Up in Smoke? Maasai Rights in the Olkaria Geothermal Area, Kenya
Briefing note on how the Maasai have been affected by the Olkaria geothermal field that is placed on their ancestral land in Kenya. Without proper consultation or free prior and informed consent the Maasai have to vacate 4,300 acres of land in order to be resettled on only 567 acres. Although they will gain modern housing, a school and several scholarships, the compensation package does not include water or other provisions necessary for the continuation of a sustainable livelihood. For a community whose whole life revolves around livestock, a diminished land base and sudden change of living conditions will most likely result in poverty and destruction of their livelihood, culture and identity. The situation raises serious human rights issues under international and domestic law that have to be considered by governments and investors when pursuing projects on indigenous peoples’ territories. 120 km west of Nairobi, in Nakuru County, Kenya, the Olkaria geothermal field covers approximately 75 sq. km and was gazetted as a Geothermal Resource Area in 1971. Three power stations are currently adding 158 MW to the national grid while a fourth is under construction. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN), a wholly-owned state corporation, operates three of the four power stations while Orpower4 Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based Ormat Technologies, will operate the fourth. While the Olkaria geothermal power project lights up the nation, however, the Maasai people living in the area have consistently raised concerns that the project is dimming their lives.