Monday, April 16, 2012

Goldman Prize honors Ikal Angelei's fight against Gibe III Dam

Ikal Angelei Receives 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize
By Peter Bosshard, International Rivers
April 16, 2012

Ikal Angelei, the founder of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, receives
the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco today. The
award will honor an activist who is defending the interests of 500,000
poor indigenous people against a destructive hydropower dam, and has
successfully taken on many of the world's biggest dam builders and

Ikal Angelei grew up on the shores of Lake Turkana, the world's biggest
desert lake. This lifeline of Northwestern Kenya is under threat from
the giant Gibe III Dam, currently under construction on the lake's main
water source, the Omo River in Ethiopia. When she learned about this
threat, Ikal founded Friends of Lake Turkana with a few friends in 2007.
Working together with partners around the world, she started an
international campaign to stop the mega-dam which threatens her people's

Ikal and her friends carried out research on the $1.7 billion project,
educated the local communities and mobilized them for creative protests.
They informed international civil society groups, journalists and
scientists about their struggle. They issued a complaint with the
African Development Bank, which considered funding the Gibe III Dam, and
the World Heritage Center, which is charged with safeguarding Lake
Turkana's universal ecological value. They mobilized national
parliamentarians, and took the Kenyan government to court for failing to
defend local people's interests. (The case is still pending.)

During the past five years, no obstacle was too big and no place too far
for Ikal Angelei's determined campaign. The young activist, who had
never left Kenya before launching her campaign, traveled to Dakar,
Prague and Washington to crash the meetings of international financiers.
She knocked at the doors of government agencies and banks from Rome to
Beijing. She drummed up support for her cause at international civil
society meetings from Istanbul to the small Mexican town of Temacapulin.

Ikal and her friends did not lose the ground under their feet during
their high-profile campaign. In between meetings and travels, they
frequently visit local communities, where they support basic needs with
a school and a small maternity clinic. They educate villagers about the
threat they face and the campaign they have waged. And they try to
mediate the bitter conflicts between different indigenous groups over
dwindling resources. These conflicts have already claimed hundreds of
lives, and will escalate if the Omo River's flow is dammed for power
generation and diverted for sugar plantations.

I have had the privilege of working with Ikal Angelei throughout her
campaign. Ikal has the authority of an activist who speaks from her
heart, is rooted in her local community, and has put her own life on the
line. Her opponents had to learn that she cannot be silenced by threats
and bribe offers. So far, Ikal's determination has only been matched by
the ruthlessness of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for whom the
livelihoods of 500,000 poor people are small change. I am convinced that
if she had the chance to meet him personally, Ikal would also stare down
the Ethiopian strongman.

Thanks to Friends of Lake Turkana's campaign, the African Development
Bank did not fund the Gibe III Dam in spite of strong Ethiopian
pressure. The World Bank and the European Investment Bank had to
recognize that the scheme would violate their social and environmental
safeguard policies. An Italian government financier and a big Wall
Street bank also stayed out of the project. Construction of the Gibe III
Project has been delayed by several years, and the dam is currently
about half-completed.

So far only ICBC, a large commercial bank from China, has approved a
$500 million loan for the dam's equipment in July 2010. Ikal has held
the bank to account for its destructive project in the international
media, and will continue to do so. Even in China, ICBC's decision is now
being considered a case of lacking corporate social responsibility. A
few weeks ago, the Chinese government directed its banks to align
overseas projects with "international best practices" on social and
environmental risks.

In May the World Bank, which stayed out of the Gibe III Dam the first
time around, will decide whether to fund a transmission line that would
export the project's electricity with a credit of $676 million. If a
project is too destructive for direct support, the Bank should not fund
it through the backdoor of a transmission line either. The Goldman
Prize, which is awarded today, will give Ikal Angelei another platform
from which she can defend her people's livelihoods against such
destructive practices. Please join me in congratulating Ikal, and in
telling funders to stay out of the Gibe III Project.

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. He blogs
at and tweets at

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