Over the past year exploratory work in the TurkanaCounty has transformed the economic landscape of the region. British-owned TullowOil Plc has discovered an estimated 250 million barrels of crude oil in the County while United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced the discovery of 200billion cubic meters of fresh water reserves in the Turkana and Lotikipi Basin. Although this creates the hope for one of the poorest regions in Kenya and offers a solution to water insecurity not just in the drought-blighted regions in the north, but for the entire country, we will need to consider the effects of any resource exploitation carried out.
Historically there has been a correlation between resource exploitation and conflicts where deep-rooted grievances exist and security/political structures are weak. The likelihood of conflict in such scenarios is particularly worsened where arms are easily available. As communities in the County are highly weaponised, it is imperative to consider the lessons learned elsewhere on the continent and understand the factors unique to the already volatile region in order to divert potential conflict arising. By this proposal I aim to investigate and highlight the main challenges to and effects of natural resource exploitation with a special focus on conflict.
Weaponisation and Small arms control
Since independence,Turkana has been a heavily weaponised County with an estimated 50,000 small arms in circulation. There have been several contributing factors to the insecurity in the region among them being that communities in the north of Kenya and those in the neighboring countries are pastoralists who live a largely nomadic life and heavily depend on scarce pastures in the dry and semi-arid area. Cattle rustling (and the need for weapons) has resulted due to tradition, climate change and resource conflict as competition for scarce resources heightened. Highway banditry has also emerged as a socio-economic activity due to poverty and access to small arms. Additionally, conflict in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia has further increased insecurity in the area by allowing for the proliferation of arms into north Turkana and engrained the use of weapons in the culture of the Turkana.
Another characteristic that defines the region is the consistent marginalization of the region by various administrations resulting in widespread poverty, lack of education and poor infrastructure and healthcare.
The combination of marginalization and weaponisation serve as catalysts for escalation in violence where mineral extraction does not come with transparency in profit distribution. Lessons should be learned from Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta that resulted in increased militarization (a thriving small arms trade developed as light weaponry flowed readily over the porous borders of Cameroon, Gabon and Guinea-Bissau) of the ethnic communities and escalated inter-ethnic violence as well as protracted security threats to the region’s hydrocarbons industry.
Moreover, continued weakness in the policing of the north has the potential to encourage crime through oil bunkering. Revenue from this activity in other regions has historically found its way back into armed groups seeking to correct perceived imbalances with the potential to escalate into more direct threats, including terrorism, sabotage and kidnapping for the purposes of ransom and extortion. It is therefore imperative that stronger policing and judicial structures within the Turkana County are enforced with a focus on small arm control.
It is my belief therefore that policies that are implemented must place emphasis on improved security in the region and realistic disarmament programs that take into account the vulnerability of Turkana County communities to the neighboring Karamajong in