Turkana, Kenya’s remote northern region, contains over a billion barrels of oil, according to Tullow Oil, which has already drilled seven successful wells. But in a parallel with the situation in Nigeria’s Delta region, the local people have been up against the company. Tullow Oil has moved quickly to try and resolve the issues, but as Wil Crisp reports, the situation is still delicate.
On 26th October 2013, more than 400 protesters descended on the exploratory drill site known as Twiga 1 in Kenya’s northern Turkana region.
They believed that Tullow Oil, an energy exploration company that had opened drill sites on land that was previously communally owned, had broken promises regarding wealth sharing and job creation.
One group of protestors marched for 20km from the town of Lokichar. The group was made up of traditional tribespeople from the villages and young men from the town.
The tribesmen wore narrow-brimmed hats and patterned woollen blankets. The women wore colourful beads around their necks, wrists and in their hair.
As they marched, they sang traditional songs and the men held their carved staves as if they were rifles, running in zigzags – in an imitation of an infantry attack.
When they arrived at the drill site, they met with another group that had set off from the town of Lokori. Together they asked to speak with a representative from Tullow Oil.
When they were told that a representative would not speak with them then they retreated a short distance where the member of parliament for Turkana South, James Lomenen, made a speech. The crowd then surged towards the oil camp.
Some protestors scaled the perimeter fence and once inside, the protest quickly descended into a demonstration, with local people breaking down doors and looting buildings.
The protest forced Tullow to shut down all operations in the region for two weeks and, according to Turkana South police spokesperson Josh Aseto, several planes were needed to evacuate all of the company’s non-local staff.
The Twiga 1 riot was a violent reminder to Tullow and its investors that oil and Africa can be an explosive combination, and mineral wealth doesn’t always lead to peace and prosperity.