Journal of
African Studies and Development

  • Abbreviation: J. Afr. Stud. Dev
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2189
  • DOI: 10.5897/JASD
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 229

Full Length Research Paper

Security implications of oil exploration on social activities in South Lokichar Basin, Turkana County, Kenya

Cosmas Ekwom Kamais
  • Cosmas Ekwom Kamais
  • Department of Peace, Security and Social Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Egerton University, Kenya.
  • Google Scholar
Samson Wokabi Mwangi
  • Samson Wokabi Mwangi
  • Department of Peace, Security and Social Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Egerton University, Kenya.
  • Google Scholar
Eric Kiprono Bor
  • Eric Kiprono Bor
  • Department of Peace, Security and Social Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Egerton University, Kenya.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 25 June 2019
  •  Accepted: 26 July 2019
  •  Published: 31 July 2019


This study explored the security implications of oil exploration on the social activities in South Lokichar Basin, Turkana County, Kenya. It was motivated by the disagreements between the county government and national government on the exploration, extraction, production and sharing of oil benefits. Oil discovery and revenues fuel ethnic and political tension in any country, result in war and political instability. Nigeria’s Biafran war was due to oil discovery between July 6, 1967 and January 15, 1970. Such tensions are due to unfulfilled expectations of the host communities, corruption, environmental degradation, socio-economic disruptions and exploitation. In a region of extant and prevalent insecurity over scarce resources, there is the likelihood of violent disagreements over ownership and utilization of a newly discovered resource. Using Yamane’s formula, a sample of 382 respondents was drawn; 8,493 were adults from Turkana County. Whereas most studies relating to oil discovery in Kenya have centred on the economic implications; this study filled the gap from the security perspective. Oil exploration had security implications on social activities as confirmed by 70% of the respondents. 65% also confirmed it, while 60% confirmed that oil exploration led to increased insecurity. 65% of the respondents felt that the security measures were insufficient to deal with security threats as a result of oil exploration while 60% of the respondents did not feel entitled to the benefits of oil exploration and production. The study concluded that oil exploration had both positive and negative security implications on socio-economic activities in South Lokichar Basin, Turkana County, Kenya.           


Key words: Security, implications, oil exploration, social activities, indigenous communities, community participation.


