Is Oil the End of Poverty in Kenya? Or are we seeing the new Scramble for Africa?

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Map of Oil Exploration blocks in Kenya
From November 26-27th Maya Sikand from Natural Justice attended a seminar on the extractives industry in Kenya entitled, ‘Kenya’s new natural resource discoveries: Blessing or Curse?’ The meeting was co-hosted by the Tax Justice Network Africa, Econews Africa, East Africa Tax and Governance Network, Kenya Human Rights Commission and Kenya Oil and Gas Working Group. Attendees ranged from Civil Society representatives from Kenya, Ghana, DRC and Zambia among others, as well as members of the Turkana and Endorois communities.
Some of the key issues raised in the various panels and plenary discussions included: 
  • Should Kenya sign up to the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)? 
  • Kenya’s development model. Extraction is an important pillar of Vision 2030, the current national economic model. To ensure this, the country has to work extremely hard to court Foreign Direct Investment. Should we be questioning this development investors and governments 
  • The importance of land for Africans, it is not really possible to compensate someone for the loss of something that makes up their very identity. For this reason, the idea of Shareholding Ownership Schemes was suggested as a progressive model to structure community benefits. This has successfully been implemented in some mining areas in Zimbabwe. 
  • Kenya’s development model. Extraction is an important pillar of Vision 2030, the current national economic model. To ensure this, the country has to work extremely hard to court Foreign Direct Investment. Should we be questioning this development model?
  • There are over thirty communities in Kenya right now that have taken various projects within Vision 2030 to Court for disregard of proper legal processes, however there is limited legal capacity within communities to take these cases very far. 
    • At the CSO level the lack of capacity to deal with these new and specialized issues is aggravated by the poaching of skilled people by industry. 
  • There is a lack of linkage between the many Bills currently being discussed, leading to a fractured legal landscape that makes implementation even more difficult. 
  • How should we extract? Rather than becoming another Nigeria, can Kenya learn from the lessons of Norway or the US? Others disagreed on whether Norway and the US even qualify as successful models, as they have outsourced many of the negative impacts of extraction to less developed countries. 
    • There was a lot of emphasis on the need for Kenyans to learn from previous mining and oil experiences in Kenya, Africa and abroad to ensure that the right safeguards and practices are in place.
At the Extractives and the Environment group Natural Justice attended, some particular challenges concerning the environment discussed included: 
  • Much of the planned extraction thus far will occur in extremely water-constrained environments. 
  • Should the definition of ‘extractive industries’ expand to include practices like industrial agriculture or large-scale fishing? 
  • Inter-generational equity – why must we exploit these natural resources immediately? Does it make more sense to build more capacity and infrastructure to manage the resources well first? This will ensure that negative effects are mitigated and allow Kenya to benefit more through value-addition. 
  • The particular impact of the extractives on pastoralists is unique, and many international companies will not have come across this situation before. CSOs need to watch out for this and help them understand the relationship pastoralists have to the land. 
  • The need for environmental education – many people at both the CSO and community level do not fully understand the environmental and health impacts of the extractives. 
The meeting concluded with strong words regarding the role and goals of CSOs and NGOs in Kenya. Several people asked, why aren’t people more angry? Others felt that to ensure institutions are accountable to citizens a fundamental change in power relations will be necessary. The meeting closed with a powerful reminder that this is the new scramble for Africa: over 2000 businessmen accompanied Obama on his last visit to Africa. Sarkozy recently remarked on how long the West has been ignoring Africa, but now it has finally entered history.

28 November 2013

Programme

Extractives and Infrastructure, Governance of Lands and Natural Resources

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