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Karo Airstrip, Kenya


An international airport in Mandera County, in north-eastern Kenya, was first proposed in 2013, but has faced opposition at every stage of development. Initially the airport project was launched in the administrative division of Libehia in Mandera East. A feasibility study costing about USD3 million was conducted then the project stalled and moved to Wargadud in Mandera South.[1] Wargadud residents refused to be relocated to make way for the project.

In February 2019 it was reported that a ‘section’ of residents were ‘up in arms’ over the proposed construction of the airport.[2] The proposed site had moved to Karo in the Khalalio ward (alternative spelling: Kalaliyo) which is in the north-east of Mandera near the border with Ethiopia.[1] Elders in the region, concerned that the airport would disrupt their way of life, took to the street in protest. Mohamed Hussein, a former chief, said that no public participation had been conducted before county officials ordered them to vacate the area, adamant that residents depending upon pastoralism for their livelihoods would resist any plans to force them to leave the area. He said: “The airport will only benefit a few people especially the contractor and county government officials, we did not ask for it and it is time the executive rescinds on the decision.” Hussein also said that pastoralists from a 40 kilometer by 25 kilometer area of land would be displaced by the airport project.[2]

Governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, denied that a “huge chunk of land” was required for the airport, stating that a piece of land “two kilometres wide and six kilometres long…nothing more” would be allocated. Roba alleged that powerful individuals, whom he did not name, had incited locals against the airport project and exaggerated the area of land to be allocated. Libehia ward Member of the County Assembly (MCA) Farah Abdinoor requested information regarding the budgetary allocation for the airport project, the source of the funding, the exact site measurements and when and where public participation had taken place.[1]

Residents who would be affected by the airport, now referred to as Karo Airstrip, said that the development would spur inter-clan conflict over the surrounding area which is a water catchment area used to sustain livestock, of particular importance to pastoralists during the dry season. In March 2019 a case was filed on behalf of Mandera residents, aiming to stop construction of the airport. Residents claimed that authorities did not consult them about the airport and that the livelihoods of nearly 140,000 people would be affected by the impacts on livestock. The lawyer representing the residents said that once the area was fenced off animals would no longer be able to graze. Transparency issues were also raised; residents said the tender process had been shrouded in secrecy and the construction cost had not been made public. Locals also said that authorities should address more pressing concerns, in particular water scarcity and healthcare. The judge ordered that the case be heard in Garissa High Court, terming it as urgent.[3]

Residents resisting construction of the airport have a strong case that there are ‘more pressing’ concerns that government should be working to address. Mandera is one of the poorest areas in Kenya. Statistics compiled in the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey for 2015-16, released in March 2018, showed that Mandera County had the third highest proportion of residents living in conditions of extreme poverty, with 38.9 per cent of citizens unable to afford the minimum food consumption basket.[4]

A petition ‘Stop the Karo Airfield Project’, launched on 14th March 2019, called upon Mandera County to halt the project which ‘risks displacing thousands of people’ and would also block the community’s access to the Daua river, their main source of water.[5] A number of residents refuted claims by Mandera County that the proposed new airport is essential, to provide an alternative to the existing airstrip, which governor Roba said was unsafe. One resident said the governor must prioritize provision of essential services before embarking on an unnecessary megaproject “that is only meant to siphon public money into private pockets”, adding that the areas that would be affected have no water yet “we want to build an airport as a resource looting project just like Dams or fence projects”. A resident calling from Rhamu said,“instead of the administration hankering for the airstrip project that is not even a priority and will end up serving only the interests of a few people, the governor should provide us with water and equip our hospitals". A vocal opponent of the Mandera County administration said the airport was unnecessary and criticized the governor’s speech as “Pharaonic”, comparing pursuit of the project to lack of action on water shortages: “The governor has never even called a press conference to address issue of drought and how to mitigate it”.[6]

Mandera residents’ protest, court case and petition against construction of the new airport, which threatens to restrict access to water, coincides with severe and worsening drought gripping Kenya. Mandera is one of the most seriously affected areas. A March 2019 Relief Web briefing on the drought and food security situation listed Mandera as the second worst affected county in the country with 88,800 people requiring immediate food assistance. Mandera’s most drought-affected sectors were listed as water, health and livestock. Mandera was also one of the areas requiring water trucking and Hunger Safety Net Programme cash transfers by the National Drought Management Authority (NMDA) and where the county government had commenced food distribution to affected communities.[7]

