What Kenya should do to make oil find a blessing


The recent oil discovery in Turkana has been termed as a historic find and is seen to be a boost to the country’s economy which offers Kenya a unique and exciting chance to alleviate poverty and create broad-based development and improved standards of living across the country.

Howevor the lack of a benefit sharing mechanism between county and country doesn’t show the clear picture of the direct benefits to Turkana County’s economy. Moreover, international experience points to challenges which are often faced by resource-rich developing countries in translating mineral wealth into peace and prosperity. Much has been written about the “resource curse” and a deepening range of political, economic and social challenges is visible.

Disputes related to natural resources have exacted a toll on far too many African societies, turning the dreams of national prosperity that come with the discovery of such natural resources into perpetual nightmares. Consequently, these disputes have resulted in violent conflicts, environmental destruction, corruption, untold human hardship, displacements and a devastated future for entire communities. This sad but true reality causes even the most exuberant optimist to wonder if the discovery of oil in one’s county should be a cause of jubilation or trepidation.

Aside from a few exceptions, wherever there is oil on the continent, there is misery and conflict. The causes of these conflicts, as seen across the region, range from a lack of mechanisms for accountability, inequities in the distribution of oil wealth, to injustices of endemic political and corporate abuses of human rights in affected communities. This is manifested through the violations of rights, total disregard for laws and flagrant disregard for the interests and wellbeing of communities.

A common trend as seen in oil-related conflicts from Angola and Nigeria to Sudan, among others, is the emergence of aggrieved and exploited groups of citizens, who resort to violence as the only means of demanding accountability, inclusion and justice. ‘A riot is the language of the unheard’, as Martin Luther King put it. The billions of oil wealth generated do not reflect in the conditions of the people and the communities from which the oil is drilled. The continent’s leading oil producers ;Algeria, Nigeria and Angola, rank 104, 158 and 143 respectively on the 2009 United Nations Human Development Index. Other resource-endowed African countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also rank near the bottom of human development in the world.
The absence of strong mechanisms for accountability and oversight have allowed small cliques of greedy elites and their corporate allies to amass the oil wealth to the detriment of national development in too many of our countries. It is a trend too pervasive across the continent, so what measures is Kenya putting in place to avert this?

Based on the guiding Brussels Principles- October 2009: A new Paradigm for oil and gas development which countries and their legislators must observe as they debate the Oil game in their respective countries;

1. The need for all Oil producing countries to avoid/limit hydro carbon development to the maximum extent possible
2. The need for prior informed consent of local/indigenous people before any oil site is approved for development
3. The need for comprehensive environmental planning/monitoring(Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA),Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) )
4. The need for value ecosystem and social systems adequate risk benefit calculation.
5. Avoidance of Oil mining in ecologically/culturally sensitive areas-“No-Go-Areas”(IUCN Category1-1V)
6. Minimization of Ecological/Cultural Foot print by sticking to Best Available Technology(BAT), Risk Reduction to As Low As Possible(ALAP), not As Low as Reaonably Possible (ALARP)
7. Minimization of emissions-air(gas flaring), water(drilling fluids, ballast water),and land
8. Minimization of energy use
9. Avoiding Petroleum Industry purchase of Bio diversity offsets
10. Oil Spill prevention and Response-(Best Available Technology (BAT).
11. Government Industry Transparency (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Publish What You Pay (PWYP), Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)
12. Effective Government Regulatory Oversight
13. Public Engagement-Citizens’ Advisory Councils – the government should impose high carbon tax on oil companies, encourage the formation of Advisory councils, be transparent in its dealings with the oil companies.
14. Emphasis on Protection of human rights-Setting up guidelines for security forces
15. Public revenue-Fair,Transparent(maximize take + Spend wisely + Savings fund
16. Maximize benefit to local economy-Jobs, revenue sharing etc
17. Setting up sufficient financial liability in case the Oil investors fail to act responsibly
18. Restoration of all damages as much as possible(the Oil investor)
19. Establish and pre-finance project closure protocols
20. Policy reform-transfer subsidies impose carbon tax on Oil companies and invest $ 3 trillion/year in sustainable energy future.

In order to safeguard societal interests, the following need to be put in place before oil production begins:

 The proposed Freedom of Information Act should be passed and must guarantee unconditional public access to information, including on revenues, investments and contracts.
 A mechanism for benefit-sharing between the national government and county government be spelled
out upon the installation of our County governments.
 The need for a regulatory environment that fosters transparency concerning all revenues and in negotiation and award of contracts;
 Lobby for Kenya to be a member of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)
 Detailed written commitment in addressing environmental impacts that may accrue from oil drilling activities in the area.
 Because Oil drips” occurs during production process and transportation, there is the need for the government to also develop a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan to complement any other existing environmental mitigation plans

 All information regarding developments in the oil sector including environmental conservation strategies, Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), revenue sharing and production should be accessible and well elaborated.

 The importance of balancing petroleum production with conservation of the different exploration areas’ unique biodiversities, and wider environmental wellbeing;
 Ensuring other sectors of the economy will withstand fluctuating petroleum prices;
 Enforcing high standards of corporate responsibility and compliance on the part
of investing companies;
 Ensuring that the anticipation of wealth from Turkana’s oil does not intensify land insecurity, ethnic/ sectarian competition and other conflicts;
 Halt any lease / allocation of any land within Turkana county till structures are put in place to monitor any lease of land.
 Building public participation and capacity to understand the new sector.
There is need for citizenry oversight- Vigilant citizens remain the best guarantee against corruption and for safeguarding the public interest. Citizens and the media must see and treat their monitoring role as a responsibility. Based on the pathetic track record of most of our political and public officials, personal and not public interest is going to be the foremost priority of most of those who would be representing us in the planning, negotiations and decision processes. If ‘we the people’ don’t stand up for our collective interest, no one else will do it for us.

(Ikal Angelei is the Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, a grassroots organization advocating for Environmental Justice, Community Rights and Resource Governance. ikal@friendsoflaketurkana.org)

6 Replies to “What Kenya should do to make oil find a blessing”

  1. If the public had access to information on the exploration, revenues, investments and contracts, then the case of the case of the contentious sale of block 10BB by the ‘greedy Minister’ wouldn’t have arisen. However, it is not too late for the Turkana and Kenyans at large to fight this form of corruption.

  2. What ever is done, it should be about men, women and children that have never benefited from the gushing government dollars and continue agitating for transparency and accountability for every contract and agreements conducted in regards to the oil exploration, time is running out for dictators in Africa following the collapse of Col Mummar Gadafi in Libya the writings are on the wall.

  3. such informative masterpieces are important for our legislators and community leaders to be aware of in light of the many corrupt deals that seem glaring today. if this the way to go Ikal, how best can our folks know such nitty gritties…..i wonder as yet if the immediate community even knows what there share will be, how it will be shared and when this is expected.

  4. Good document.
    One more thing I’d like to add is for the authorities to ensure that we’re processing the oil right here in Kenya. We shouldn’t export crude if it comes to it.
    That way we can jump-start our industries

  5. we can learn from big oil producing countries especially saudia ,abudhabi on how the country and citizens benefit from oil.

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