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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kenya: Oil and Isolation

Will then discovery of oil in the Turkana region of Kenya lead to civil conflict that rips the country apart?:

Oil and Isolation, by Juliet Torome, Commentary, Project Syndicate: In Kenya, there is a running gag that sums up how far away the Turkana people live from the rest of us. When a Turkana man leaves for the capital, Nairobi, the joke goes, he tells his family, “I’m going to Kenya.” ...
The Turkana people are, as the joke suggests, as far away from Nairobi as one can be without being foreigners. For this reason, we know very little about them. In schools, we learned about them only within the context of the Leakey family’s decades-long work excavating the Lake Turkana basin in search of fossils of humans’ ancestors. This could be one reason why Kenyans have historically looked at the Turkana people as archaic beings, millennia away from “civilization” and with different needs from most of the country.
The lack of adequate infrastructure in the Turkana region is evidence of this. Unlike the Maasai, the Turkana inhabit a region that, until now, was of little or no value to the country. There are no wild animals to attract tourists, and, although the Turkana, like the Maasai, have preserved their indigenous culture, they are not renowned around the world, perhaps because of their distance from Nairobi. ...
The discovery of oil presents Kenya with a rare opportunity to end the Turkana community’s marginalization. Discussion of how the oil exploration and extraction will proceed needs to start now, and the health of the environment surrounding the Turkana people must be paramount. ...
Some of the precautions... to safeguard ... welfare include establishing a regulatory body that fosters transparency in contract negotiations; balancing oil production with conservation of the area’s unique biodiversity; enforcing high standards of corporate responsibility; and regulating land sales to prevent conflicts. Finally, the government should ensure that Turkana people are trained to understand and participate in the new sector.
If Kenya approaches oil exploration and extraction ... and fails to implement these common-sense recommendations, a few years from now Kenyans might be sorry that oil was ever found. Indeed, Kenya could end up with a conflict similar to the one in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where local people took up arms to fight the oil industry’s degradation of their environment.
Unfortunately, the foundation for such a conflict has already, sadly, been laid. Many people in the Lake Turkana region are already armed with AK-47s and other weapons originally intended for protection from cattle rustlers. If Kenya’s government fails to protect the Turkana from the oil companies as well, its people might well start shooting.

    Posted by on Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 01:17 AM in Economics, Kenya, Oil | Permalink  Comments (8)

          


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