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4 Apr 2016

Lisa Laventure, in Al Jazeera

Kenya: Search for oil inflaming tensions; says columnist

"How the search for oil is inflaming tensions in Kenya"

Muchukwo is a small village on the eastern bank of the Kerio River, a narrow stretch of water connecting the northern and southern points of the Kerio Valley...In partnership with the Canadian company Africa Oil, Tullow had been doing aerial surveillance in search of hydrocarbons - which indicate the presence of oil - in the area for months...The area faced extreme poverty, high unemployment and an 80 percent illiteracy rate, and expectations that Tullow would immediately bring the jobs and development the region needed permeated local communities. Competition over land, suddenly more valuable than ever, heated up...

As Kenya races to be the first East African country to export oil, international experts say that patterns are emerging in the Kerio Valley that mirror those witnessed in Turkana, pointing to trouble in the future: complaints of damage to communally held lands, lack of compensation and collusion with political elites. Rights abuses have already taken place, say communities within the Kerio, and tensions might rise as exploration ramps up...Tullow acknowledged that the 500km of roads laid for seismic surveillance exacerbated environmental challenges that have long plagued the Kerio Valley. Tullow's environmental manager, Alex Mutiso, told Al Jazeera that the company tried to rehabilitate the land by planting grass along the eroded gullies, but that "nature won over"...

"When Tullow came here, they came with the permission of the politicians," says Nuluki Komen Cherogony, an 80-year-old farmer in Kerturwo, Baringo County. "The chief told us Tullow would work here and to please facilitate; we were told to comply. You could not interfere because you would be against the government." Tullow says local politicians helped in "rallying the community in support of our activities, because at the end of the day, it looks good on their part". Mutiso added that it was not Tullow's responsibility to ensure that local representatives were giving their constituents accurate information. "If they choose to twist the information, that's on them; we expect everyone to operate with integrity, honesty and openness." [refers to Shell]