Community conflicts impacted by natural resource use and access along Turkana/Pokot borderline have become very dynamic due to the increasing awareness among the local communities about the existing resources and the monetary value of these resources. Furthermore, the oil factor in Turkana County has raised lots of attention among people and institutions from both within and without the counties in question. This dimension is fast leading to conflicts that are underpinned on who has the land ownership rights (bearing in mind that land embodies all the natural resources) and who wields more power to manage and have absolute right over the exploitation of the existing resources. Consequently, conflicts have become largely characterised by boundary contests particularly between Turkana and Pokot communities when in actuality, the problem is about power to own resources that are within the land. A clear example is the current contest between the Turkana and the Pokot over the ownership of River Turkwel following the emerging information that there is high probability of the need to draw water from the nearest water bodies such as River Turkwel to use in the oil production activities. Both Turkana and Pokot communities living along River Turkwel have for instance come out strongly to lay claim on the River and have positioned themselves to be consulted in case the water is to be taken.
On the border between the Turkana and Pokot communities, pastoralism is at the centre of their socio-economic livelihood. However, the resource mapping that was conducted by SCCRR as part of the continuous conflict analysis exercise indicates that the area is heavily endowed with both renewable and non-renewable natural resources. SCCRR’s analysis of the existing natural resources in 9 villages in Turkana South Sub-county indicates that land being the main natural resource in this area has embodied in it many more natural resources mainly oil and minerals (particularly copper and gold) among others. Furthermore, the area’s tropical climate is ideal for the thriving of acacia trees, neem trees and prosopius julifora (locally known as mathenge tree), hence forests have also emerged as a key natural resource despite the perception that this is a semi-arid environment that can’t support the growth of forests that can be worth fighting over. The area is also rich in pasture and water which are vital for the survival of livestock which exist in huge numbers. In deed the borderline in question has 3 permanent rivers which all flow into River Turkwel; another permanent River. This demystifies the perception that communities in this area are embroiled in persistent conflicts because of scarcity of water resource given the general understanding that this area is semi-arid in nature. The heavy resource endowments in these places coupled by the prevailing competition over the same resources contradicts the scarcity-conflict paradigm by indicating that there are cases where communities can be conflicting over natural resources even when there is resource abundance: an indication of a case of enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.
A look into Natural Resource based conflicts in Turkana South/East Pokot borderline points towards institutional weakness-neglect, structural violence and lack of visionary leadership that is grounded on the common good and equality for all citizens as part of the major structural causes of the conflicts in question. These factors have created a vacuum through which individuals and communities can exercise their power to claim ownership of the contested natural resources even without having proof of ownership of the said resource(s). Worth noting also is the lack of resource management strategies and resource development plans which often leaves individuals, national and transnational corporations free to exploit and deplete resources with little or no regard for the future or concern over equal access rights. Inequality in resource access is fast leading to competition among community groups along Turkana South/East Pokot borderline and consequently causing conflicts which could otherwise be easily avoided if mandated institutions could play their rightful role to manage the development of existing natural resources while bearing in mind a human rights based approach.
Despite the competing interests and the ensuing intercommunity conflicts, there is little regard to the formalisation of resource ownership and management rights. Majority of the communities living along Turkana South/East Pokot borderline are still dependent on traditional laws in the management of Natural Resources especially water, pasture, land and other resources found within such as minerals. The local management of these resources gives minimal reference to state laws. There is a clear disconnect between the state polices and the communities’ methods of management of natural resources. The differences have not been adequately addressed and there are no clear efforts to link the two to achieve better administration of the resources so as to consequently mitigate the conflicts. Linking the two requires a good analysis and strategy to avoid creating new conflicts or escalating the already existing ones. To design plans for management of natural resources, interventions cannot avoid taking into consideration the existing traditional laws that these communities have and still rely on today. Variance in the perception of the ownership of resources by communities is a driving factor causing conflict between communities in the Turkana South/East Pokot conflict borderline.
A concluding factor indicating high linkage with natural resource based conflicts is the over emphasis of interventions at the macro level. Shalom holds the view that there must be a balance between the macro, meso and micro levels in order to ensure that all levels are involved in decision making concerning the management of the contested resources. More focus seems to be at the macro and meso levels in the design of policies, laws and plans for management of natural resources giving little and inadequate space to communities at the micro level.
The persistent perennial resource based conflicts in these regions have caused tremendous harm underpinning the need for the people to be empowered on how to manage their resources. Shalom has diligently and persistently used findings of the conflict analyses to shape its interventions in order to be of greater benefit to communities. Shalom’s intervention is focusing on community education in order to endow them with knowledge and skills needed for engaging the meso and macro levels in their quest to access, use and benefit from natural resources that are found within their locality. It is Shalom’s fundamental belief that empowered communities will always become architects of not only their own peace and development, but their framework for future governance.
In initiating the management of natural resource based conflicts, Shalom remains focused to ensuring that target communities in Turkana South and East Pokot borderline have increased awareness of their natural resources and rights violations resulting from the course of the development of the natural resources. Furthermore, Shalom is keen on ensuring that communities are constantly monitoring and initiating timely action against present and emerging threats to their natural resource rights. Finally, SCCRR is attentive to ensuring that the communities are taking deliberate actions to initiate dialogue and actively take part in decision-making processes ensuring that there is equity in access to the existing natural resources. In order to keep this intervention on course, Shalom remains focussed on conducting continuous conflict analysis in order to be timely in managing emerging issues in the natural resource management processes.
Godfrey Okoth Onyango, M.A., B.A.; Program Manager, SCCRR