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Oil industry requires land tenure security if the trade is to flourish



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Twice, I have had the opportunity to listen to high-level presentations by Tullow Oil. Tullow came and found a home in the otherwise arid and, until fairly recently, rather marginalised northern Kenya.

They prospected for and struck oil in Turkana. But the trouble with things on or below the earth’s surface is that their exploitation is tied to land ownership.

The government, communities, individuals and companies will always stake some claim to such land. That calls for negotiations. And these can be hard.

Luckily, the Constitution and Kenyan law categorise all minerals and mineral resources as public property.

But where land with such minerals was previously community or private, due compensation must be paid before converting it for public use.

Therefore, much as Tullow struck oil, they could not move until they secured guarantees to the use of the land under which they found the oil.

Moreover, once pumped out, the oil must be transported to consumer markets. The existing roads do not provide a good option since this is cumbersome and slow.

So a pipeline to the coastline, along the proposed Lapsset corridor right down to the Lamu Port, is preferred.

This spells acquisition of the affected community and private land along that corridor, hence more negotiations over the affected land!

The construction of an oil pipeline to the Coast could perhaps be a silver lining for Kenya.

It provides good economic justification for the opening up of a second transport corridor parallel to the existing one which runs from Mombasa to Uganda through Nairobi and western Kenya.

This first corridor has informed and defined development in Kenya since commissioning by the colonial government early in the 20th century.

Most of the existing national road and rail network is either part of or offshoots from this corridor. Regions that are far from it ended up lagging behind in development for obvious reasons.

So the proposed second corridor, which will serve the transportation of oil from Turkana among other things, should be a welcome extra boost to the country.

It will not only help to open up large parts of the North to intra-regional commerce but will, to a large extent, also integrate the economy of northern Kenya to that of the rest of the country.

The Tullow oil project also has potential to drive major gains for the region and the country, such as direct and indirect jobs, consumption of vast amounts of construction material and the establishment of much-needed infrastructure, including water points for people and livestock.

The project is also expected to greatly raise Kenya’s geopolitical profile. While appreciating all these, one hopes that any communal or private land rights affected by the oil well sites or the transport corridor will be carefully identified, negotiated and compensated.

Without this, the noble project will suffer delays or even stoppages as land rights contests play out later.

This happened during the titanium mining project in Kwale. It has and continues to play out on the Mombasa-Kisumu standard gauge railway project.

Once acquired, the pipeline corridor should be cushioned from speculative and incompatible land uses through legislation on planning.

It should be gazetted as a special planning zone as was done to protect the Konza City periphery a while back.

But in compensating those affected, public money must be put to optimal use. Care must be exercised not to lose it through unduly exaggerated compensation rates or paying for non-existent land.

Where county governments have to receive payments on behalf of communities that hold unregistered land, mechanisms must be found to ensure that such money impacts the livelihoods of targeted communities.

This could, for instance, be ensured by incorporating community leadership in the decision-making processes on how such money is to be used.

Such arrangements must be effectively explained to the targeted communities in good time to pre-empt their opposition to the project.

Furthermore, previous studies by the Land Development and Governance Institute on the Lapsset corridor within Lamu and Isiolo counties revealed that for patriarchal communities, compensation proceeds to private landowners almost exclusively end up in the hands of male household heads who usually spend it at will, and not necessarily on their families.

This exposes rather vulnerable spouses and children to threats of eviction without alternative land for settlement.

To prevent such social-economic challenges, methods must be devised to ensure transparency and responsibility by the compensation beneficiaries.

The study also revealed community frustration that some sections of the transport corridor are planned to pass through cultural and grazing sites.

Such sites are priceless to indigenous and pastoralist communities and therefore avoiding them should be a design priority.

There will also be lots of local and national concern on the kind of measures put in place to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts.

Tullow must hence demonstrate that such measures have been incorporated for the life of the project and after.

Above all these concerns, the local consumer looks forward to better oil prices once Kenya’s oil hits the market.