Oil discoveries in Turkana still to fuel women's emancipation
4 months ago, 9 Aug 15:31
Turkana is a vast dry, remote county in northwest Kenya, home to around 1.5 million nomadic livestock keepers.
The discovery of commercially viable oil deposits six years ago brought with it great expectations of economic transformation of the historically marginalised area.
The discovery of oil has indeed had major implications for communities in the area. But not all the changes have been positive.
We have been conducting research in Turkana over the past four years with the aim of understanding how the extractive industry affects communities and triggers conflict.
We have done interviews and had group discussions with key decision makers, civil society groups and community members.
The research identified some key challenges. That women weren’t properly represented in decisions made between the oil company and community. And that they were particularly vulnerable to problems brought about by displacement, due to the oil extraction.
Also, the extractive industry has brought a migration of workers, transformed the local economy from livestock-based to cash-based and blocks access to traditional grazing lands.
This matters hugely for the welfare of all Turkana people, the fabric of Turkana society, and, ultimately, the security of the country.
Some local people have benefited from the new opportunities. The oil company has brought a demand for manual labour and local raw materials and developed a small hospitality industry.
It has also provided a few bursaries and classrooms. But many local people face economic exclusion, as well ongoing uncertainty over their land and livelihoods.
The industry is set to expand in the coming years with the construction of a total of 25 wellpads – areas cleared for a drilling rig – that will need pipelines, roads, rail tracks and a central processing facility.
Despite this, the local community have no guarantee that they will benefit from the development of the oil sites. Current legal, policy and institutional frameworks are too weak to protect pastoralists and other indigenous rural communities from losing land to investment and development.
Turkana pastoralists have been showing their frustration by staging a number of demonstrations and have even put up some roadblocks. There have been at least two large-scale demonstrations that have resulted in destruction of property and disruption of the oil company’s operations.
The Turkana are well armed and there is a significant threat that the unrest could escalate into banditry and violence. Earlier research points to the importance of relative deprivation mixed with extraction commodities in causing turmoil – a situation already witnessed in the Niger Delta.
But the impact of the extractive industry is felt particularly acutely by women.
A report by the United Nations notes that “Women face disproportionate risks in their engagements with extractive industries operations including: Harassment, gender-based violence, HIV, and extreme levels of violence in resource-based conflicts.”
There is gender bias at all stages of project activities. Limited by illiteracy, workloads, resources and position, women are even less involved than men in the initial stages of impact assessment and consultation by companies.
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