The discovery of oil at Ngamia 1, on 12th March, 2012 at South Lokichar Basin in Turkana County brought a lot of excitement and high expectations among the indigenous communities of Turkana County and Kenyans at large. Since the oil discovery was announced, more  viable  oils wells have been drilled with some having promising recoverable crude oil and gas. With the great economic expectations, minerals such as oil come with challenges that Auty (1993) refers to as “Resource Curse”. This phenomenon    has   been   experienced   only   in   some
countries and it is largely attributable to non-existent or bad resource management policies, exploitative corrupt practices, non-participation of indigenous communities, and neglect of other economic activities. 
The issue of oil related security challenges has remained varied and viewed by many from different perspectives in history. According to World Bank (2009), countries dependent on oil are mostly associated with civil wars, inequitable resource allocation and marginalization of some communities or places in the country. In other words, oil-dependent countries are more likely to suffer from insecurity motivated by grievances or greed and this is particularly true for states in sub-Saharan Africa (Garvin, 2009). However, the discovery of oil also creates a sense of hope and expectation that the revenue would lead to the development of indigenous communities and the countries as a whole. And for this to be realized, the need for greater involvement of the people of oil producing areas in oil production cannot be over-emphasized.
Conversely, the discovery of oil deposits raises new opportunities for revenues, employment and other benefits, which may impact positively on community activities and peace-building. Collier (2007) notes that involvement of the indigenous community will ensure that they are effectively mobilized to contribute to the oil producing processes with a view to guaranteeing that reasonable margins and standards of safety and security are followed. Indeed, partnering with the people of oil producing communities will create and sustain better understanding among stakeholders in the oil industry and make conflict resolution less cumbersome. This will require good governance which according to UNDP (2011) “is the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels comprising the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. Governance involves the manner in which allocative and regulatory mechanisms are exercised in the management of resources and broadly embraces the formal and informal institutions by which authority is exercised and thus inclusiveness is key.
Africa’s mineral endowment is vast and well documented (Bush, 2008). With the realisation of this potential, there is a growing dependency on new discoveries of minerals by many African economies. Despite gains in economic growth related to the extractive boom since 2002, Africa remains one of the world’s poorest, least developed regions (MacNeish, 2010). The great potential benefits notwithstanding, the extraction of these finite resources poses significant security threats not only to the community but the country as whole in the form of localised insecurity or civil wars. Such negative security incidences cause death and injury, loss and misallocation of assets, and potentially  a negative trajectory of socio-economic development in the long-run.
It has been warned that the new oil discovery is likely to exacerbate existing tensions in the Turkana County where growing militarised inter-ethnic and cross-border insecurity are mainly caused by competition for scarce pastures and water resources (Johannes et al., 2015). Much depends on the successful implementation of a more inclusive political settlement as promised by the decentralisation provisions of the 2010 Constitution. Oil discovery in post-conflict countries may be expected to revive old animosities and political risks, particularly when the past insecurity had significant territorial dimensions such as among the Pokot and Turkana.
Turkana Baseline Report (2015) indicates that without access to information and meaningful consultation, most indigenous communities confronted with oil, gas and mining will eventually resist projects that have a negative impact on them. When negative impacts are not adequately redressed and benefits are unevenly distributed, trust is further undermined and the risk of intra-community and community–company tensions increases (Collier et al., 2008). Insecurity over resources is not only about natural resources. They are about social and cognitive boundaries, in demarcating resource ownership and thus selective assignment of enmity (Schlee, 2014). This idea supports the perceived definition of a “community”; that is a sense of belonging anchored in institutions as well as naturalised conventions which are a necessary condition to the agreements about the appropriation, use and sharing of natural and land resources (Jacob, 2004). This raises the question about inclusion/exclusion mechanisms and dynamics within a community and between communities.
Residents of South Lokichar who have been faced with a lack of electricity, water shortages and banditry, famine, etc., would thus be optimistic that their economic, security and infrastructural status will improve with the discovery of oil. The attention of the government has also shifted to Turkana County as a significant economic contributor. This is a shift from the previous governments’ attitude towards the region as remote and economically insignificant. The discovery of oil in Turkana County could drive the central government and regional actors towards renewal of peace talks and a more inclusive political settlement for the region (International Crisis Group, 2008). Political leadership (notably the Kenyan government) and the role of regional actors are factors that will determine whether extractive industries in the region result in a developmental impact in the community. With many studies emphasizing the economic implication of oil discovery particularly in the developed countries, scanty documentations have placed emphasis on the security implications of the same particularly in developing countries. Thus, this study will attempt to fill this gap by examining security implications of oil exploration on social activities.
Justification of the study
The study will be useful to the academic community by contributing to the existing scarce knowledge on the security implications of oil exploration on social activities. Scholars will use the knowledge for further research and suggest academically informed solutions to oil related security problems. Policy makers can also tap into the findings and recommendations to inform their decisions.



