By Ellie Peters (BA, ’13), 2012 Nicholas School Undergraduate Communications Intern
DURHAM, NC – Environmental activist Ikal Angelei spoke to a group of graduate and undergraduate students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment on Friday, Sept. 14, about her efforts to stop the construction of a mega dam that would affect more than 500,000 people living in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Angelei’s work to halt construction of the controversial dam won her a prestigious Goldman Prize in Environmental Activism earlier this year.
Her talk at the Nicholas School was part of the 2012 Environmental Institutions Seminar Series, sponsored by the University PhD Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP) and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Introduced as a “force of one,” Angelei has spearheaded the movement to stop the construction of the Gibe III hydroelectric dam on the Omo River , which provides 90 percent of the water in Lake Turkana. The world’s largest desert lake, Turkana straddles the border of Ethiopia and Kenya and is a vital resource for the fishermen and herders who eke out an existence on its shores...
I would first like to take this moment to honor the efforts and inspiration by the last Kenyan to win this award in 1991, Nobel Laurette Late Prof Wangari Maathai for her efforts through which she linked the day to day struggles and conflicts around the world to how man related with nature; a philosophy best understood by many communities around the world.
I would like to thank the Goldman Family and the Goldman Environmental Prize Staff and all those who nominated me. The situation in Turkana is not a unique one, all around the world governments are destroying environments in the name of development both nationally and regionally, all in the name of geo-politics. We are witnessing as governments destroy the environment to increase their GDP's. And while we appreciate the need to develop, meet Millenium goals by 2015, we agree that we all have to solve the current problems of access to energy and access to employment; we however cannot achieve these at the expense of the environment especially with the availability of alternatives and the reality of climate change.
It’s been 3 years of struggle to defend our environments, a journey that started with one person and one step, but grew to the Omo Basin- Lake Turkana family. Car breakdowns, fatigue that surpassed hunger, threats and abuses, appreciation and recognition, all these and more have been part of this journey. Along this journey I met lots of people both within and outside this country, those who opened up their homes to us, those who joined us in this struggle, those who shared their experiences, mentored me through the journey and even shared their meals.
Ladies and gentlemen, my acceptance and receipt of this award and honor would be not be complete without paying tribute to the Great Chief Chopper and his desendants who are the protectors of Anam Naruko. The many gallant men and women who have made this milestone a reality, the staff and board of Friends of Lake Turkana, the Lake Turkana communities, the men and women who joined us on the streets demonstrating, signing court petitions or seeking redress through political representatives; to our partners both within country and outside the country. Our donors who believed in us to support our efforts, Dr Richard Leakey, Turkana Basin Institute and all scientists affiliated to the institute and to my family and loved ones who offered support, comfort, wisdom and motivation, and most of all the love to make it all worthwhile.
I must admit that I am humbled, honored, and at the same time excited to receive the Goldman Environmental Award. I feel a deep emotion and pride for the honor of having been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa 2012. A deep personal feeling and pride; for the values of the community and the people to which I belong. I consider this Prize, not as an award to me personally, but rather as one of the greatest conquests in the struggle for environmental justice and for the rights of communities.
Early this year our Prime Minister visited us in Turkana where we discussed the government's role in destroying Lake Turkana by signing on to buy power from Ethiopia, all he could say is “Angelei you cannot go on fighting neighboring countries”. A week later, our president, together with the president of South Sudan and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, stood at the coast of the country where our president publicly declared support for the Gibe 3 dam despite our concerns.
He ignored Parliament; He ignored the Omo Basin Communities; He ignored the Lake Turkana Communties.
With the reality of climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems that have served humanity for thousands of years evident before our very eyes, i remember the words of the strong musician and freedom fighter Miriam Makeba “Freedom is not given to you, you must take it”, a call to everyone of us to stand up and take our freedom; the freedom to protect and conserve our environment. To the governments who are compromising the environment in the name of development, we are telling you “ you cannot wish us away”.
