Standing by the numbing sound of hot steam rushing out of pipes, pipes going up and down the hills, we look over the Olkaria valley dotted with steam jets for as far one can see. This once pristine area is now a major centre for Kenya’s geothermal power generation. The company behind it, the Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited or KenGen, has been forcing out the indigenous Maasai population.
Going down into the valley along one of very few paved roads through the area, we pass one power plant after the next and steam jets seemingly randomly coming out of pipes.
These large pipes snake through the grasslands and hills as we approach a road that goes up and over the top of a hill to RAPland. RAP is short for “Resettlement Action Plan”. This vast area, on slopes lined with gullies is dotted with modern-looking grey stone houses with red aluminium roofs. Each house is surrounded by a fence delineating the plot of land associated with it. Each family that was resettled here was given a house: a sign claims that 162 were built, a number that Daniel Shaa, a member of the community, disputes.
Daniel’s complaints are similar to those of others in this community made up of four resettled villages. The homes are nice and comfortable, a big change from what they had in their original villages, but little else is given much praise.
These Maasai come from a world where they lived in close-knit communities with their previous mud and straw huts formed a circle within which families and especially children would spend their days together.
Their houses had separate bedrooms for the boys and the girls and they could have their cows grazing right outside their home. The slopes and gullies make raising livestock nearly impossible in RAPland: cows have fallen to their death. The Maasai of RAPland no longer have cows nearby.
Despite water tanks at all houses and water drinking points, clean drinking water is also hard to come by here. As we stand by talking to locals under the burning sun, a truck slowly comes down one slope and trudges up the next, water leaking from its big tank. This is how water makes it to this community high up in the hills.
The pipes that were supposed to bring clean drinking water to the houses have been broken or washed away, as a number of the roads often are, when flash-floods hit during rainier seasons.
The children’s plight is no less problematic. To get from the edges of the community to the school will take well over an hour for the smaller children, each way. When a flash-flood hits, many are cut off and unable to attend.
Transport is also an issue for the poorer adults.
One widow - a group that was excluded from any compensation during the initial process - explained that as a result of the resettlement she no longer has any livestock.
She lives in a shack she built herself in the community, and earns money by cleaning the homes of some of the members of the community who are more well off. She uses the money to pay for her children’s schooling at the local school and to buy food. For food she has to make her way to the market over 20 kms away. She cannot afford to take the bus provided to the community and has to walk several kilometers across the hill to the main road to hail a free ride with cars going by.
Young Maasai men working as security personnel for KenGen told us their situation is no better - the bus is unreliable and to get to work on time, they have to walk 15 kilometers one way each day.
If these Maasai were to choose where to locate their community, it would not be here. They were not given a choice. The development banks involved in financing the project chose initially to ignore the fact that the Maasai are an indigenous people. They chose to ignore the Maasai’s fundamental right, as an indigenous people, to free prior and informed consent to any resettlement. Instead a resettlement action plan was forced on the community through a deal brokered between KenGen and members of the community it chose to consult with.
Only well after the resettlement took place, two of the main financiers, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) finally recognised that indeed the Maasai are indigenous people.
Today the EIB is trying to push for implementation of a mediation agreement that would help resolve some of the issues between the community and the company. How the mediation agreement will help restore the social fabric of their previously close-knit communities or the loss of their traditional livelihood is yet to be seen.
As if to make things worse, the community is now flanked by two large plots, part of the Akiira project, a new exploration of the potential for geothermal power right on their doorstep that is set to once again disrupt the livelihoods of this recently resettled community.