In a Turkana Baseline Report (2015), oil stakeholders in their assessment on the county’s mineral resources, were convinced that a more systematic, constructive and inclusive dialogue between indigenous communities, government and oil companies is possible and urgently needed to prevent further social tensions and rent seeking, in order to contribute to sustainable development in Turkana County. This is in cognisance of the fact that oil corporations that have engaged with indigenous communities through development projects have been a cause of inter-community conflicts in other places such as in the Niger Delta between communities participating in such projects and those that do not. Such tensions are thought to have contributed to the Nembe war in 2005 and the conflict between the Emouha and Ogbakiri communities in Rivers State (Idemudia 2010). In 2014 Shell's community development manager in Nigeria, acknowledged that the company at times precipitated insecurity by “...the way we award contracts, gain access to land, and deal with community representatives…”, (BBC, 2014). Cash payments by oil companies to community leaders to avoid disruption, or to indigenous (usually armed) individuals for security, fostered both conflict and crime, and the increase in hostage taking, both of foreign oil workers; and even of prominent Nigerians and their family members. This can be seen as stemming in part from segregating practice of selective engaging of indigenous community.
One of the effects of oil exploration on communities near oil reserves is its impact on cultural practices, specifically the ways in which otherwise benign cultural practices might be rendered problematic in the face of changes resulting from the discovery of oil (Fearon, 2010). Dadiowei (2003) indicated that Gbaran oil host communities were confronted with an increase in the number of teenage mothers with fatherless babies. This upsets the established African tradition of fathers fending for their families and thus the role is left to the single mothers. Alongside the problem of single motherhood is the issue sexual exploitation. Research by social historians such as Akyeampong (2008) in Ghana makes it quite clear that commercial sex work is not a new invention in Africa; and one can safely say that the nature, extent and consequences of such practices in our current context are more worrisome. While our generation has witnessed the emergence of deadly sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS, women still have very little ability to negotiate safer sexual practices (Gary, 2009). Be it as commercial sex workers who are more at risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS or teenage mothers who are left to care for children all on their own, the destruction of the structures that provide livelihoods for women in oil producing communities puts an undue burden on women in these communities. In a society such as the Turkana, this is a possibility due to the desperation caused by years of economic neglect.
Oil companies have also at times been blamed for giving rise to social unrest in the areas where they operate as a result of exploitation of the indigenous communities. This was particularly apparent in the Niger Delta where violence, oil theft and sabotage of pipelines increased sharply during the mid-1990s, and peaking in 2006-2007 (Idemudia, 2010). This was characterised by formation of militant groups and communities venting their anger about limited employment opportunities, inequitable sharing of oil revenues, environmental degradation and threats to indigenous farming and fishing livelihoods. Chevron Texaco is estimated to have lost around $750 million as a result of community strife (Idemudia, 2010). While there is little unity across 140 ethnic groups in the Delta region, one feeling that is common is that all Niger Delta groups have been disadvantaged as none belong to Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups of Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo. As far back as 1958, the Willink Commission Report, a study which looked into minority groups’ fears of domination in an independent Nigeria, found that the people had problems specific to the region owing to its terrain and therefore it should be regarded as a special area; that the development of the area required special attention by government; and that neglect or oppression of minorities would risk rebellion likely to necessitate a military response from the federal government. In its approach to handling the oil conflict in Turkana county, the national government has the option of using force and this is likely to backfire and lead to mass action, or even formation of militias. This is in consideration of the areas as being prone to banditry and proliferation of arms.
The discovery and exploration of oil has the potential to, and in most cases, has negatively affected the political system of developing nations. Gumede (2008) argues that the West is selective in their pressure for African countries to democratise by ignoring countries that are rich in oil such as Chad and Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, Ross (2013) has argued that oil and mineral production is linked to authoritarian rule. Likewise, Boonstra et al. (2008) noted that there is an intricate relationship between energy production and democracy such that international pressure for bad regimes in oil-rich nations to reform is increasingly weakened as Western countries seek to access the scarce resources in more competitive global markets. In Nigeria, Bloomfield (2008) opines that just as oil has polluted the environment of the Niger Delta, so has it polluted the politics of Nigeria. In Kenya, the political relationship between the Turkana County government and National government has become increasingly tense in the recent past due to oil exploration activities (Imana and Mmbaili, 2016). This might give leeway to foreign MNOCs and elements in the central government to have an excuse to impose political leaders who conform to their interest demands. This was seen in the chance stance by the Turkana leadership after the appointment of Cabinet Secretary from the region to be in charge of mining and natural resources. Together with the appointment, tough talking leaders who claimed to champion the interests of the Turkana community, as far as oil benefits were concerned, have since been silenced and the legislative they have since supported legislative clauses they were against.
Oil discovery has also threatened the stability of some governments in the developing world. For instance, in Equatorial Guinea, the news of the discovery of oil in commercial quantities resulted in an attempted coup d’état in 2004. Gary (2009) argues that oil revenue tends to negatively affect democratic gains and further advised that for Ghana to avoid this, the right institutions and transparent policies ought to be in place before commercial production begins. This is in a bid to streamline oil exploitation operations once they begin and avoid disagreements. Such measures are also critical in ensuring that maximum benefits are realised and the resource curse phenomenon is avoided.
The bulk of the literature on the impact of oil discovery and exploration in developing countries indicates the dwindling health status of the people in communities near oil reserves (Bloomfield, 2008). A UNEP (2009) report indicates for example that the exploration of natural resources has the tendency to engender health risks and that this health risk is more acute in developing countries. In addition to exposing indigenous communities to health risks, oil exploration also has the potential of destroying the health seeking behaviour of indigenous communities. The negative environmental impacts of oil exploration affect plants some of which are used by the indigenous communities near the oil reserves in their health-seeking behaviour. According to the UNCTAD (2007) report, the construction of pipelines leads to the destruction of medicinal plants used by the indigenous populations. In Turkana County, there are reported instances of people and livestock getting ill and dying due to ingestion, or inhalation, of chemicals used by Tullow PLC in their activities. Contamination of pasture and underground water reservoirs is disastrous for a pastoralist community such as the Turkana.
The extractive industry, particularly oil exploration, also has serious human rights implications for developing countries. According to a report by UNCTAD  (2007),  the participation of transnational corporations in the extractive industries can result in human rights abuses such as the disappearance of people, arbitrary detention and torture and loss of land and livelihoods without negotiation and without compensation. The famed case of Ken Saro Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, and eight other Ogoni minority rights activists, in November 1995 (Obi 2009) is an instance. They were protesting against the poor quality of life of the Ogoni in spite of the oil exploration activities of Shell in their community, are a good example of such cases of atrocious human rights abuses.  With voiced grievances against exploitative tendencies by Tullow PLC and the National Government, it was necessary to establish how the human rights of the indigenous community has been affected more so those seen as leaders of resistance.


