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Impermanent development and the pursuit of permanence: mobilising marginalisation and uncertainty towards a rightful share of Kenya’s oil

Okenwa, Doris A. (2019) Impermanent development and the pursuit of permanence: mobilising marginalisation and uncertainty towards a rightful share of Kenya’s oil. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004199


What happens when the historically marginalised part of a country becomes overnight a reservoir of potential national wealth? In 2012, commercially viable crude oil deposits were confirmed in Turkana County, Kenya, home to some of East Africa’s few mobile pastoralists. This thesis examines the dynamics of resource extraction that unfolded since then, including promises of development and social inclusion for this hitherto relegated region. Oil is unusual in that it is a highly lucrative commodity with tremendous economic potential. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of policies around ‘ethical extraction’ and the requirement that oil companies need to leave communities better off than they found them. This thesis argues that despite the social performances of global best practices, oil has actually exacerbated the precarious living conditions in the county instead of providing the stability that was promised. The net result is a community that lives in a cycle of impermanence characterised by temporary jobs, incomplete infrastructure, and inconsistent development projects. This has resulted from a combination of the fragile and indeterminate nature of oil itself, the technical nature of jobs in the extractives industry, the unequal power relations between industry and government, and the ambiguous ethical codes that appear to breed secrecy more than accountability and transparency. The thesis includes an analysis of Turkana’s rapidly shifting position within Kenyan political and economic structures; an account of the redefinition of entitlements to resources and revenues and how this has shaped local political, socioeconomic, and ethnic identities; and a discussion of how the Kenyan state, corporate actors, third-sector agencies, and local populations are seeking to design the prospective future with oil. It develops an original analytical framework in order to explore how histories of marginalisation and uncertainty shape the processes of natural resource development. Anthropologists have long examined the relationship between pastoral societies and modernisation, particularly their exclusion from national social compacts and political life. This study aims to contribute anthropological perspectives on the extractive industries by investigating the uneven distribution of early oil benefits and the competing responsibilities for constituting and securing a rightful share of the profits. This involves paying attention to the power relations and governance techniques that perpetuate marginalisation and to the internal dynamics of livelihood struggles and social relations in pastoral areas.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Doris A. Okenwa
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Gardner, Katy and Weszkalnys, Gisa

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