International Lawyers Project
Understanding the Impact of Green Energy Investments on Indigenous Communities through Focus Groups
Updated: Apr 20, 2022
The International Lawyers Project (ILP) is working to build social capital and equip Maasai communities in Olkaria, Kenya with the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to champion their rights and ensure that they can engage effectively in discussions, debates or negotiations with investors.
With geothermal wells that have the potential to produce more than 2000 Megawatts (MW) geothermal energy in Olkaria, the area has been increasingly targeted by the Kenyan Government and private green energy investors. Thus, a series of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with the local Maasai community members were conducted in order to better understand ongoing threats (such as security of tenure over their land, forced and illegal convictions, disruption to livelihoods and indigenous rights) that were caused by green energy investments.
This photo shows residents from the Kitet village attending one of ILP's focus group discussions to share their concerns and issues with geothermal explorations
within their region.
The data played a significant role in informing the successful radio shows ILP organised from December 2020 through to January 2021, and were also used to engage with relevant stakeholders such as Akiira Geothermal Ltd, a geothermal company. It provided the company with a clearer picture of the impact that ongoing exploration projects have on the indigenous communities. International Lawyers Project utilised this information to draft the training modules that will be provided for the Maasai men, women, disabled and youth community leaders who will be championing the rights of their local communities.
In this photo above, women community leaders from the Kitet village were invited to participate in the focus group discussions organised by ILP. An inclusive environment was created (with women-only sessions) to ensure that everyone can express their opinions.
In this blog, we will share some of the key findings obtained through five of the Focus Group Discussions conducted from November to December 2020. The participants included 15 residents of the Kitet, MaiMahiu Village, and Narasha villages.
The first graph (Figure 1) featured in this blog is about the challenges faced by the communities that were caused by geothermal explorations. The primary issues ranked by the residents were forced eviction, followed by disturbances to livelihood (agriculture) and grazing livestock including a fall in livestock value. Other issues such as being evicted and displaced from their homes and environmental pollution caused by the explorations were also some of the challenges that the communities scored highly.
Secondly, the respondents were asked about the actions they would like to see taken by their government. Residents ranked ‘governments listening to the people’s grievances’ the highest, followed by the communities’ desire for the government to protect their land rights and consulting the community before explorations commenced. Furthermore, ‘governments to urge companies to employ local staff’ and ‘educating the community about the explorations’ side effects’ were all ranked as equally important.
The latter point also demonstrated a common desire from the community members to be fully involved and aware of all the hidden consequences (caused by exploration projects) that could impact their rights and livelihood.
Moreover, It is interesting to note (in Figure 3) while most respondents would like community-based organisations to establish workshops as a way of capacity building, most o the youth community in the MaiMahiu village would also like organisations to protect and educate the community about their land/human rights in light of the exploration projects on their indigenous land.
Therefore, this demonstrates that the current approach adopted by the International Lawyers Project, alongside the Narasha Community Development Group to build social capital and equip the indigenous communities in Olkaria with the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to champion their rights fully aligned with their actual expectations from non-governmental, community-based organisations. In addition, the necessity for such an initiative could be reaffirmed by the communities’ common lack of awareness in terms of their land rights as demonstrated in Figure 4.
In conclusion, these Focus Group Discussions had provided invaluable quantitative and qualitative information (through the stories/experience) from the local communities, which provided a clearer picture of what indigenous communities are currently facing due to an increase of geothermal explorations in Olkaria. This information will continue to guide the International Lawyers Project’s work within the region, and a series of training sessions (mentioned above) for the local community leaders will be conducted during February-March 2021.
Yi Kang Choo – Legal Fellow, International Lawyers Project