“I have a burning passion to share the world around me through imagery and storytelling” Peter Ndung’u.  

A creative, visual storyteller and self-taught photographer born, raised and based in Nairobi, Kenya, Peter Ndung’u tells stories through his chosen medium and creative outlet of photography.  “Photography enables me to hone my craft, sharpen my eyes, pick up subtle visual nuances around me and share my stories through the world of still images.”  

A few months ago, his lens took him to Lamu Island, a distinctive UNESCO protected world heritage site, a place with unique historical significance, revered for its untouched natural landscape. It’s here, at this preserved iconic town, where authentic traditions have been retained and the prestigious status of Lamu Island maintained since the 13th century, Peter experienced a life-changing moment. He learnt that Kenya aims to build a coal-fired thermal power plant in Lamu and will import coal from South Africa to produce around 8.8 Million MwH of power each year.  

Lamu town as seen from Manda Bay

This development caught the attention of young Peter, who holds a law degree and connects deeply with causes of social justice. Through his interaction with the local community, he soon realised that fundamental human rights of the Lamu people are under threat. Those who depend on its many features, the splendour and simplicity of traditional life, the coral reefs and a unique species of sea turtle that nests on Lamu island, all these notable traits will be adversely affected by this coal project.

“We are a country moving towards coal production while the rest of the world moves away from fossil fuels. We’re turning a blind eye to the hazardous accompaniments of health complications, killing marine life, and causing air pollution” emphasis Peter.

What’s particularly worrying about the Lamu coal project is that the Kenyan government alongside China consortium are investing $2billion into this archaic technology while China aggressively scales up its renewable energy commitments with the hope of reversing decades of environmental pollution.  

Aboud Bashali works at the fish baraza.  His livelihood depends on the oceans supply

The growing trend of African government’s acceptance of China’s poisoned coal chalice, without adequately vetting the dangers and impacts in the long term is cause for concern. Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority’s Environment and Social Impact Assessment study has glossed over key dangers. Toxins from this project will negatively impact the fauna, flora, atmosphere, sea and groundwater.  There is still no clear plan for disposing of coal ash pollutants such as lead, mercury and arsenic.  Let’s not forget, under the Paris Agreement, Kenya committed to reducing emissions by 30% come 2030.  Emissions from this plant alone will double the country’s carbon footprint.  

“It’s time to talk about these dangers,” says Peter. Those who depend on the air in Lamu, those who call the waters of the Indian Ocean their office and those who have known no other home than the island of Lamu and its environs. They matter.

Who are the people of Lamu, what do they have to say?

Kassim Said (73) has known the coast all his life. Having worked for over 60 years as a sailor and fisherman on the shores of Zanzibar, Kismayu, Kilifi and Lamu, he has seen the benefits of a clean water life. However,  for the first time in his life, he now faces the daunting prospect of having to live off of polluted water and air on the island that he and his family call home and work.

Kassim Said, 73, lives in Lamu and has worked all along the coastline of East Africa

“There aren’t enough hospitals on the island and healthcare is not at the level it should be, my children will definitely be affected when they breathe the polluted air coming from the plant,” says Hussein Kassim.

Hussein Kassim attends to on one of the family’s fleet of boats on Lamu island

These are concerns echoed across the African continent where coal mines exist and new ones proposed.  An attempt to make large parts of Africa coal-dependent is happening under the guise of an economic transformation and development facade.  Any new coal power plant or mine comes at great cost: local environmental destruction, displacement of local peoples, and an intensification of the pace and impacts of climate change while profits are channelled elsewhere, outside of Africa, in the pockets of few corporate elites.  

Africa is most vulnerable region to climate change due to the interplay of harsh climatic conditions and fragile economies. Intense and unpredictable weather patterns affect the continent and impact the lives of millions of people.

Shela dunes at sunset. The light kisses the sand in such a magical way, easily making shell’s dense the best place to watch the sunset

We know that East Africa’s first coal plant with a capacity of 1,050 megawatts (MW) will not drive the growth envisioned for the country but instead, will negatively contribute to the tremendous toll on human health and the environment. We urge Kenya to focus on a renewable sustainable pathway. This means a decentralised Renewable Energy system and energy independence fully owned and controlled by all Africans! Profits made from sustainable energy pathways must be shared amongst frontline communities, not just in the pockets of corporations and wealthy elite driven by profits at the expense of people and the environment.

From Ghana to Lamu, people are resisting imminent dangers they face from climate change.  With artivist such as Peter at the creative helm, we know impacted communities will have their stories told. The people will be heard. Together we can stop the expansion of the coal industry and protect the future of our climate for future generations.

Connect with Peter Ndung’u.