The 14 Words

Monday, 23 September 2013

Kenya: Predicting Africa's Next Oil Insurgency - the Precarious Case of Kenya's Turkana County


This article was written on September 13 before the attack on the shopping mall

The recent discovery of oil deposits in Kenya's Turkana County could increase insecurity in the region.

Political scientists remain divided on the link between natural resources and armed conflict in Africa. One school of thought suggests that competition over the control of resources is itself a motivation for the development of armed insurgencies. Others - opponents of this greed-based theory - suggest that control over resources serves as a mechanism to correct economic and political inequalities. But all agree on one thing: there is a positive relationship between the availability of lootable resources and armed insurrection, and this is particularly the case where populations have been marginalised.

Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta follows this pattern - the Delta experienced a protracted insurgency against the region's hydrocarbon industry due to the negative impacts of oil exploration and the question of profit distribution. The conflict occurred in a context of ethnically-motivated violence and a burgeoning small arms trade, leading to the rapid militarisation of the region.

A 2009 amnesty agreement formally brought an end to the Niger Delta conflict and, although the peace remains tenuous, the frequency of violence, kidnappings and terrorism has decreased. As a consequence, the world's attention has shifted towards the impending East African oil boom. Most vested stakeholders have focused on the potential geopolitical benefits of the boom, but fail to address the potential impact these resource discoveries could bring to areas already experiencing acute socio-political and economic marginalisation.

A case in point in Kenya's Turkana County. Located at the meeting of Kenya's blurred borders with Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan, Turkana County is an arid region, long neglected by successive Kenyan administrations. However, in recent months, Turkana County has become a key area of interest for the Kenyan government and investors alike following reports that British-owned oil exploration company, Tullow Oil PLC, discovered an estimated 250 million barrels of crude oil there.

While resource extraction is not expected to begin for several years, the Turkana oil finds have been celebrated. Oil revenue is seen as a solution to poverty in the region, where nine out of ten people live below the breadline. But behind the optimistic rhetoric, the prevailing political and security environment in Turkana County is looking conspicuously similar to that which sparked insurgency in the Niger Delta. If left unaddressed, we could potentially see the region become a theatre for oil conflict.


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