Turkana life will change
A group of Turkana women in search of water and food during the recent drought and famine in the area.
Photo: Shadrack Kavilu
By: Shadrack Kavilu for Gáldu
Turkana people, a community often ravaged by severe drought, famine, cattle rustling and that has endured years of marginalization has finally seen light in the tunnel that could transform their way of livelihood.
Since the recent announcement by the country’s President Mwai Kibaki that significant oil deposits have been found at Nakukulas in Turkana South, an area inhabited by indigenous Turkana people, there has been a heated debate in some quarters on whether the discovery would be a blessing or a curse to a country that is trying to bolster its export revenues.
Though oil discovery has been known to spur economic growth and development in some oil producing countries, there are fears that Kenya could end up like Nigeria where oil revenues in Niger Delta has failed to trickle down to Ogoni minority people who inhabit in the oil fields.
Like in many other oil producing countries, the ‘Petrol dollar’ money least benefits the local indigenous communities whom their land is endowed with rich natural resources.
Case studies world over indicate that extraction of natural resources and other major development projects in or near the territories of indigenous peoples is one of the most significant sources of abuse of indigenous peoples rights.
While the discovery of oil has been received with jubilation in the country and especially by Turkana people who view it as the panacea to ending abject poverty, some local community members have cast doubt on how it will benefit them.
“We have no idea how oil discovery in our ancestral land will benefit us and yet nowhere in our lives do we use it. When will water be discovered which is more important to our livestock and our day to day life,” posed Aledi Awoi, a Turkana woman and a mother of three who could not understand why the government could not discover water.
“Our priority is water and the government knows this very well, we don’t know how oil will benefit our livestock, end poverty and famine that bedevils our community,” she added.
Civil society groups have also raised concerns over the impact of oil extraction on the indigenous people and have called on the government to ensure the rights of the local community are respected and protected.
Eliud Emeri, chief executive officer of Turkana Civil society network, a group of human rights activists drawn from the area warns that corporations involved in the extraction of oil should exercise due diligence when engaging or planning activities that affect the rights of indigenous people.
The activists say they have evidence of government officials who own title deeds for mineral exploration sites in Turkana.
“We are aware of many organizations, including churches, in possession of title deeds for mineral exploration sites in Turkana South and East districts, says the group.
The civil society network has urged the government to identify whether and how indigenous peoples may be affected and ensure that they respect indigenous peoples rights to land, territories and natural resources by carrying out impact assessment studies and establish mitigations measures and benefit-sharing mechanism.
They argue that in most cases the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the political, social and economic spheres.
Though the discovery of Oil is widely viewed as the panacea to ending poverty and stimulating economic growth and development, civil society warn that the rights of the indigenous community could be abused if proper mechanism are not put in place to mitigate both environmental and human rights issues.
In a bid to reassure the community that their rights would be protected, government officials have pledged to ensure environmental and human rights concerns are addressed.
Kenya’s new minister for environment and natural resources, Chirau Mwakwere says the government would use best practice to ensure the local community benefit from oil revenues.
The minister said environmental impact assessment report would be carried out to identify the likely adverse effects of oil extraction on the indigenous people.
While also making the announcement, Kenya’s minister for energy Kiraitu Murungi reiterated that the government would put in place a benefit sharing mechanism that would ensure the local community benefit from oil revenues.
The energy minister said the Energy act will be reviewed to accommodate the provisions for resource sharing in the new constitution.
Murungi noted that there will be a revenue sharing agreement that will first benefit the host community, then the national government and then Tullow and other multinationals.
“In most of the workshops we attend, they have themes asking whether oil is a blessing or curse, but this is a major blessing to the people of Turkana and Kenya. It would be a shame if Turkana, a major poverty zone does not benefit from oil as the host community,” said the minister.
Turkana County is one of seven basins mapped in Tullow’s 100,000 square kilometres exploration area in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Tullow found oil with an estimated extractable potential of 2 billion barrels in its 9,000 square kilometre exploration area in the Lake Albert Rift basin in Uganda.
Tullow Oil, which has been exploring at the Ngamia-1 well located in the Turkana County’s Block 10BB said that it had struck oil at a depth of 1,041 metres which has been successfully logged and sampled.