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Reflections from Hells Gate National Park

Jan Mattsson's picture

​​​​​​Jan Mattsson visits Hells Gate National Park, KenyaJan Mattsson, a member of the Inspection Panel, describes his fact finding mission to Kenya and the truism that every case is unique and every case is complex.

I was recently appointed a Panel Member of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, and I am blogging from the Rift Valley, Kenya where I am participating in my first fact finding mission related to a complaint filed by Maasai communities. The project in question is the Kenya: Electricity Expansion Project, which was funded by both the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and has financed the construction of a geothermal plant within the Hell’s Gate National Park.

The project is geared to addressing Kenya’s growing demand for electricity, as only one out of four Kenyans have access to the national grid.  As with all countries, the growth of the economy and social development efforts relies on a reliable supply of electricity. The use of geothermal energy has the advantage of reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and being climate friendly, as well as lessening dependency on hydro-power resources in Kenya.
 

Since 1981, Maasai communities have shared their traditional land in what is now called the Hells Gate National Park area with the expanding Olkaria Geothermal complex. In 2014, they filed complaints to both the WBG’s Inspection Panel and EIB’s Complaint Mechanism about harm caused to them as a result of a new plant, Olkaria IV.  Four villages were resettled in the fall of 2014 due to their proximity to this plant which was causing air, trace metal, and noise pollution.  The Maasai requesters sought out the WB-IP and EIB- CM to complain that their livelihoods and traditional life style had been negatively affected, and that not all project affected people had been adequately compensated. 

During the joint eligibility visit in January 2015, we met with many people from the four affected villages, government officials, managers from the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) as well as officials from the World Bank, EIB and other funders of the project.  Right now, during the full inspection visit we are delving into all aspects and details of the geothermal project, resettlement actions, and requester’s complaints to ascertain whether the two Banks adhered to their safeguard policies and harm was caused.

I have been told that every case is unique, that every case is complex. I am now confirming this truism first hand. We certainly have been hearing varying and often conflicting perspectives of what has transpired with the resettlement plans and what needs to be done. As a newcomer, I must say that I am impressed with the comprehensive nature and scrutiny of the investigation, especially in terms of the extensive document reviews, detailed interviews with key stakeholders, site visits, and input by our expert independent consultants.  

What makes this case unique is that over the twenty year history of the Panel, this is the first time that accountability mechanisms of the two Development Banks are undertaking a joint investigation. There are several obvious advantages to this collaborative approach. First, the various stakeholders don’t need to have separate meetings with each mechanism and can share the same information, thus reducing the reporting burden.  Second, the Panel and the EIB-CM have reduced costs by fielding smaller teams and can benefit from complimentary competencies and mandates.  While the Panel is taking the lead on the overall investigation, the EIB-CM will use its mediation functions to explore short term solutions to the problems identified.  As the EIB-CS’s Deputy Chief, Alfredo Abad, stated: “We are happy to work with the World Bank on this assignment. EIB is contractually obliged to follow World Bank guidelines and the Inspection Panel is highly equipped to carry out the compliancy review.”

We have received valuable collaboration from the requesters, government officials, and the World Bank country staff. This gives me hope that our work will contribute to learning  valuable lessons and providing  redress to outstanding instances of harm being experienced by the affected communities.
 

Photograph courtesy of Jan Mattsson
 
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