The study adopted a cross-sectional survey research design. This research design was best suited to studies aimed at finding out the prevalence of a phenomenon, situation, problem, attitude or issue by taking a cross-section of the population (Kumar, 2014). Kumar (2014) further notes that cross-sectional survey research design is useful in obtaining the overall picture as it stands at the time of the study. The study was conducted in Lokichar Ward in Turkana County Kenya within which recoverable oil resources have been found. Lokichar Basin is within the Lokichar Ward in Turkana South Constituency of Turkana County.  Turkana County is well endowed with natural resources including oil. Notable explored oil wells include Ngamia 1, Ngamia 2, Amosing 1, Ekales 1, Twiga South 1, Agete 1, Etuko 1, Ewoi 1 etc. Of the numerous oil wells, Ngamia 1 Amosing 1 and Ekales 1 have since been found to be economically viable with a projected production of 750 million barrels (Turkana County Government, 2015). A sample size of 382 respondents was selected using Yamane formula on sample size:
The research utilized both primary and secondary data. The secondary data were obtained from textbooks related to  the  study, journals, presented conferences papers and government reports as well as the internet. The primary data on the other hand were obtained from the respondents using interview schedules and focus group discussions.


The first objective of this study was to determine the security implications of oil exploration on social activities in South Lokichar Basin, Turkana County, Kenya.
Main social activities
The study sought to determine the main social activities according to the opinion of the respondents. The findings are presented as follows.
Figure 1 presents the main social activities in South Lokichar Basin. Majority (45%) of the participants considered cultural activities as a main social activity, while 30% indicated that inter ward game competition was a main social activity in the area. 25% of the respondents participate in church choir as a social activity. The main reasons for these activities were to engage the residents and divert them from prosecuting other activities that would endanger the security of the region. Community elders noted that such activities engaged the youths who would otherwise be tempted to engage insecurity promoting activities such as stealing, highway robberies, cattle rustling among others.
Effects of oil exploration on social activities
The respondents were asked to indicate if oil exploration affects social activities. Figure 2 presents the respondents’ views on the effects of oil exploration. The findings   show  that  majority  (70%)  of   the  participants indicated that oil exploration has an impact on social activities while 30% said No. The respondents also indicated that the rate of immoral activities has significantly increased in the recent years since the advent of oil exploration in Lokichar. The number of youths who engaged in alcohol and drug abuse due to oil exploration in the region had gone up and dismayed the community elders. The respondents also indicated that oil exploration has led to early pregnancy and spread of HIV/AIDs. The findings concur with the conclusion made by Erickson (2008), who established that the exploration project has an impact on social development of marginalized communities, exploration projects has brought negative social impact on marginalized communities.
Security effects of oil exploration on social activities
The respondents were asked whether they agreed that oil exploration had negative security effects on the security of social activities in Lokichar, Turkana County. Figure 3 shows that majority (40%) of the respondents strongly agreed that oil exploration has a negative impact on social security, 30% agreed, 15% disagreed while 5% strongly disagreed that oil exploration has an impact on social security. The respondents were asked to explain their views and most of them revealed that their ratings were based on the mixture of different workers from different parts of the country. This has led to instances of increased insecurity that the residents believe to perpetrate by individuals from outside Lokichar. The community elders also lamented that they had been displaced from the land and thus affecting their traditional social and cultural activities leading to the urge by youths to raid the oil facilities and reposes their lands. The finding supports the findings in the study carried out by Dean and Brown (2009) who indicated that oil exploration project has led to displacement of various communities from their areas of domicile to make room for oil exploration activities. This has made communities to lose their land and their livelihoods, disrupting also community institutions and power relations.
Significance of security implication of oil exploration on social activities
The study sought to assess the significance of oil exploration on security of social activities. The respondents were asked; how they would rate the general significance of security implication of oil exploration on social activities among Lokichar residents. The scale of 1-5 was used whereby 1=very significant, 2=significant, 3=neither significant nor significant, 4 insignificant and 5=very insignificant; and the findings are as tabulated below:
Table 1 presents the significance of oil exploration on security of social activities in Lokichar. The findings show that majority (44%) of respondents reported that the security implication is significant, 26% significant while 5% very insignificant. The findings support the study carried out by Gulati et al. (2010) which revealed that exploration projects lead to pollution and damaging of the environment for instance, and also appropriating grazing land for exploration from the marginalized communities who are actually dependent on limited vegetation for their livestock.
Extent of the effects oil exploration on aspects of social security
The respondents were asked to assess the effect of oil exploration on security of different social aspects of social security. The scale was on 1-5, whereby 1=very high extent, 2=high extent, 3=medium extent, 4= low extent and 5=very low extent.
