Op-Ed:

Why the Save Lamu Coalition is Correct to Challenge the Construction of the Lamu Port Megaproject

Without a doubt, construction of the Lamu port megaproject and LAPPSET corridor could be a major catalyst for change and economic growth in Kenya, as proposed in Vision 2030. The decision by the Save Lamu coalition to file a legal petition to temporarily suspend construction of the Lamu port indicates that it wants to ensure that problems with the port megaproject are addressed before construction begins in earnest. This is not only appropriate, but necessary.

With the total cost of the LAPSSET corridor estimated at over a quarter of Kenya's GDP, getting the fundamentals right makes all the difference. Globally, a growing number of megaprojects have strikingly poor records in terms of economic performance and public support. This is true both within developed and developing countries. Indeed feasibility costs are usually significantly underestimated and mismanagement can lead to a net-loss for an economy. The ultimate risk is that the LAPSSET project could end up bankrupting Kenya.

Because of its strategic economic importance, construction of the Lamu port megaproject and LAPPSET corridor and its impacts (economic, environmental and social) must be highly scrutinized by civil society, as well as internally by the government and the media. Development plans must be transparent, detailed and provide for local input of affected communities.

There are calls for speeding up the construction of the Lamu port because of the current oil situation in South Sudan. But the recent history of the project suggests that speeding up the process will lead to increased corruption and failed projects with extreme costs to the Kenyan economy.

Members of Parliament and the media rightly criticized the contract and payment to Japan Port Consultants for the feasibility study, the most expensive feasibility study in the history of Kenya. However, because of the lack of initial transparency, the criticism came after payment and the study had been completed. Trying to fix problems after the fact won't help ensure the viability of the Lamu port megaproject and LAPSSET Corridor.

Lack of consultation with the Lamu communities has resulted in a growing movement of opposition to the port megaproject (and further clamoring from the Pwani si Kenya movement). Meanwhile, local elites incite tribal clashes in Isiolo over land for the proposed resort city. Gathering public support is essential for the projects to move forward.

The government has also failed to follow the rule of law by beginning construction of the Lamu port before the performance of an environmental impact assessment (EIA). This action undermines the legality of the project. It also goes against the spirit of sustainable development (efficiency, equity and environment) that is an essential component of creating long-term employment and economic growth.

The challenges of completing a megaproject are not small. There is a lot that could go wrong. Civil Society and the media must continue to challenge the government to ensure that it doesn't. Continue to demand: show us the detailed plan.

Copyright, 2013 michaeljstarks.com