Villagers left high and dry as Tullow breaks promise

Dapar villagers in Turkana County scramble for water on February 18, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Since Tullow scaled down its operations and later halted the oil transportation due to poor roads, businesses in Lokichar are closing down.
  • But Tullow says it has spent a lot of resources on scholarships, hospitals, infrastructure and improvements in technical and vocational institutions in the county.

In the unforgiving sun and high temperatures of Nakukulas, Lokichar, Turkana County, Julius Loyolo seeks shade under a tree in the middle of a dry river bed.

This is their norm. Every day here he joins other elders as they discuss in the local language the issues that affect the community.

In Nakukulas village, just next to the Ngamia 8 crude oil storage site, where President Uhuru Kenyatta had in June 2018 flagged off the first four trucks to transport crude oil by road from Turkana to Mombasa, the elders are tired of discussing oil benefits that many believe might come after they have died.

A stone’s throw away one of Tullow’s borehole pumps whirls away, a constant reminder to the group about the British oil firm’s presence in their village.

Save for the pump, which distributes water across villages and the Tullow camp housing its staff quarters, these locals still feel cheated by the company.

“For decades water has been a major concern for us. Water for both domestic use and for our livestock. We expected a long-term solution to this problem. We needed piped water and huge reservoirs for thousands of our livestock but what we have is temporary,” Loyola says as the other elders shake their heads in agreement.

Their frustrations have prompted them to form a group called Esenyait that meets under a tree on the Lokichar dry river bed, just a kilometre from Lokichar town.


Peter Lotese, another resident, says those who benefited from oil can be identified by how healthy they are.

“Water tanks are being destroyed by sun and overuse. They are not reliable and within a short time they are empty. Enough piped water would have been a blessing so that after our livestock are full and women have fetched enough for young livestock that remained behind and for domestic use, we can engage in irrigated farming,” Lotese says.

“We don't have jobs. Now that oil was discovered, we are in conflict within ourselves, not in bad faith but just to get jobs and related benefits. The nearby village will now always dictate who benefits.”

The local community faults how the oil exploration community engagement was done, which they say left them with little avenue to air their expectations and grievances.

From the land acquisition, which they say they didn’t receive any compensation for, to their demands for water, employment opportunities, better education and healthcare, Esenyait comes alive as elder after another voices his concerns.

Francis Lolim, from Kaakali village, says it is on a first-come-first-served basis as they also share with villagers from Noweitapar.

“We are many and we rely on the tanks that are filled by 6am. If I miss out, it will mean that my livestock will go without water for five days. We need a permanent source of water as our bodies and livestock need water every time due to the harsh weather conditions. Boreholes in Nakukulas should be utilised to pipe water directly to other villages not by the road side,” he says.


“We are seeing a few people benefiting from this project while riding on the community’s name. The Turkana elite, including politicians and businessmen, have scooped several tender deals, including those reserved for the community. We thought illiterate and poor people like us who stay near oilfields would be given this chance, but this hasn’t been the case,” says Wilson Kichumnagira, the spokesperson of the Esenyait group.

Tullow moved into the Lokichar oilfield eight years ago, and the community says they got the land allocation via the county government given that the community land was held in trust.

Many agree the British firm has done much in offering jobs, educational opportunities, and water and easing access to healthcare, but they also say there is too little to show for the kind of resources it is supposed to exploit.

“Tullow Oil started ignoring us after discovering oil. We welcomed them because some people convinced us that many residents of Nigeria were rich and their children were professors. We thought our children would be educated to work in the oilfields. To our disappointment, the skilled personnel were flown in from different countries and other parts of Kenya,” Kichumnangira said, adding that any time they have protested, they have been branded inciters and warned of dire consequences by the national government.

The group also accuses the county government, which it says was the custodian of its land and social projects, of doing little to see the British firm keep its promise to the host communities around the Lokichar oil basin.


Nicodemus Eguman, another elder, says they are now getting information on a planned pipeline from a distorted and unreliable third party as there is no public engagement to enlighten them of the expected compulsory acquisition of land for the project.

“We are struggling just like we used to, as women, who have to wait for herders to finish watering their livestock, walk long distances in search of water,” says John Ekamais, a resident of Nakukulas.

In Dapar village, Turkana South, Lokaru Emase and Selina Lorot are waiting by the watering point to fetch water.

Here the animals have the upper hand, as the women have to wait for them to quench their thirst first.

“We have a water tank, but it is not enough because we scramble for the water. Water is filled after every three days. We need free access to water so that we can engage in other activities like charcoal burning and collecting firewood for sale in Lokichar to get money to buy food and cater for medication of children whenever they fall sick,” Emase says.

Lorot reveals that if the water runs out, they are forced to go to Lokichar. “If you delay at home, you won’t get water from the tank. One needs to just rise up early. We also have to carry some of the water for the young and sick livestock back at home,” she says.

Turkana Empowerment Advocacy Group founder John Ekai admits that even though Tullow has tried to improve the locals’ livelihoods, this has not been enough.

“Tullow has helped in a way we cannot deny. The benefits include bursaries, scholarships, water, though not sustainable and enough, health centres at Lokichar, Kanam Kemer and Kasuroi,” he says.


Villages in the area benefited from semi and non-skilled jobs like road marshals, drivers and cleaners.

There were also business opportunities like tenders for local companies and small and medium-sized enterprises.

“However, the elite and politicians are the major beneficiaries despite statistically the area having the largest percentage of poor and illiterate people.

"If their livelihoods were improved, it could have been the perfect example of oil being a blessing,” Mr Ekai said.

“The major problem is that the elite and politicians have been taking advantage of the indigenous pastoralists using the word “community” as the weapon to bargain.”

Daniel Lotiki, from Katilu village in Turkana South, far away from the oilfields, says a high level of illiteracy has led to oppression of indigenous people.

“For instance, after goats died in Lomokamar village due to gas flaring, which is defined as a process of burning off associated gas from wells and hydrocarbon processing plants, at least 86 goats died after eating pasture with layers of the gases,” he says, adding that locals were not enlightened on the need to take their animals to veterinarians for treatment.

Since Tullow scaled down its operations and later halted the oil transportation due to poor roads, businesses in Lokichar are closing down, with other traders being forced to relocate to other towns like Lodwar and Kalokol or venture into mobile businesses by moving from one village to another.


Tullow Kenya Managing Director Martin Mbogo admitted that the feeling in Lokichar was that Tullow had not really met the residents’ expectations in terms of the value of the resource compared to the benefits they have received so far in the eight years the company has been there.

“We always ask ourselves how much is enough, and the answer is dependent on whom we ask. We have to understand that it is not our intent to replace government. We will never meet the needs of everyone. In my view, expectation management is the issue,” Mbogo said.

“We understand the needs and requirements are heavy. We may provide infrastructure for schools and hospitals but furnishing them is the function of either the county or national government. But you see, the community will judge us on that.”

Tullow says it has spent a lot of resources on scholarships, hospitals, infrastructure and improvements in technical and vocational institutions in the county and has set up resource centres in Nakululas, Lokoris, Lokichar and other places.

“We have also taken the issue of water seriously because it was one of the key issues that we realised was a problem for the community. We started with trucking of the products, but have also sank boreholes across the county,” he says

“As the project matures, we are letting communities take charge of some of the water projects we have undertaken so that they can do for themselves the water reticulation and distribution. The Nakukulas water project is a perfect example of this. That is part of our capacity building so that we allow them to take ownership of these projects.”

Reporting by Sammy Lutta, Paul Wafula and Allan Olingo