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Considering the glaring inequalities in Kenya, the issue of how wealth from the newly discovered oil can be redistributed to the Turkana people must be a core theme for all social justice actors.

The law provides that the owner of a piece of land owns everything up to the sky and down to the center of the earth and whatever is attached to the land becomes part of the property of the owner. Therefore any mineral deposits should belong to the land owner. But Kenyan law also provides that the right of occupancy could be revoked in the public interest which includes the requirement of land for mining purposes or oil pipelines or for any purpose connected therewith. The Kenya Petroleum[exploitation and production">Act was put in place to regulate among other things the ownership of petroleum even when it is found on private land. The minister may by notice divide the land and the continental shelf into numbered areas described as blocks and may enter into a petroleum production and sharing agreement with a qualified contractor.

Kenya is already divided into 38 exploration blocks and 22 multinational companies are going on with exploration. Tullow Oil is the leading company with a lion’s share of six exploration blocks in Kenya. The blocks are mainly in northern Kenya around Lake Turkana. Already Tullow has discovered oil deposits in Lokichar in Turkana County. The key question is: With the discovery of oil deposits in Turkana community land, will the local people have a right to claim ownership of the oil wealth?

The discovery has opened up Turkana community land to further explorations and exploitations of the oil fields. All the eyes have shifted to Turkana County.

Turkana community represent the paradox of capital accumulation. For decades dating back to the British colonial era, the community has largely been excluded, ignored, marginalized and locked out of the formal economy through lack of security, access to education, infrastructure and other public services. The community for long has suffered selective development policies or maldevelopment, increased cross-border conflicts, cattle rustling and proliferation of illicit arms used by bandits. Turkana people have been among the most marginalized communities in a highly centralized Kenyan government. The community has nothing to show, except images of drought, famine, desolation and distribution of relief food.

Oil has now become the prime driver for a wave of land leasing in Turkana County. Speculators are buying land in Lokichar shopping centres with the intention of selling back at inflated prices. It is a known fact that with the oil deposit in Turkana, powerful multinational companies will unashamedly lobby Kenyan government to enter secretive agreements. Corruption in Kenya thrives in secrecy. Most mining agreements or contracts in Kenya remain “confidential” and are often negotiated by the multinationals and individuals who have captured state structures and are able to manipulate parliament. The power to grant oil concessions rests with the central government far a way in Nairobi, the capital city. Land leasing in Turkana County will therefore mean domination of the community land and environment by the Kenyan state and its partners, the oil drilling multinational.

The situation will further be aggravated by the fact that families will be relocated from their community lands. Those directly dispossessed will end up with little or no compensation. This will bring the alienation of the locals from their lands, whereas they used to move freely with their animals. The extensive exploration and exploitation of oil in Turkana territory will further aggravate the pressure on the land which will result to alienation and impoverishment of the Turkana community who will be denied access to environmental resources.

Oil exploration concessions in Turkana County were given without consulting the local inhabitants whose lives are tied to the land. The Turkana had no prior knowledge about land and mining rights sales; they had no knowledge of which company received the exploration license and contracts. Worse still, they will be forced to give up their grazing lands and ancestral shrines to create a right of way for oil drilling and pipelines. Those multinationals will control almost exclusively both the exploration and active drilling.

The county is now exposed to exploitation. The local communities are now expecting massive social control, pollution, environmental upheaval and degradation. Turkana people depend on the environment and therefore will bear the direct effect of oil exploitation. There will be tremendous ecological harm in terms of destruction of grazing land and shrines caused by gas flaring ,oil spillage and oil blow outs, therefore destruction of livelihoods.

It is expected that with the discovery of oil in Turkana County, capital that will be leaving that county daily will be equal to the annual flow of aid into the same region. Considering the inequality that exists in Kenya today, the issue of how wealth from oil can be redistributed to the ordinary Turkana people should become a core theme for all social justice actors seeking to achieve economic justice for Kenyans.

Kenya being under the coalition government with no opposition and no active civil society in Turkana county, the locals will largely be unable to have their complaints heard and addressed. Thus they will suffer the consequences of political powerlessness and the domination of their land by the partnership of the government and multinationals, which will exclude them from direct access to oil revenue, while they bear the full social and environmental impact of oil production.

Unless social justice actors in Kenya show solidarity with Turkana people and help them organize themselves into a potential social force to enable them protest their exclusion, stake claims in oil revenue and make their voices heard while defending their rights to gain access to environmental resources critical to their survival and reproduction, Turkana people will have nothing to show out of oil wealth except poverty, unemployment pollution and misery. If social actors are not keen Turkana County will be rendered worse off than before oil production began. Oil drilling multinationals will offer no real employment to the locals who have little or no skills to sell to the capital intensive and powerful oil business.

To maintain social stability in Turkana, the Kenyan state and the multinationals need to engage more effectively with the local people, not on the basis of ethnicity but as citizens with rights and duties. The government should enact a proper community land acquisition law which should include a requirement for multinationals to pay local taxes in exploration and exploitation of oil. There should be no tax holidays and special tax treatments to exploit assets such as oil for the oil drilling multinationals. If the government does so it will prompt a race to the bottom to the Turkana people, pitting the poor against the poor and reducing the bargaining of the state and citizens. The government should also establish royalty rates derived from oil wealth to owners of community land. Multinational companies that will be involved in drilling oil in Turkana should pay back to the local people from the profits generated by their oil activities.

Social actors should help local Turkana community to undertake social auditing of those companies. This will help local Turkana people know how their land was leased, the company directors, annual accounts and the profit made; where those companies are from, what trade they undertake in other African countries with different names, what political and social havoc they have caused in those countries and how much tax they pay.

Revenues and oil royalties collected from oil drilling multinationals in Turkana should finance welfare programs for local people. The Turkana people should sign a "social contract" with the Kenyan state and the oil drilling multinationals, whereby the state and the multinationals will have a legal and moral obligation to protect and deliver services to the local Turkana people.

Human welfare and redistribution of resources should emerge as the key agenda as oil drilling goes on in Turkana. The Kenyan state and the multinationals should there ensure economic rights for the local Turkana community. If not, social justice actors should contest and block further exploration and exploitation of Tukana oil until Turkana people’s grievances are addressed. I therefore call upon Turkana people to hold government and oil drilling multinationals accountable for any failure in social welfare protection.


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* Julius Okoth is an activist with Bunge la Mwananchi (people’s parliament) in Kenya.
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