Photo Credit/Blandina Bobson


In November 2017, Oxfam launched a study report ‘Testing Community Consent- Tullow Oil project in Kenya’. The case study was assessing the extent of Tullow Oil’s (the company currently engaged in the exploration and production of oil) compliance with the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in Turkana County, Kenya. Even though the study finding demonstrated that the company’s community engagement processes had improved substantially, it was yet to achieve FPIC.

Based on the report finding, Tullow Oil admitted its limitation and expressed their desire to learn from civil society organisations (CSOs). They were keen on understanding how to meaningfully engage communities to have an inclusive consultation process, that allows for democratic decision making. I recall sharing with colleagues from the extractive sector, that it was an opportune moment for the CSOs to support Tullow Oil on their request.  I believed that the report recommendations allowed for each stakeholder to take forward the action in their own spaces. The report finding generated inquisitiveness within me and I hoped to visit the communities one day, to understand the dynamics better and to hear more from them.

My chance to interact with the communities had finally arrived. In my recent visit to Turkana (11-14 February 2019), I was quite excited to meet the communities, listen to their testimonies and the challenges they face.  To understand, how with the support of CSOs, they stand in unison to voice their concerns and be in control of their lives and resources. I visited communities from Lochwaa, Nakukulas and Lokwamusing in Turkana South and with council of elders, opinion leaders, trainer of trainees, well pad committee members from South and East Turkana.

As is obvious with any resource, ‘oil find’ in Turkana has led to rapid deconstruction and reconstruction of the social weave. A colleague shared that Turkana is no more a ‘community’, but has been strewn into clans – clan! which was never an obsessed identity for the people of Turkana. 

"They came and identified the elites in the village and took them on the side, discussed something. The next thing we knew was that our land was given away for exploration of oil. A camel was slaughtered and the company men had a feast with the community (read men only). We stayed at our homes as they enjoyed the meat." women from Nakukulas, Kochodin/Lokori ward, Turkana East.
"We had seen what had happened to Ngamiya 1 oil exploration but did not know that we will wake up one day to see our grazing land cleaned up. Tullow Oil had identified the land and looked for the old mzee (man) of  the house, offered some amount for the land. It was no more community grazing land" *Enock Apaule, well pad committee member, Twiga 1 oil well pad, Lokichar ward, Turkana South.
"Initially when they came, they said they will only explore and see if there is oil. If oil is found, they will let us know on the way forward. But now we see barrels of oil being transported. No one has come to discuss anything with us’ – community members, Lochwaa Turkana South.
I must admit, what I heard and sensed from the community at large was despair, hopelessness and disappointment. There was no sign of hope and neither anger- sigh! As expressed by Epem Nang’eio from Lokichar, during our community conversation "I am surprised that we are still discussing these issues (oil exploration), I have given up long time ago."
As Ekadeli Walakunj from Lokwamusing, expresses "The introduction of oil money is the beginning of all problems in Turkana." Living in chronic poverty for decades has weakened the morals of some individuals in the community as resources are being pumped in, however unsubstantial it might seem. As the community puts it ‘it’s ebele (greed)’ and Tullow Oil has taken advantage of the same. However, from community conversations it is evident that there is political capture and politicians are playing into the hands of Tullow, well I guess ‘mutual benefit’ will be a better way to express it.  But I wonder where is the civil society here? when did CSOs give up on their activism, their zeal to change the world and under the cover of being ‘targeted’ end up compromising the lives and livelihoods of the community that they were meant to serve.

‘Adding fuel (oil) to fire’ seems to have lost its meaning in the millennial era. Oil no more adds fire to the under bellies of CSOs.  CSOs are busy requesting for funding so that for example they can be physically present in Kainuk, an area known for cattle raiding and insecurity even before oil was being discussed. In our desperation to source funding, have we all forgotten that there is a traditional structure that took care of such things? Expressing that communities are clever and not being honest about the consultation process, as there are photos of them meeting Tullow Oil and their thumbprints on the agreement, does not in any way reflect that there was meaningful participation, that there was transparent information sharing and communities consented. We in this sector should know this better, how photos and signatures can be collected. CSOs who have been working on FPIC and advocating for the same now believe that FPIC is a foreign concept and wonder from whose perspective we are monitoring the success of FPIC- community or the company?

As CSOs are trying to map out the stakeholders, analyse power plays, draw out relationship arrows on flip charts stuck to their conference room walls, Tullow Oil has already sent a ‘muzungu’ (foreigner) to the field. This ‘muzungu’ has consulted various stakeholders- county government, key influential individuals, representatives of CSOs, opinion leaders, village elders and has a blueprint of the political economic analysis of Turkana. Tullow Oil could not have waited for this long for CSOs to help them mobilise the communities and to engage with them. The CSOs, on the other hand, have their ‘arrogance’ that they are the best in community engagement. Really? What I saw in my visit, I can confidently say that they (Tullow Oil) beat us on our turf!  Tullow Oil has moved on with its analysis and execution of its action plan based on the blueprint as the CSOs are bystanders ‘talking to themselves’.

‘FPIC’- as the CSOS are figuring out from which perspective to execute and monitor you, the company claims that it is already ‘implementing’ and the community has not received anything that is close to you, unless the slaughtered camel was YOU. Whichever form, culture, policy, principle or agreement you want to transform yourself into, hoping that you will ensure that the rights and interests of the community at large is protected.

To majority of people in Turkana, whose voices are not heard or has been numbed, I say, take charge of your lives. Let not Tullow Oil, CSOs, County Government, politicians or elites from your community take you for a ride.  As a representative of the CSO, humbly, I apologise for failing you.