Oil discovery in Turkana County, Kenya: A source of conflict or development?

Eliza M. Johannes, Leo C. Zulu, Ezekiel Kalipeni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The recent discovery of oil in Turkana County in Kenya has brought to the forefront the plight of the Turkana people, a marginalized pastoralist group in semi-arid northwestern Kenya. Oil discovery has ignited considerable new-found interest in this neglected region by nonlocal Kenyan and foreign actors. Specifically, we use the resource curse framework to examine major drivers, impacts, and local perceptions of resource-based conflicts generally, and impacts of added vulnerabilities, risks, and opportunities introduced by the recent discovery and development of oil in Turkana County. Our preliminary observations indicate that the Turkana, on top of pre-existing and increasingly militarized interethnic and cross-border conflicts primarily driven by competition over scarce pasture and water resources, are likely to face the dreaded oil curse that has brought untold devastation on the livelihoods of communities elsewhere in Africa. The central argument in this paper is that the recent discovery of oil will exacerbate pre-existing tensions and likely result in full-blown violent conflicts among the already marginalized Turkana against local and foreign investors such as Tullow Oil that are now converging on local towns of Lodwar and Lokichar in Turkana, unless effective and timely preventive and corrective action is taken.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-164
Number of pages23
JournalAfrican Geographical Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 4 2015


  • Turkana county
  • oil in Kenya
  • pastoralists
  • resource conflict
  • turkana oil discovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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