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Turkana residents demand fair share of oil windfall

LODWAR, (Xinhua) — Four years into the discovery of oil in Kenya’s northwestern Turkana county, local residents’ initial hopes of better economic prospects has been replaced by rising impatience.
In the past three years, there have been numerous protests in the vast and semi-arid region as locals demand jobs and monetary compensation. Local people often complained of being sidelined by oil exploration firms, alleging that only well-heeled businessmen and politicians have benefited from the business.
Initial protests in the regions near oil fields stemmed from fear by the herdsman community that exploration will displace them from their ancestral land.
“We feel our livelihood has been threatened by the oil exploration activities in the region and our livestock and people will be displaced,” said Arot Chegem, a resident in Turkana.
Chegem insisted the government and oil companies should compensate Turkana herdsmen displaced from their ancestral land when oil exploration started.
However, despite simmering discontent from a section of the population, there are other indications that the oil drilling has boosted local economy. A spot check by Xinhua reveals that modern schools and health centers have been constructed in the areas where oil exploration has been ongoing.
“Our children used to cover a long distance to school and there were no health facilities nearby. But since the oil companies pitched tent here, our lives have improved tremendously,” said John Ekai, an elderly herdsman.
International oil companies have been prospecting for oil in Lokichar and Ngamia-1 regions of Turkana county since 2012. Since oil exploration commenced in Turkana, conservation lobbies have been pushing for compensation to local people who lost their ancestral land that is rich in flora and fauna.
At the same time, community leaders have lobbied oil companies to invest in physical and social infrastructure including roads, schools, hospitals and power.
Last month witnessed violent protests by Turkana residents demanding compensation by oil companies. Local administrators brokered a truce between the oil companies and the aggrieved communities.
On their part, the oil companies promised to invest more resources in projects that uplift the living standards of locals.
“We have partnered with key stakeholders to ensure that local people are involved in our projects. We have employed several top and middle level managers from Turkana county,” said Martin Mbogo, the Kenya Country Manager for Tullow Oil.
The county government of Turkana has organized several meetings between oil companies and community leaders to address the row over compensation.
County lawmakers said at a recent meeting that the passage of Kenya’s petroleum bill 2015 will ensure that local people benefit from 10 percent of profits generated from oil exports.

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