hydrogeological characteristics.

The Tanzanian Government welcomed the prospect of uranium mining. The Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM) opened its doors to issue prospecting licences in 2005. Subsequently, 70 prospecting and exploration licences were issued to companies and individuals. Among those companies were several subsidiaries of the same foreign company registered under different names. Mantra Resources Tanzania Limited was reported (2017) to be developing and making final preparations for the Mkuju River uranium project to begin soon. Similarly, Magnis Resources Ltd (ex Uranex Ltd) was making final preparations in the Bahi-Manyoni-Area in central Tanzania.

Uranium exploration activities by MRTL began in the Mkuju River in 2005 and the permitting process was registered in 2009. Since 2005, concerns surfaced. One of them is the location of the mine partially within the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage Site under the care of the Tanzanian Government and UNESCO. Besides, there are fears of damage to the wildlife in the reserve. Despite protests from local and International NGOs, in July 2012 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved Tanzania's request to slightly modify the boundary of the game reserve for the Mkuju River Project. Consequently, in August 2012 Tanzania's Minister of Environment approved and issued the EIA certificate. There p. 249remain several concerns about the negative impact of uranium exploration due to waste radioactivity. Uranium mining activities can cause diseases such as leukemia or cancer which can show up only 15 to 20 years after exposure. The earth mined cannot be used anymore for agriculture or any other purposes.

This company installed solar power in a boarding secondary school in a neighbouring village. They also provided the village with four hospital beds. Regarding employment policy, those who worked with Mantra Resources reported that they were hired as cheap labourers. Observations conducted by WISE and CESOPE (a local organization) revealed that local people and NGOs in the surrounding project area were deliberately misinformed. At the beginning of exploration activities, villagers were made to believe that works were part of construction of new antennae for mobile phone networks. Local politicians denied ongoing exploration and intimidated NGOs’ concerns on the issue. The Tanzanian Government welcomed uranium mining as a solution to poverty, but the capacities to handle side-effects in terms of laws and regulations, skilled staff, know-how, financial power and institutional factors are low. The communities appeared to be determined to fight for their rights and engage the Government in stopping the activities of uranium extraction. By 2017 it was announced that Rosatom State Corporation, which planned to start mining uranium at the Mkuju River mine, postponed the development of the project.

Map of cases in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique (A. Grimaldos).
Figure 12.4

Map of cases in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar

Source:  A. Grimaldos


Tanzania is a large country, with 945,000 km2 and a population of 57 million, while Kenya has 580,000 km2 and a population of barely 50 million. The growth and the changes in the social metabolism have led to ecological distribution conflicts. The protagonists of such conflicts display several languages of valuation ‒ “eco-compensation” in money terms for damages suffered is only one of them. How does this notion of plurality and incommensurability of values (a foundation of ecological economics) apply in practice to the cases we have seen? Let us reflect on the conflicts in this first African chapter of the book. Which preciosities and which old and new bulk commodities are involved? What steps could be taken towards a political ecology of Africa with “African characteristics”? How do environmental justice movements in Africa connect to worldwide movements? There are “old” commodities involved in these conflicts (coal, copper, hydropower, sugarcane, timber) and there are some which are modern (shrimp, ethanol, natural gas, biodiesel, ilmenite, uranium, wind energy, “ecotourism”). The Agro-Eco-Energy conflict in Tanzania has similarities with the failure of the TARDA/Mumias project in the Tana Delta in Kenya. The resistance to pipelines and the defence of coastal areas are common to both countries. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) is a pipeline that would transport oil from Uganda's Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania to be shipped to world markets. TotalEnergies is very much involved in this conflict (Chapter 27).

This chapter describes about 15 conflicts on mining, industrial energy and biomass. There are conflicts on bio-conservation in emblematic protected areas like Amboseli and Serengeti, and on the defence of mangroves in the Rufiji delta against large-scale shrimp aquaculture. The wetlands created by the main rivers of Kenya and Tanzania are present in this chapter. In the Serengeti the conflict on a road that would cut across it is described, while in Kenya p. 250 p. 251we look at the “pains and gains” from a successful Chinese investment, the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. “Eco-tourism” is also a commodity, perhaps compatible with conservation. We also consider two waste dumping cases at the end of the socio-metabolic processes, involving some recycling: the Dandora landfill in Nairobi and the lead-recycling industry in Mombasa.

