By Eva Constantaras
Thursday January 9th, 2014
In early November 2013, protests by local residents forced a two-week shutdown of Tullow Oil’s operations in Turkana, the most impoverished region of Kenya. A year earlier, an oil discovery raised hopes of a rebirth for the community. But promised benefits for the locals, many of whom are being affected or displaced by the drilling operations, are far from being achieved.
After the protest, Tullow Oil, the British company that started drilling this arid land, and the Ministry of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The agreement resulted in the company’s doubling its annual social investments to Sh340 million (2.9 million Euros) in exchange for more government security. Most of the citizens who participated in the protests have no idea whether the contents of the confidential document satisfy their demands. The Land Quest team obtained an exclusive copy of the document, which is available here.
At the heart of the tension between the community, the investor and the company, lies the lack of a community investment model developed mutually and publically. The local community has no idea in the long-term how it will benefit from the new oil find.
Local civil society groups and European NGOs worry that any investments developed by Tullow Oil will amount tounsustainable and inefficient handouts at best, and influence buying at worst. Either case could prove incendiary in an already tense situation.
The majority leader of the Turkana County Assembly, the Hon Patrick Losike, was not privy to the MoU, but said Tullow Oil employs some locals from Turkana, the Kenyan region with the worst unemployment rates, and provides some scholarships. He feels, however, that the community is unprepared to formulate their demands adequately. “There is a need for the community to be provided with knowledge and training to protect themselves from upcoming hazards from these resources,” he said.
Even a simple water tank and kiosk such as this one built by Oxfam with European Commission funding in a village just west of Lake Turkana requires assessments, community management training and monitoring to become sustainable.
The Kenya Oil & Gas Working Group, part of a network of civil society organizations that form Community Action for Nature Conservation, formed in 2009 to fill this knowledge gap. They do it educating citizens on their rights. With a clear focus: help citizens seek compensation if mining companies displaced them from their grazing areas and prepare them for the “what ifs” when big change brought on by the oil discovery comes.
Local non-governmental organizations report that tensions were already running high after only two of 20 post-graduate scholarships offered by Tullow went to Turkana residents. According to the Tullow scholarship website, up to six post-graduate degrees will be awarded to Kenyans for the 2013/2014 academic year but there is no stated preference for Turkana applicants, who believe they should receive special preference as the resources are located in their impoverished county.
Martin Mbogo Country Manager for Tullow Oil in Kenya said Tullow has constructed classrooms, funded bright, needy students for four years in the secondary, rehabilitating clinics, drilled boreholes and piped water to homes for a price tag of over $1 million (735,000 euros) this year, which they plan to quadruple next year according to the terms of the MoU. But Mbogo declined to give documentation or budgets for any of these projects.
Government officials have also called into question the local employment figure of 1,000 provided by Tullow Oil .They requested an employment audit as part of the MoU, according to Turkana County Governor Josephat Nanok. The data, provided by Tullow Oil to the Land Quest team, requires further analysis due to questionable classifications of high skilled labor for jobs given to non-Turkana.
According the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, basic literacy in Turkana stood at 7.2 percent in 2007. This essentially excludes the majority of people in the community from training programs and from the few direct employment opportunities offered by oil drilling, according to Ikal Ang’elei, director of Friends of Lake Turkana, a local environmental NGO.
As a result, the locals have largely been offered unskilled jobs, such as working as guards, sand mixers or cooks. Other opportunities have included transportation contracts, which have been snatched up by wealthy businessmen with the financial capital and political connections to supply vehicles for use.
The contents of the MoU at the time of signature were accessible only to the oil company and the Ministry of Energy. It had not been possible for civil society organizations to hold Tullow to account or check up on their promises. In an interview, the County Executive member for Energy and Environment, Rodha Loyor, said she doubted Tullow’s intentions.
Earlier in the year, Tullow Oil invited her to a workshop about oil and gas management that turned out to be a sales pitch where, “investors bombarded me for five days.” She cancelled future meetings with Tullow until she found more balanced sources of information about both the opportunities and risks of the emerging oil sector. While she wishes that Tullow Oil and the county government could work together to build health facilities for workers and implement scholarship programs, that cooperation has yet to happen.
Practical Action, the Agency for Pastoral Development and Friends of Lake Turkana are three of the NGOs that reported that they had met with displaced communities whose migratory grazing routes have been interrupted by drilling. However, none of them had the funding needed to offer services nor did they know who else to refer them to for help. Under the MOU, Tullow Oil has committed to opening a local office to address grievances, although no plan for resettling pastoralists has been presented, according to the Turkana County Governor.
The director for the Oil & Gas Working Group, Hadley Becha, explained that the oil companies are not legally obliged to provide the community with any social investment under the current legislation, especially in terms of local content and benefits sharing. “In fact, right now it is up to Tullow to negotiate with the community,” he said. “Tullow does not have a legal process through which to support the community.”
A study commissioned by The United Kingdom Department for International Development this year warned Kenya’spreparedness for natural resource management recommends emulating community investment models in countries where they have been successful, including Peru and Mozambique. They warn of the dangers of companies simply making direct payments to the local government for social and infrastructure projects. It tasks the county government with bringing together local councils to produce a development agenda with targeted projects with long-term impact. It also recommends establishing a long-term growth fund for future generations.
To date, the county government has not taken the initiative. There are no collective bargaining mechanisms in place for the community besides community advisory boards set up by Tullow itself and local civil society leaders said are not representative and are easily manipulated. With increased security at the oil drilling sites, high profile protests may no longer be an option. Loyor explained that after just a few months in office, the county government is not prepared to address complaints against Tullow. The grievance officers promised by Tullow have not yet reported to their posts. A perfect Catch-22.