Table 2 presents oil exploration effects on security. The findings   show   that   majority   (50.0, 34.5   and     42%) indicated that oil exploration has a high extent affecting the cultural sites and practices, family roles setup and environmental pollution and health risks respectively. The findings also show that 43 and 32% of respondents revealed that oil exploration has a very high extent to politics and human rights respectively. The findings concur with the conclusion made by Bloomfield (2008) indicating that oil discovery and exploration in developing countries led to dwindling health status of the people in communities near oil reserves.  The findings further supported the assertion by UNEP (2009) that stated that oil exploration of natural resources has the tendency to prompt health risks and that this health risk is more acute in developing countries. The findings also support the observation by UNCTAD (2007) report and Obi (2009) which indicates that participation of transnational corporations in the extractive industries can result in human rights abuses such as the disappearance of people, arbitrary detention and torture and loss of land and livelihoods without negotiation and without compensation. 
This study intended to investigate the security implications of oil exploration on social activities in south Lokichar basin Turkana county. The study aimed to fill the knowledge gap from the security management perspective given the fact that most studies in the area of oil discovery in Kenya have focused on the economic prospects.
The study found out that oil exploration had effect on social activities in Lokichar and this was represented by 70% of the respondents. Through the explanations offered by the respondents, the researcher came to the realization that the effects were negative affecting cultural sites, family roles setup, health, and human rights in the areas. Where the actual effect had not occurred, the respondents opined that there was a high potential of occurrence. Community elders expressed concern that their traditional cultural practices were particularly in danger due to oil exploration activities. To them, certain sites where particular and significant rituals are conducted are now being allocated to oil exploration companies. Such rituals include Asapan (passage into elderhood), cultural prayers to Akuj (god) during times of crisis or during calamities such as extreme droughts etc and were now threatened since the spaces are being reallocated.
Turkana community is patriarchal with men heading the families. Modernization and income differentiation have seen this social norm steadily changing. Women have taken up leadership roles mostly in politics and they have been employed with decent income. Although it is not explicit, it is implied that they have taken up the roles of guiding the family through making important decisions due to their empowerment. However, a discussion with the community elders indicated that they are not accepting such changes and women are still required to subjugate to men. However, the practice is changing. With oil exploration activities, family roles are bound to changes in certain ways. Firstly, women are bound to get more empowered through employment and thus elevating their social standing. Secondly, divorce rates are likely to increase due to resistance by men to accept such social role changes. Thirdly, single parenthood occasioned by divorces or demises due to STIs/HIV are likely to see majority of women having to raise families singlehandedly. The same could be occasioned  through irresponsible sexual behaviours leading to unwanted pregnancies; a concern bothering the community elders.
Politically, there have been ugly spates of public altercations between the National political leadership and the county political leadership. This was occasioned by disagreements on issues relating to oil revenue sharing. Although the political leaders have since reconciled, the researcher noted that community members were dissatisfied with the terms truce. This is mainly because they view it as a betrayal by leaders who they thought were representing their plight and would fight for the community’s fair share. Most of the community members revealed that such disquiet is likely to lead to recurrence of public disagreements and heightened insecurity in the region.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a global standard that promotes open and accountable management of natural resources. It has been utilized in mineral rich countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo among others. It aims at promoting information sharing and tracking of minerals so as to eliminate illegal exploitation and use of minerals and their proceeds. The annual EITI report will inform the public on how much the extractive industry contributes to the economy, and how the government spends such revenues for the welfare of citizens. EITI’s multi stakeholder approach also provides a platform for discussion of issues relevant to the governance of the extractive sector, thereby increasing civic participation. Aside from producing information on extractive sector revenues, EITI also promotes transparency across the extractive industry value chain, including information on the licensing process, social development programs at the local level, and processes involving indigenous peoples.
EITI aims to ensure transparency across the extractive industry value chain and foster civil society’s meaningful participation in the governance of natural resources. The disclosure of information through the EITI process enables the broader public to evaluate the extractive sector by providing a mechanism by which local communities are able to openly scrutinize the collection and spending of revenues collected by the government from the extraction of natural resources. EITI also enables civil society to assess gaps in existing government systems and provide data – driven recommendations to policy makers.