If we take up, as I do, Wallerstein's fruitful distinction between preciosities and bulk commodities in the colonial international trade in the world economy since the sixteenth century (Chapter 26), we realize that most commodities in our list are bulk commodities (except perhaps for shrimp: low weight and high price). Oil pipelined from Uganda to Tanzanian ports, and LNG from Cabo Delgado in Mozambique just south of the Tanzanian border are next on the export list. Uranium would be exported in small quantities, but its mining is relatively voluminous. Ilmenite mining swallows up large dunes, one after another.

Regarding value systems, in which units would the balances be drawn, or should we appeal instead to a multi-criteria evaluation? If we take for instance the section in this chapter on the railway Mombasa-Nairobi, the discussion remains in the sphere of money values. What about the dead elephants? What about the damage to children's health from lead recycling in Mombasa? Phyllis Omido's fight was not for economic compensation but aimed to raise awareness of the irreparable damage and to ban the activity. There are valuation contests and one main question in political ecology and ecological economics is: who has the power to simplify complexity and impose one language of valuation above others? Poverty is multidimensional. Money does not necessarily increase freedom – economic development quite often implies loss of territorial rights, it curtails the freedom to customarily use land and water.

Finally, as a conclusion, we can already perceive some other themes of African political ecology: the presence of pastoralists, the land sometimes held in common, the presence of ethnic minorities (recognized by states or not) and the threat of a “resource curse” due to the obsession driven from abroad (from Europe and China) for exporting raw materials, facilitated by foreign investments. Also, the links across countries by new means of transport, the strong presence of civil society organizations defending wildlife and the activist journalists. From Somalia to Mozambique, along this coast there is a rosary of mosques (sometimes called Swahili mosques). They are witnesses to the diffusion of ideas, people and material cultures in the Indian Ocean, to the building of maritime identities and trading networks before the European conquests. Among the most southern sites, the mosque in Dembeni on the small island of Mayotte, a French colony that may come to play a role in the Cabo Delgado conflict.



Deller, R. (2019). Pastoralism vs. conservation ‒ Livelihoods and conservancies in the pastoralist areas, Kenya, Master thesis, Wageningen University.

Threats facing the Tana River Primate Reserve, Kenya (Serah Menguti), EJAtlas.

There are the following entries in the EJAtlas on the Tana Delta: Bedford Biofuels Jatropha, Tana Delta, Kenya; Oil seed farming project in Tana River Delta, Kenya; and the main one: Tarda agricultural farming in Tana River Delta, Kenya (Serah Munguti).


Coal Power Plant in Lamu, Kenya (Pamper Zsuzsa, Daniela Del Bene, Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Shekuwe K., Save Lamu (2020). Industrial and Commercial Bank of China withdraws financing from the Lamu Coal Plant, BankTrack, 16 November.p. 252

Oil and Gas Exploration in Block L6, Lamu and Tana Delta Districts, Kenya (Serah Munguti), EJAtlas.

Lamu Cordisons Wind Power Project, Kenya (Serah Munguti), EJAtlas.

Ochieng, A. (2019). The ‘pains And gains’ of Lamu's mega projects, Kenya News Agency, 12 January.

Lake Turkana Project in Indigenous Territories, Kenya (Sofía Ávila-Calero), EJAtlas.


Omar, S. and Muchai, J. (2019). Base Titanium warns of dire consequences if expansion plan fails, Kenya News Agency, 1 March.

Titanium Mining in the Kwale District, Kenya (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.


Lead acid batteries recycling factory in Mombasa, Kenya (Grettel Navas), EJAtlas.

Dandora Landfill in Nairobi, Kenya (Piotr Barczak, European Environmental Bureau; with George Thumbi, Japheth Oluoch Ogola), EJAtlas.


Standard Gauge Railway Project Phase 1 Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya, EJAtlas.


Amboseli National Park; downgrading to a game reserve, Kenya (Serah Munguti), EJAtlas.


Serengeti National Park and its Highway, Tanzania (Serah Munguti), EJAtlas.


Mtwara – Dar-es-Salaam gas pipeline, Tanzania, EJAtlas.


Agro EcoEnergy land deal, Tanzania (Carla Petricca), EJAtlas.


Bioshape Kilwa Jatropha Project, Tanzania (Patrick Burnett), EJAtlas.


Protest against commercial shrimp farming in Rufiji Delta, Tanzania (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.


Mkuju River uranium mine, Tanzania (Carla Petricca), EJAtlas.

Chayeron, B., Živčič, L., Tkalec, T. and Conde, M. (2014). Uranium mining. Unveiling the impacts of the nuclear industry, EJOLT Report No. 15, 116 p.

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