Kenya’s country’s Vision 2030 places emphasis on trade, industrial expansion and infrastructure development (Kenya’s Vision 2030). An example of industrial expansion is the nation’s salt industry. The majority of the salt industry is located in the coastal areas where six privately owned salt manufacturing industries are based.
The total area dedicated to the salt industry is over 10,465 ha, leased by the Government of Kenya (GoK) (Malindi Inquiry Report, 2006), and occupying about 40km of coastline. It is a major economic activity in the region providing employment for many residents, mostly as casual workers and a few permanent employees (Ocholla, Bunyasi & Others, 2013), and contributing to the country’s overall GDP.
However, the industry also results in numerous social and environmental impacts. Whilst impacts should be mitigated under Kenya’s national laws, such as the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA), there is a constant challenge of legal implementation, including ineffective responses by administrative agencies. In fact, both Kenya’s National Environment Policy (2013) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) have identified poor implementation as a major key obstacle to environmental protection (Kenya National Environmental Policy, 2013; NEMA Annual Report 2013-2014). Therefore, rather than empowering affected communities, the law is rendered ineffective and, at worst, becomes a threat. Further, lawyers and the judicial system are often out of reach of most rural communities.
In 2014, the salt company Krystalline Salt Limited initiated a process to expand its salt works (EIA Report, 2015) and the following year it was granted an environmental license by the countries environmental agency, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA). Unfortunately, recommendations in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and numerous conditions in the environmental license have been ignored by the salt company.
With NEMA failing to sufficiently monitor the project, affected residents have begun to monitor the company’s actions. Through a collaboration between a local group, the Malindi Rights Forum, and Natural Justices’ Community Environmental Legal Officers (para legals) – with guidance from Namati’s Environmental Justice Program, affected residents are trained on identifying, documenting violations and using administrative complaints mechanisms to obtain a particular remedy. The community’s filing of complaints to NEMA have recently resulted in a legal notice to comply with conditions being issued to the company. This order forced the company to postpone works until those license conditions were met.
Though formal legal channels should never be excluded, the focus on administrative mechanisms provides affected people an accessible point of engagement close to the points of impact. However, a sustained effort in numerous locations will be required to improve the overall response of administrative authorities. Natural Justice’s team of community environmental legal officers is undertaking this work in four Counties in Kenya. It will be collecting the findings of the program and looks forward to sharing these with ACCA members.
* context for the photo: cultural shrine
This is a sacred grove that the project proponent was supposed to preserve according to the environmental management plan. The shrine has now been completely cleared, with only a single baobab tree remaining. The practise was that the worshippers would worship naked, which is now no longer possible given that the area is now completely exposed. The community has not been able to utilise the sacred grove since it was cleared.
Rose Birgen and Gino Cocchiaro are legal researchers with Natural Justice: lawyers for communities and the environment.