Environmental activists and petitioners listen to a tribunal ruling over the construction of a coal-fired power plant, at the supreme court building in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Environmental activists in Kenya scored a unique victory last week. On June 26, the National Environmental Tribunal revoked a license issued to Amu Power Company to establish a controversial coal-fired power plant in Lamu.

The Tribunal found the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) had issued the building license even though the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was prepared without public consultation or participation.   

Following the decision, if Amu Power still plans to proceed with the project, it would need to successfully appeal the ruling or carry out a fresh ESIA, looking at the impacts of the power plant on people’s livelihoods, health, and land issues, and reapply for a license from NEMA. While this decision still allows Amu Power to restart the process, it will give Lamu activists an opportunity to raise their concerns over the establishment of a coal plant, such as their pollution of land, sea, and air; the destruction of Mangrove forests; and lack of clear mitigation measures for climate change.  

Environmental activists campaigning against the coal plant, which is linked to Lamu-Port-South-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET), a massive regional infrastructure development project that connects at least three countries, have suffered harassment by the Kenyan state authorities. Activists in Lamu, who have teamed up with other activists in and outside Kenya, have held peaceful protests, carried out community meetings, and lobbied the international community. In October 2016, they filed an appeal against Amu Power and NEMA at the Tribunal.

Activist groups such as Save Lamu and Lamu Youth Alliance have faced many challenges voicing these concerns and protesting the plant’s construction. In a joint report in December 2018, Human Rights Watch and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders found that Lamu activists opposing the construction of coal plant had faced threats, arrests, detentions by police, and arbitrary restrictions on public meetings.

By ruling that the environmental authority failed to uphold Kenya’s own environmental protection laws when granting the license to Amu, the tribunal has given authorities a chance to re-assess the plant’s impacts and make sure affected communities are consulted as the law requires. The authorities should allow everyone the space to be able to make their views known.