Energy Ethics When There is No Energy Yet: The case of Turkana

Marianna Betti

In Turkana, Northern Kenya, the novelty of hydrocarbon operations initiated by oil company Tullow in collaboration with the Kenyan government in 2012 is triggering both hopes and anxieties among local population. In an isolated and marginalized region, where basic infrastructures are lacking, where basic human needs are not taken care of and where the majority of the people live below poverty line, can we really expect the population to be “ethically sensible” about energy? Energy in Turkana is extremely needed, impatiently awaited but not yet available. Can Turkana people thus be blamed for lack of ethical engagement? At this moment, Turkana are “thinking for themselves”. This translates into their struggle to become part of the initial share of the relatively little opportunities and resources, in terms of employment, donations, fellowships and incentives to local development, that the oil operations are bringing into the region. This paper seeks to provide an ethnographic example of the “environmentalism of the poor” as enacted by Turkana in the context of the recent discovery of oil. How do Turkana people prepare themselves to defend their rights over their ecosystem and natural resources and over their traditional livelihood (nomadic pastoralism) from the on-going and the planned oil operations and from the agendas of non-Turkana stakeholders? At the same time, has the oil discovery triggered new ways in which local population perceive responsibilities and moral conducts towards the community? I will show how Turkana people have started expressing ethical dilemmas in relation to oil and how these are mostly embedded in dynamics of communitarian trust and mistrust.