Why LAPSSET is a nightmare for Lamu’s fisher community

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Lamu, KENYA: The government expects the LAPSSET to have impact on the livelihoods of 166 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other East African countries.

With the intervening discovery of economically viable oil deposits in Lokichar,Turkana along the LAPSSET corridor, the proposed refinery and oil based infrastructure will automatically be able to refine oil mined from Turkana.

It has been suggested that the Lamu basin has a potential of generating up to 3.7 billion barrels of oil.

It’s therefore easy to see the significance of the oil industry development to the LAPSSET and is therefore the main driving point for the LAPSSET project.

However there have been revelations of a lack of awareness of the existing frameworks on sustainable development by key stakeholders, as well as the host community and a failure by the government to domesticate,harmonize,enact and implement some of these frameworks, according to stakeholders of the fishing industry in Lamu.

According the Lamus director for Fisheries Simon Komu,the building and operations of the port will necessitate the cessation of traditional fishing practices in some of the channels heavily relied on by fishermen in the region.

Traditional fishing waters will have to be closed off to a significant number of artisanal fisher persons who currently depend on the channel for their livelihood.

Komu says artisanal fisher men will now be forced to abandon their trade on the safer channels and will now have to struggle and cope with the risky demands in the high seas.

He argues that it will be impossible for the fisher fork to survive the high seas with the simple fishing machinery.

“Bigger and more powerful boats will now be required for excursions into the deep sea.However,the cost of such machinery will automatically be impossible for many to acquire. The trade will slowly die away,”said Komu.

Its however notable that the government has not been forthcoming about any plans to to cushion the fisher persons of Lamu from the economic and social fall-out that will result from this development.

Fishermen have tried to seek compensation for the impending loss of their traditional fishing avenues without much success.

Komu says the prevailing assumption is that industrialization will attract such infrastructural development as to catalyze local job creation.

He however says the capacity of the Lamu fisher fork to adapt to the beckoning industrial economy is slim due to poor access to education and skills development over the years.

“Currently, the government is implicitly premised on the large-scale conversion of the local fisher fork who are mainly unskilled labourers,to power the anticipated industrial revolution. This is inadequate. The people of Lamu have expressed their desire to participate fully at the forefront of local development,”said Komu.

Many are of the feeling the government has not been categorical about practical plans to prepare the local labor force to anticipate and adjust accordingly.

The major argument is that there is no known road map on equipping local laborers with vocational and higher technical skills for the purpose of ensuring that the scheme yields jobs that are both qualitatively and quantitatively adequate.

Komu says there is need for both the county and national governments to put in place mechanisms that support the fishing trade through the establishment of facilitative infrastructure such as fish cooling plants, canning factories, good roads and many more.

Abdalla Haji of the Ministry of Fisheries, Livestock and Cooperative development in Lamu, says there is need for the government and non-state actors to develop technical capacities and boost the financial capabilities of fisher persons in the county.

This is to enable them adjust to more stringent fishing methods in the event that they are forced to relocate from the more sheltered fishing zones to the open sea.

Haji says the government ought to ensure the protection of national fishing zones by gazzetting in order to protect fisheries resources from decimation by indiscriminate industrial and shipping activities in order to allow the local fishermen to access habitual marine easements for purposes of fishing.

“It will only be possible to protect the fishing industry in Lamu if all the fishing zones are gazetted. That way, whatever happens, we can at least be sure that fishermen will still be able to conduct their work with less intrusion,”said Haji.

In addition, the government should also facilitate the reclamation of community boat landing sites many of whom he said had been privatized.

The stakeholders are of the opinion that, rather than displace the fisheries sector, oil revenues should be employed towards exploiting the currently under-utilized fishing zones of up to 200NM in Kenya’s territorial waters.

They strongly believe that even with the LAPSSET fully operational, there is need for strong mechanisms that will protect other sources of livelihood relied on by the Lamu,which is the host county and that since not every local will directly benefit from the port, there is need to tread carefully and ensure the LAPSSET’s impact on other revenue generating trade in the region is minimal or absent.

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