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In Kenya election, the issue in one region is oil

Julia Simon Mar 4, 2013
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At a watering hole in the desert of Lokichar, about a dozen goats and camels drink up as a group of rural herders look on.

For the herders, the animals are their savings accounts, their supermarket, and their insurance. And since oil was discovered here a year ago, local people feel they need all the insurance they can get.

Herder Lobun Napudan says when the U.K.-based oil company Tullow came here to explore two years back, it put up a tall fence nearby. Since then he hasn’t been able to graze his animals on land he has used for years.

“It pains me to move the animals,” Napudan says, “we don’t know where the animals will end up and we worry we will all be displaced.”

Fears about displacement and land being seized without compensation are rife. Head elder Jesop Lopus says local people are not consulted enough about what’s going on — or even informed.

“The community feels left in the dark and we don’t know what is happening,” Lopus says.

Several non-governmental organizations want to change that. Ikal Angelei is the director of Friends of Lake Turkana, an environmental group. She’s lobbied the oil company, Tullow, to talk to the local people about the seismic tests they’re conducting at the nearby Lake Turkana.

“The fishermen brought up their concerns and the oil company gave their answers,” Angelei says.

There were meetings with Kenya’s Ministry of Energy, too. Ikal Angelei says it’s crucial to get local concerns heard at the top, in the capital Nairobi. So they’re making a national hub of environmentalists, lawyers, engineers and journalists to work together on the oil and gas issue. They’re pushing for more information about the production-sharing agreements struck by the government and the oil companies to make sure local people don’t lose out.

Angelei says the hub is key, “to have support on the national level, expertise in terms of policy, legislations and details like that.”

Back at the watering hole, the herders say today’s elections are an excellent opportunity for local people to hold local officials accountable.

That’s why everyone here intends to vote.

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