Africa Oil & Gas: Discoveries spark conflicts. The oil and gas boom that is building steam in Eastern Africa has many supporters. Commercial volumes of hydrocarbons have already been found in Tanzania, Uganda and northern Mozambique, development seems likely in Kenya and exploration efforts are being stepped up in Ethiopia.
Yet onshore exploration could bring problems in a region with dozens of national parks and other protected areas. Drilling has not been a significant problem in the past because oil companies had little interest in the region but governments could now be tempted to license acreage even in the most sensitive areas, if the presence of hydrocarbons is even suspected.
Sensitive areas include wildlife areas, such as the Serengeti and Tsavo national parks; sites with priceless remains of early man, such as Olduvai Gorge; beauty spots; and areas inhabited by ethnic groups with little political representation but millennia of occupation and cultural connections to the land.
Such challenges are not new to the oil and gas industry but are relatively new to Eastern Africa. French firm Total is currently undertaking a seismic survey of a block that includes part of Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to many forms of East African mega fauna. Other Ugandan parks could be next in line, while onshore exploration is now becoming more popular in both Tanzania and Kenya.
Madagascar Oil hopes to begin commercial oil production on its acreage next to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in the west of Madagascar, which hosts a number of rare species. Stewart Ahmed, chief executive officer of Madagascar Oil, commented: “We can’t take anything for granted. We are abutting next to a UNESCO National Park. We are going to be under scrutiny and our pipelines, for example, will have to skirt around those kinds of areas.” This in turn can affect local villages, where residents may have legitimate claims for compensation.
Oil exploration and discoveries can exacerbate existing territorial disputes or even stoke up conflict where none previously existed. Three different ethnic groups, the Kong’oot, Kayoi and Setek, have made claims on land in the Kerio Valley in Kenya, where Tullow is currently undertaking exploration work.
Oil companies operating in Africa usually provide funding and infrastructure to people living in the areas where they operate in order to secure local cooperation with their activities. This practice has long been used in the Niger Delta to calm tensions but can have the opposite effect.
Groups in the Kerio that traditionally delimit their territorial extent through reference to natural features are now seeking to maximise the area under their control through the construction of fences.
Competing claims have been made. A Kayoi spokesperson said: “I was surprised after our neighbouring clan cleared several acres of land and fenced it, claiming it was theirs. This is a matter that some of us will never rest until it is resolved.”
Deputy county commissioner Moses Lilan told those involved: “Don’t panic over land ownership before the oil is even found. If oil will be found here you will be relocated since natural resources belong to the government.”
Kim Moss, an analyst at Australia’s Future Directions International, commented: “In Kenya, local communities have a strong sense of attachment with the land, viewing it as their own and building their identity upon it. Experts have noted that this perception and attachment to the area, leads to continued dissatisfaction among the communities with the government’s processes for allocating land.
“When communities perceive the government has not done enough to adequately inform and engage the affected residents about the decision making process, tensions can escalate rapidly. Heightened tensions about border and land disputes are likely to continue throughout the wider East African region, including Kenya, as further natural resource discoveries are made, or are rumoured to have been made.” The incidence of land disputes is almost certain to increase.
Similar tensions have come to the fore in Bunyoro Region in neighbouring Uganda, where oil has already been discovered. Some people have bought land in the area where there are doubts over the legitimacy of the land rights of those making sales. Such cases provide challenges to oil companies, local authorities, national government and the residents involved. Despite the fact that the country’s oil fields are located offshore, land disputes have also become more common in Ghana since production began. The value of land and real estate in several coastal cities has risen sharply and land disputes are becoming more common. Land tenure is a problem in many African countries with varying traditions of ownership that were overlaid by colonial-era property legislation that was often not comprehensively implemented. Disputes where several people claim ownership of the same piece of land in Takoradi, for instance, are now becoming more common.