To all the unsung heroes and heroines working to protect the delicate balance of nature and sustainability all over the world, you are an example of courage and solidarity, heroes who chose to fight for humanity, whose convictions led them to offer the ultimate sacrifice and suffer purges in their own countries and around the world; who take part in all the important social struggles of their day. Indeed, the environmental crisis is daunting. The work will not be easy. But take heart. To the Omo tribes in Ethiopia and all other peoples around the whorld who struggle for the protection of their environments, has seen some lose their lives or end up in prison, my heart bleeds for you, but at the same time my belief in the struggle gives hope if not to us, to the generations that come after us. As Martin Luther King told us, the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome. I know that from personal experiences and experiences of those that have gone before us.
Many times people ask me why i do what i do, why we fight for the environment. And taking time before i answer, I reflect on lessons taught to me by my father, i realize that we must trivalize the labor of the past struggle, we must celebrate the gains that have been made while taking inspiration from the struggles to confront the challenges..... and after taking a few moments of silence, I have only one reason why I fight for this environment; I cannot watch as my people struggle for survival only to have scarce water stolen by a government that is supposed to protect them; TO NOT FIGHT IS NOT AN OPTION
With humility and gratitude I accept this award given to me today, While I am not worthy of this honor, I would be lying if I did not recognize that it makes me extremely proud to receive it, for its history and what it means for the commitment to the future of this passionate fight for mother earth as we are reminded by the African proverb that “The earth is not ours; it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations”.
Our Director, Ikal Angelei, has been announced as the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Reciepient for Africa in recognition of her tireless effort to save Lake Turkana from the dangers of the massive Gibe 3 Dam being constructed in Ethiopia’s Omo River.
In 2008, Ikal Angelei, who also works with renowned anthropologist and conservationist, Dr. Richard Leakey, learned from the distinguished Kenyan of the construction of what will become Africa’s largest dam along the Omo River in Ethiopia. Ikal immediately recognized that the dam would be the death of Lake Turkana and the end of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and marginalized people in the Lower Omo Basin and Lake Turkana regions.
Ikal started her campaign to stop the construction of the dam which had started in 2006. Shortly, she and likeminded individuals formed the Friends of Lake Turkana. FoLT thus became the vehicle that would spearhead the campaign to stop Gibe 3 on its tracks. In the few years that Ikal and FoLT have campaigned against the dam, we have managed to convince several financing organizations, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank not to fund the construction of Gibe 3 – which is 40% complete – and convinced the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to issue a communiqué calling for a stop in the construction of Gibe 3. The Kenyan Parliament also passed a resolution requiring the government to demand an independent environmental Impact Assessment of the dam.
Ikal continues to trudge on as she is now pushing for the Kenyan government – which is in agreement with Ethiopia to purchase 60% of the electricity generated by the dam – to get out of the power purchase agreement thus make it unjustifiable for China to continue funding the dam owing to the diminished demand. As Ikal always says, “Aluta continua.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1989 by civic leaders and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his wife Rhoda H. Goldman to support individuals struggling to win environmental victories against the odds. It is meant to inspire ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the world. The phenomenal Prof. Wangari Maathai – RIP – won this Prize in 1991.
Read more about Ikal’s achievement in this blog post by Peter Bosshard of International Rivers, key supporters and partners of FoLT.
Learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize in their website.
Kenya's Ikal Angelei has won one of this year's Goldman Prizes, often called the Nobel Prize for environmentalists. Ms Angelei mobilised her community in Turkana - northern Kenya - to try and stop a massive dam from being built in neighbouring Ethiopia. She realised that the projected Gibe-3 dam on Ethiopia's Omo River - which empties into Lake Turkana - could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people. Ms Angelei told the BBC Africa's Audrey Brown why she kick-started a campaign to get the project stopped and what she and the group she co-ordinates, Friends of Lake Turkana, will do with the $150,000 (£94,600) from the prize.
Ikal was interviewed by the BBC and you can listen to the podcast at the BBC Website