Residents’ legal case against construction of Karo Airstrip succeeded in stalling the project. On 27th March 2019 it was reported that Garissa Court had issued an interim conservatory order on the Karo airport project, pending the hearing and determination of the application before the court.[8]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Karo Airstrip, Kenya
State or province:Mandera East
Location of conflict:Karo, Khalalio ward
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

A proposal for a new airport in Mandera was initiated by the Mandera County government in 2013. Governor Ali Roba said the airport would be one of the key drivers of the county economy and that farm produce and animal products from the region would be processed and exported to earn foreign exchange.[2] The groundbreaking ceremony for the project, then named Mandera-Wargadud Airport, attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta, took place in May 2016. But a week later Alwahab Enterprises Limited, the contractor that had been awarded the Sh600 million (USD 5.93 million) contract to construct the airport, moved to court to file a petition to stop the project, challenging the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB) which had overturned the award of the tender and directed Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to award the tender to another company, SEO & Sons.[9]

Ongoing works at the airport site stalled in July 2016 when the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee (EACC) began investigations into alleged irregularities in award of the tender, requesting original evaluation reports (preliminary, technical and financial) as well as the original tender documents submitted by bidders.[10] KAA cancelled award of the airport construction tender to SEO & Sons in October 2016, following due diligence which revealed that the firm had used forged documents to claim that it had carried out other major projects on behalf of the Kenya National highways Authority (KeNHA). SEO & Sons moved to court seeking a High Court ruling to overturn the decision, saying that KAA had no authority to carry out due diligence after entering into the contract.[11] On 21st March 2018 an order of certorati (process for seeking a judicial review) regarding the termination of the award of the airport construction contract to SEO & Sons and stoppage of site activities was issued by the Kenyan High Court.[12]

Level of Investment:5,930,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2013
Company names or state enterprises:SEO and Sons Limited - Awarded tender to construct Mandera Airport, tender subsequently cancelled due to forgery claims, case submitted for judicial review in 2018
Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) from Kenya
Alwahab Enterprises Limited - Awarded tender to construct Mandera Airport, the award was overturned and the tender granted to SEO and Sons Limited
Relevant government actors:Mandera County
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) -
Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB) -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsHealth problems caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsInter-clan conflict
Loss of access to grazing land for pastoralists
Loss of access to water for pastoralists


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Relocation of airport site from Libehia to Wargadud then to Karo
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although construction of the airport has not commenced there are serious concerns over the potential impacts on pastoralists' access to grazing land and water. Residents have complained that they have not been consulted about the project and of a lack of transparency regarding funding. There is lack of clarity over the land area that would be required for the airport.

Sources & Materials

[6] Governor Roba’s Statement on Karo Airstrip Refuted, NFD Dispatch, 16 March 2019

[12] Republic v Kenya Airports Authority Ex-Parte Seo & Sons Limited [2018] eKLR, Kenya Law, 21 March 2018

[3] Mandera Airstrip Row, KTN Kenya, 13 March 2019

[5] Petition - Stop the Karo Airfield Project, 14 March 2019

[1] Ali Roba blames selfish traders, clan politics for failed airport projects, Daily Nation, 17 March 2019


[9] Contractor sues to stop airport project, Mediamax, 30 May 2016

[10] Graft agency probes award of Mandera airport tender, Standard Digital, 11 July 2016

[11] Kenya’s Mandera Airport construction tender cancelled, Construction Review Online, 5 October 2016

[4] Turkana, Mandera and Samburu top list of poorest counties, Daily Nation, 23 March 2018

[8] Garissa court stops Karo airstrip project pending determination, Kulan Post, 27 March 2019


Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Petition - Stop the Karo Airfield Project

Mandera Airstrip Row, KTN Kenya, 13 March 2019

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019



Mandera East constituency map

Mandera East constituency map of County assembly wards, showing the town of Karo in the Kalaliyo ward. Source:

Mandera residents protest against the airport

Elders take to the street in protest against construction of an airport in Mandera county, 27 February 2019. Photo: Radio Midnimo