Based on the findings, the study concludes that oil exploration has contributed to both positive and negative security effects on socio-economic activities in south Lokichar Basin Turkana County. In particular oil exploration has had negative effects on social activities in the region.  From  the  study,  a  number  of  youths  have engaged in alcohol and drug abuse due to oil exploration in the region.  Moreover, more youths have engaged in early sexual activities which have led to early pregnancy. 


The national and the county government should take deliberate effort to identify important cultural sites for the community in carrying out their traditional rituals and cultural practices. These should then be mapped and protected under the National Museums and Heritage Act of 2009 (Government of Kenya, 2009). Despite any mineral potential of such areas, they should under no circumstances be appropriated for exploration activities. This will serve to avoid offending the indigenous communities by disrupting their valued cultural practices; an act that can be interpreted as disrespect to the community.
The civil society organizations need to take a proactive role in highlighting instances of human rights abuses by the oil exploration companies, or government agencies. They should take a lead role in advocating for justice and respect for human rights. The CSOs also need to educate the public about their rights so that they are aware whenever exploitation or abuse of those rights occur in the course of oil exploration. This is important in the endeavour to hold oil companies and government machinery to account for and ensure that human rights are upheld
The Kenyan Government needs to adopt and utilize the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). This is a global standard that promotes open and accountable management of natural resources. It seeks to strengthen government and company systems, inform public debate, and enhance trust among stakeholders. The EITI promotes access to information, transparency and accountability in the extractive sector through disclosure and publication of payments made by mining, oil, gas and other extractive companies. In this way the indigenous communities in Kenya can participate in the governance of oil and gas industry.


The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.


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