Exploring community engagement with mega infrastructure project LAPSSET in East Africa


Bringing together elders, activists, country government officials as well as LAPSSET regional managers for one of the first times, researchers from the School of Global Studies organized a workshop on the LAPSSET corridor in Garissa, Northern Kenya, on 14 November 2022. LAPSSET is one of the largest infrastructure projects in East Africa and will have major impact on communities and environment.

“The LAPSSET corridor is like an octopus: many legs, always moving. The moment you think you got a hold on such a big thing, it’s already gone.”

That’s how a Somali elder from Bodhei in the borderlands between Lamu and Garissa counties pictures the community experience of engaging with one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in East Africa. Though a somewhat uncommon imagery to describe a rigid infrastructure project hammering roads and pipeline into the semi-arid landscapes of Northern Kenya, for many communities it captures the ways in which the project has been communicated by the government. The authorities often acted elusively; non-committed to the communities’ concerns until the day security authorities turned up clearing the way for the bulldozers.

Benard Musembi Kilaka during the workshop in Garissa, Northern Kenya.
Photo: Jan Bachmann

Unsurprisingly, such practices engendered both wide-spread resentment and a variety of community responses, some more successful than others. Exploring how communities engage in contestations around a megaproject is at the heart of Benard Musembi Kilaka’s PhD thesis. On November 14, Ben shared and discussed the findings of his thesis with community and civil society stakeholders from across the North of Kenya during a workshop organized through the VR/Formas project  “Controversial corridor – contestations along the LAPSSET infrastructure corridor in Kenya”, in Garissa.

Hosted by the project team (Hussein Mahmoud from USIU Nairobi and Jan Bachmann, Per Knutsson and Benard Musembi Kilaka from the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg), this workshop was one of the first bringing together elders, activists, county government official as well as LAPSSET regional managers from communities along the corridor from Turkana in the Northwest to Lamu at the Indian Ocean. 30 participants deliberated about their encounters with the corridor, shared experiences about different community responses and, most importantly, discussed ways to build alliances across regions to collectively and effectively pursue community claims in relation to megaprojects. The participants appreciated the choice of Garissa, one of the most marginalized and securitized regions in Kenya, as the workshop location. As corridor troubles in Garissa County unfold right now, participants seek synergize their work with their counterparts along the LAPSSET corridor.

TEXT: Jan Bachmann