The Olkaria projects: A case study of geothermal energy and indigenous communities in Kenya

This report by Ben R. Ole Koissaba is part of the project “The Road from Paris to Sustainable Development: Effectively Integrating Human Rights and Gender Equality into EU Climate Actions”.

Climate change has a major impact on human rights, such as the right to life, the right to safe and adequate water and food, the right to health and adequate housing, and has significant repercussions on vulnerable groups such as women and children. This is especially so if energy projects being undertaken by national governments are carried out in areas inhabited by already marginalized and indigenous communities.

The Kenyan case study looks at the extent to which human rights objectives and gender equality have been incorporated into European Union (EU) external climate actions in Kenya, with a special focus on the implementation of several major geothermal projects in Kenya. Finally, it provides recommendations on how EU external climate policy actions could be better aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and involve civil society in the implementation of these projects. The decision to study geothermal projects was driven by a) the European Union’s support for Green Energy projects in Kenya, and 2) the planned expansion of geothermal projects in Kenya as a means of accessing clean energy.

The key stakeholders were Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen); Geothermal Development Company (GDC); Akiira Power Generating Company; and the Narasha, Olkaria, Kedong, Olgumi, Suswa and Rapland communities from Narok, Kajiado, and Nakuru Counties. Other stakeholders who required consultation emerged as the research progressed. These included the National Land Commission, the County governments of Narok and Kajiado, and research institutions that have done or are doing research in geothermal at Olkaria.

The case study highlighted some of the major challenges that emanated from multinational funding of the geothermal projects in Kenya. Key among them is the problem of supervisory roles in co-funded projects. Further complications arose where the International Financing Institution's (IFI) operating standards were not applied in geothermal projects in Kenya because such standards either do not exist or are weak in Kenya. It is suggested that the European Investment Bank (EIB) should extend its external mandate to also include climate change mitigation and adaptation, which links to its energy mandate in matters of renewable energy promotion in third countries. Delegating supervisory responsibility to KenGen without clear requirements and standards from the IFI’s led to lapses in ensuring that all required safeguards were met.

The case for Olkaria geothermal demonstrates the complexity of climate co-funding, the local obstacles to successful project implementation in host countries, and the inadequacy of supervisory procedures to address the negative impacts of the implementation of geothermal projects. Similarly, the study shows the importance of integrating climate change, human rights and gender equality policies into the development of geothermal projects and their enforcement at country level.

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Date of Publication
March 2018
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union
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