The True Oil And Gas Narrative

Kenya’s Oil Activities Should Factor Needs, Fears of Host Communities


Kaperit is a resident of Kenya’s oil-rich Turkana county. His entire life revolves around pastoralism, and his wealth is his livestock. But ever since oil was discovered in Turkana, large parcels of land have been taken up for the extraction, and this has largely restricted the land on which his livestock can freely graze.

Kaperit is concerned that once the oil pipeline construction commences, he will be relocated to make way for the infrastructure needed to transport the oil for export.

The Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset Corridor) is eastern Africa’s largest and most ambitious regional infrastructure project aimed at facilitating trade by creating seamless connectivity between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. The project includes the construction of a sea port in Lamu, Kenya and a system of railroads, highways, fibre-optic cables and international airports.

With the confirmed oil discovery in Turkana, the project also includes the construction of a crude oil pipeline, which is expected to transport 600 million barrels of crude oil per day for export. From the Turkana Lake Basin to Lamu, the 821km pipeline will run through six counties, including Samburu, Isiolo, Garissa and Tana River. Construction is expected to kick off in early 2020 with completion in 2022, when oil from Turkana is expected to be ready for export.

With less than a year to the projected pipeline construction, communities along the corridor who are poised to be most affected by the massive infrastructure undertaking are concerned. Several issues need critical attention as the government pursues this project.

First is the issue of livelihoods. The anticipated prioritization of the oil infrastructure at the expense of other viable livelihood options is characteristic of the “resource curse” that has been the downfall of many African countries. If the current trajectory holds, the Lapsset oil infrastructure stands to displace existing and potential livelihood options, as is already the case with fishermen in Lamu.

Proponents of the Lapsset project have argued that the areas around the project will see a sharp boost in economic activity. But evidence elsewhere points to the challenges this may pose. Data from around the world has shown that economic gains are often modest and short-lived, in addition to excluding local communities.

A study by the World Bank found that only about 7,000 people were directly employed in gold mining in Tanzania in 2013. In general, companies procuring goods and services from local companies across the sector in sub Saharan Africa are not large. In countries like South Africa, for every one mining job, an additional 1.8 jobs are created within the economy through backward linkages and expenditure effects.

The second issue is around land tenure. Communities along the proposed pipeline route have expressed concern that most of the population has no formal titles to the land they have lived on for generations. Most of the land in Turkana, Samburu, Isiolo and Garissa counties is community owned. And although the Constitution and Land Act acknowledge these lands as already lawfully owned, the procedures are not yet in place for each community land to be formally registered.

Thirdly, transparency remains a huge challenge, with opacity breeding mistrust. Beyond the information shared on the oil pipeline, the government needs to promote transparency by making petroleum contracts, licences and revenues publicly available. Transparency ensures communities are empowered to make informed decisions on the oil and its related infrastructure, where consent is required.

Whilst the Lapsset project is touted as a scheme to redress economic injustices for marginalised communities along the pipeline’s corridor, a failure to conduct the necessary assessments and community consultations could see the project further alienating these groups, both socially and economically.

To ensure the project delivers economic benefit to the host communities, the government should embark on a focused and constructive dialogue with affected communities. Dialogue committees should be established in a manner that is representative of local views and ensure community participation and agreement where appropriate by the host communities, in accordance to standards set out in domestic and international law and frameworks.

Kenya’s oil and gas sector could bring economic prosperity to local communities and the country as a whole, but only if the right process is followed to ensure equitable and sustainable development for all Kenyans.

The writer is the coordinator for the Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas.

This article was originally published in People Daily