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Anticipation, participation and contestation along the LAPSSET Infrastructure Corridor in Kenya

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Release date: 2021-11

Pastoral counties in northern Kenya are expected to undergo massive social–ecological change ­in the coming years as a result of the government’s ‘Vision 2030’ with its large-scale investments ­and infrastructure projects. The Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor ­project is an ambitious infrastructure development project that links with other continental ­transport corridors traversing the country. The 500m-wide corridor is to consist of a railway, a ­highway, a fibre-optic cable and a crude oil pipeline, linking oil fields in Turkana county in the far ­north-west to a 32-berth port at Lamu on the Kenyan coast. A 50-km wide “special economic zone” ­straddling the corridor will attract investors, and the development will be accompanied by several ­associated projects, including three planned resort cities, oil processing facilities and airports. Proponents of the corridor point to its potential to “open up the north” and to reverse previous ­marginalisation. However, a growing body of work on frontiers and economies of anticipation ­surrounding development projects points to the potentials for dispossession of local populations ­and disregard of local dynamics. Further, such projects stimulate future-oriented activities and a ­variety of visions of the future among the different actors, which may converge or diverge, leading ­to contestations.  

This Working Paper is part of a larger project called “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social- ­ecological transformation” by the Universities of Bonn and Cologne and BICC in collaboration with ­USIU-Africa and other Kenyan universities, which is interested in the kinds of claims being made ­on land and its resources and how these may change existing dynamics of organised violence.  ­In this Working Paper, the author seeks to understand the dynamics of participation and antici-­pation and how these relate to conflict and contestation along the LAPSSET Corridor area (in the ­following referred to as ‘LAPSSET’). He takes a broad and in-depth look at local dynamics sur-­rounding the planned LAPSSET and some associated projects in Isiolo, Samburu and Turkana ­counties. In doing so, he has found that a variety of actors have different visions and capacities ­to learn about LAPSSET and position themselves favourably, making it likely that LAPSSET will ­exacerbate existing political and economic inequalities. Existing inequalities historically run along ­ethnic lines and are likely to feed into ethnopolitical conflicts. Other findings are that the LAPSSET ­developments also fuel conflict as they provide new potential targets for dissatisfied citizens to get ­the attention of the state and new, often inequitable security governance arrangements.­