Kenya: Photo story - Maasai forced from homes by power project in Hell's Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate National Park, near Lake Naivasha in Kenya, is well-known for its wildlife and stunning scenery.  It is also the traditional home of the Maasai, who have strong cultural and religious attachments to the area. However, the area has been hugely destroyed by the construction of four large power stations, for geothermal energy (Olkaria I-IV), and proposed further development now threatens both the area’s natural beauty and Maasai livelihoods.  

Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law, visited to find out more.

Photos: Lucy Claridge/MRG

Gallery

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Hell’s Gate National Park and Gorge, established in 1984, is named after a narrow break in the cliffs. Soaring red cliffs, volcanic landforms, grasslands with wildlife and a deep gorge where visitors can walk and climb make it an attractive and popular destination. The area is also known for its hot springs.
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The park houses a wide variety of wildlife, including African buffalo, zebra, eland, Thomson's gazelle, giraffe and warthogs in addition to over 100 species of birds in the park. Kenya Wildlife Service calls it ‘A Walk on the Wild Side’.
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The Maasai have a strong spiritual attachment to the land in and around the park. According to Maasai tradition, this large plug of volcanic rock – one of three in the park – is a Maasai woman who was told not to look back during her wedding, but disobeyed, and was turned to stone. The other two rocks represent the bridegroom and the best man.
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The geology of Hell’s Gate National Park makes it a perfect site for the production of geothermal energy, and is therefore also home to the Olkaria geothermal power project. The Kenyan Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), a wholly-owned state corporation, operates three of the four power stations. Olkaria is also registered as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Olkaria geothermal power generation project is being funded primarily by the Government of Kenya, and through loans from the World Bank.
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The Olkaria power stations have dramatically changed the breathtaking landscape of the national park. Dirty, smelly, noisy, polluting industrial machinery punctures much of the park, whilst overground pipes cover a vast area, destroying its natural beauty.
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Smoke billows out of one of the power stations.
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The changed landscape of the park.
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The red rocks of the park and surrounding area are a source of ochre for the Maasai, which is used in traditional ceremonies, including being smeared on warriors’ hair during their coming of age ceremony, and painted on the faces of newborn males, as a symbol of peace.
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Women Maasai from Narasha, a village located just outside the national park boundaries, who face eviction from their land within the next month, so that it can be used for further geothermal energy production. The community have owned the land ancestrally for many years, but have never been given legal title. It is claimed that, once they are evicted, the land will be given to Kikuyu, who will then sell it at great profit to several power companies, including KenGen.
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On July 16, 2013, over 200 people with crude weapons allegedly contracted by a project developer descended on this village. They torched houses, physically assaulted community members, and maimed and killed dozens of their livestock. The violence was apparently committed under police protection. The Maasai claim that the homes of 256 families were burnt, leaving over 2,000 people homeless, whilst over 20 calves and over 600 lambs were also killed. During the raid, two elderly Maasai men sustained bullet wounds as well as cuts from machetes and were hospitalized for their injuries. The damage was estimated at over $100,000. The Government have promised compensation, but nothing has been forthcoming. Although the Maasai have since been allowed to return to their land, for now, and have managed to rebuild some of their houses, the scorched earth from last year's damage can still be seen at the front of this photo.
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A Maasai elder from Narasha, at a public meeting to discuss action against the impending evictions.
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Another Maasai village, inside the national park. This community have been given alternative land outside the park, and houses have been built for them.
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However, these houses are in a small enclosed area, with no grounds for them to graze their animals and therefore go about their everyday lives. In addition, the area immediately surrounding the houses has been designated for more geothermal development: so the community will soon be surrounded by pollution.
 MRG-GAL-3424
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One of the houses built for the relocating Maasai community. Although some Maasai are excited about the prospect of living in a properly constructed house with several rooms, they have not realised that the fencing between each house and indeed around the boundaries of the area, will not allow their animals to graze in accordance with Maasai tradition.
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Date: 31/07/2014

Countries:

Kenya

Categories:

Culture and Tradition
Indigenous Peoples
Natural resources

Press Contact Information

Name: Emma Eastwood

Telephone: +44 207 422 4205

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