Kenya’s parliament is currently discussing an energy bill that will outline how oil revenues will be divided. David Ekwee says this bill will be critical to the future stability of the Turkana region – warning that there could be serious
consequences if it is delayed or doesn’t grant local communities sufficient benefits.
Charles Wanguhu is the coordinator of Kenya CSO Platform on Oil and Gas and says if the tensions do morph into a conflict, the government would find it difficult to suppress. “These are very militant communities. They know the terrain, they are used to dealing with other combatants. ”
Over recent decades, Turkana has become saturated in firearms that have flowed from conflicts in neighbouring countries and clashes between tribes are regular occurrence. In November last year more than 150 Pokot tribesmen with assault rifles and hand guns surrounded the Turkana village of Lorokon and a neighbouring police base as part of an ongoing boundary dispute. The siege lasted for seven days – and trapped officials had to be airlifted out of the village before reinforcements arrived and roads were reopened.
Wanguhu says responses to incidents like the siege of Lorokon and the killing of 42 police officers in neighbouring Samburu show that the government is underestimating the tribes and the threats they pose.
“The Baragoi massacre [in Samburu] should have been a wake-up call for politicians in Nairobi but nothing has changed. They still believe that in a worst-case scenario, they can send in a battalion and everything will be OK. Baragoi was a message – but it’s a message that has been ignored,” he says.
Tullow itself says it is well aware of the challenges in the region and has taken special care to prevent a repeat of the Nigeria scenario – where expected jobs for local communities never materialised and the oil boom was accompanied by attacks and stolen oil.
“We are constantly monitoring the political situation,” says Tullow’s social impact manager Trina Fahey. “We have whole departments doing just that.”
“Those that are predicting more trouble in Kenya aren’t giving oil companies credit that they can learn from their mistakes,” adds Tullow spokesperson George Cazenove.
The concern shared by many analysts watching developments in the region is the sheer number of different challenges involved in extracting Kenya’s oil whilst at the same time avoiding unrest.
“All the risks and challenges in Kenya are manageable but the list of challenges is long,” says Energy Aspects geopolitical analyst Richard Mallinson.
“The concern is: maybe one issue won’t be dealt with correctly and that one issue will be enough to spark a crisis.”