By Wesley Lang’at
Baringo County, is a land with beautiful sceneries known for its cascaded mountains and a rugged terrain.
This is the place where Tullow Oil Company is currently prospecting for oil.
Under the Emerging Oil, Emerging Stories project, Internews in Kenya is currently training journalists to responsibly report on issues surrounding oil exploration in Northern Kenya.
As journalists and Internews in Kenya trainers found out during a recent training and field trip, land ownership is a major concern for Baringo County residents if they have to reap oil benefits.
Land here is registered under a trustee of Baringo County government. “These people came, there was no written agreement or document to show that we agreed, everything was oral, we want all the processes to be in written agreement,” Elacana Marichor a youth leader of Kaptara village say.
Oil exploration in Baringo is an emerging opportunity for economic development, employment and infrastructure improvement in the area. Many residents have a lot of expectations that their lives will change. But this hope comes with fears of displacement with little or no compensation in the event Tullow company strike oil in the area.
Most of the land in Baringo is communally owned and held in trust by Baringo County Government.
As a result, no one has valid documents to prove their ownership of land and this might make the process towards compensation, challenging.
“This is trust land. Nobody owns this place. We have agreed with our governor that there is no oil drilling before we are given title deeds,” John Cheptoo a resident of Kaptara village complained.
Like many others farmers in the area, Richard Chemchor has lived here for generations as a cattle harder and felt that his traditional land rights are being threatened. “Now we don’t have title deeds and if oil will be discovered here, we will be displaced. Who will pay us and how,” decried Mr. Chemchor.
Mr. Chemchor also claims that since Tullow began exploring oil in Block 12A, fences, grass and gardens had been without proper compensation.
“Am talking like a farmer… they told us ‘when we enter your farm we will pay you’ but later they gave us an amount which is not equal to the value of property destroyed. Sometimes we get Sh.400 or Sh.500,” Mr Chemchor said.
Joseph Maklap, a member of Baringo County Assembly, Barwesa ward, however maintains that there is no need for alarm as the county leaders are working together to see that residents are given title deeds before oil drilling commences.
“Baringo County has given this issue priority and has set a budget for the ministry of lands to do land adjudication and surveying so there is no excuse,” says Maklap.
According to Lawrence Kiplagat from Baringo Human Rights Consortium, there is a substantial gap between the government, Tullow Oil Company and the locals.
He wants the government to address issues raised by the locals including issuance of title deeds to enable locals demand for compensation in case they will be displaced.
“Baringo county government should put as a priority the issue of title deeds for the people to own land before oil drilling,” he said.
Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi said they are working together with Tullow Oil Company to make sure that interests of the community are considered first.
“Since Tullow came, as a county we have agreed that community’s interests should be given priority,” Cheboi said.
“We are using valuation experts. We are not accepting farmers to be exploited. If there is any complaint from the farmers, direct it to our county offices,” he said.