Sarima Indigenous Peoples’ Land Forum

Defending Our Community Land from Colonial Takeover by Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd.


What is SIPLF?

The Sarima Indigenous Peoples’ Land Forum (SIPLF) is formed by El Molo, Rendille, Samburu, Turkana and other indigenous and pastoralist communities in the South-East of Marsabit County, Northern Kenya, who defend our ancestral community land from illegal privatization by the consortium ‘Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd.’ (LTWP). SILPF was created in order to cancel two illegal land titles, IR Number 63951 (L.R. 28031) and IR Number 63961 (L.R. 280312), issued to LTWP without our knowledge or consent. These titles render us squatters in our own land.

Our communities have lived in harmony in this region since time immemorial. As responsible stewards of our land, we have cooperated to preserve its fragile and extremely valuable biological diversity and ecological wealth. This land is sacred to us; it serves us as a prime dry-season grazing reserve for our livestock. We conduct rite of passage ceremonies and the confirmation of our warriors in the site that LTWP claims to be its private property.

The 150,000 acres (607 square kilometers, or 60,700 hectares) of community land appropriated by LTWP is governed by traditional rules, based on ancestral knowledge, that ensure its sustainable use and the cyclical regeneration of its fragile but rich ecosystems. It is a commons used seasonally by different communities of astounding cultural diversity, settled on a vast region in the South-West of Marsabit County, stretching from Mount Kulal and Karare in the North East to South Horr in the South West, from Loiyangalani in the North West to Laisamis in the South East.

All these communities are affected by the privatization of our community land, and all participate in SIPLF. We pledge to continue defending our cultures, our land and our common heritage from intruders and invaders. We owe it to our ancestors and our future generations.

About Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd.

LTWP belongs to four private companies and three governmental investment companies. The private companies are Aldwych International Ltd from the UK (which owns 30.4% of LTWP), KP&P Africa BV from The Netherlands (24.8%), Vestas from Denmark (12.8%) and Sandpiper (0.4%). The government-owned investors are the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries (12.8%), the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation (12.8%) and the Danish Industrial Fund for Developing Countries (6%). This consortium, formed by governments and companies from former European imperial powers, is trying to take possession of our community land, claiming it to be its private property. We will not allow African land to be colonized, once more, by British, Dutch and Scandinavian governments and companies.

LTWP has obtained loans for almost €500m from the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the Standard Bank of South Africa, Nedbank from South Africa, FMO from The Netherlands, Proparco from France, the East African Development Bank, the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, Triodos Bank and DEG (an entity that belongs to the German Government). These loans are supported by the governments of Denmark (through the Export Credit Fund EKF) and the USA (through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC).

Furthermore, two European governments are financing two projects associated with LTWP’s wind farm project: the access road is being paid by Dutch development aid money (and is already provoking conflicts on the ground), and the transmission line will be financed by a loan from the Spanish government (and built by a Spanish corporation), to be paid back by Kenyan taxpayers and electricity users. An impressive amount of taxpayers’ money is thus being injected through bilateral and multilateral channels into a project with no legal basis, which requires the violation of our rights and our collective dispossession.

LTWP representatives have expressed, in actions and words, their complete contempt for our region and for our communities’ rich environment and cultures. Carlo Van Wageningen, former LTWP Chairman, expressed this poor perception in eloquent terms:

“If you were to see some of the images of our wind site, of our site, I would say it reminds me of the pictures I used to see of the moon. Every hill is a crater, it’s old lava flows and lava rock everywhere, and it is very windy. There is absolutely nothing there, there is no infrastructure, there are no electrical connections, there are no roads, there is no way to host anyone unless you put them in a tent, so we have to build everything”.

Community Organization and Response by LTWP

The Letter of Allotment which privatized our community land was issued in March 2009, but our communities only came to know about it in April 2014, through the effort of activists and the cooperation of some members of the County Assembly. LTWP never disclosed the registration of land under its name. Had we relied on the consortium’s transparency, we would not yet know that our land is now supposed to be their private property.

As soon as we learnt about the privatization of our land, we started awareness-raising and community organization activities. As a result, a lawsuit was filed in October 2014 in Meru High Court, Kenya, to nullify the titles and return our land to its original status as community land. Sagana, Biriq & Co. is the law firm representing the communities.

Previously to this process, in 2012-2013, community members of Loiyangalani raised objections to the hollow self-promotion Public Relation exercises that LTWP was presenting as “community consultations”. As a response, LTWP deployed aggressive divide-and-rule tactics, in the best colonial tradition. They used community members of one tribe to oppose other community members who were demanding more information, more transparency, and a truly participatory and community-based process. These tactics escalated to the point where there was almost a violent incident, which was avoided in the last moment thanks to the involvement of elders. LTWP-induced tensions relaxed after the World Bank decided not to support the project, throwing its viability into question.

During the course of 2014, LTWP obtained sufficient capital investments and loan financing to undertake the project. To prevent or undermine uncomfortable questions, consortium representatives promised contracts and jobs to some local elites. When activists unveiled the theft of community land and filed the lawsuit, LTWP responded again with divide-and-rule tactics.

Through co-opted local elites, LTWP falsely presented the lawsuit, and the campaign to recover community land, as the effort of one particular tribe to undermine the interests of other tribes and extort the company. All this is false: the activists and representatives behind the lawsuit are claiming the land for the interest of all tribes, and not asking anything for themselves. However, LTWP’s divisive discourse, replicated by some local elites, created a climate of tension in some communities.

In late January and early February 2015, dialogues took place to clarify misunderstandings and bring out true information to community members who had believed LTWP’s false information. As a result, the organizing effort was strengthened and made more diverse, and on the 7th of February 2015 it adopted the name Sarima Indigenous Peoples’ Land Forum.

SIPLF operates through community meetings. Communities are the basis of the Forum and guide its strategy and goals. They convene community representatives and mandate them to take legal action on their behalf to defend community wealth. For this reason, a Senator and several Members of the County Assembly are also involved in the Forum. However, the leadership and basis of the Sarima Indigenous Peoples’ Land Forum is grounded at the community level.

Why Sarima?

Sarima (inaccurately spelled as Sirima in LTWP documents) is one of the names by which the large area illegally privatized by LTWP is known locally.

It is also the name of a village (“encampment” according to the company) that the consortium intends to displace without compensation, based on the false argument that “the Project Affected Persons / nomadic pastoralist have customary rights of use to land pastures, however have no recognisable legal right or claim to the land other than use and are therefore not eligible for land compensation” (Resettlement Action Plan, Lake Turkana Wind Power, November 2014).

This brief paragraph encapsulates the colonial-era “terra nullis” mentality upon which LTWP operates, and the reasons why we will not accept their presence in our land.