Ekai Nabenyo Interview

Interview With

Ekai Nabenyo

1) What is it like engaging your community around climate change? What are the challenges? What are the inspirations?

Climate change is a complex scientific concept that requires expertise and experience for a community like mine to be able to better appreciate it. Engaging my community in the areas of environmental conservation generally and climate change specifically has been a challenging process especially given the fact that a majority of the people that we educate are local pastoralists who have never been to school to learn even the basics of science and so this subject is strange to them.

There are also deeply rooted common believes among our pastoralists that the persistent droughts and famines that have negatively impacted their livelihoods are as a result of the ancestors being angry with the community. They do not understand the scientific angle of this process and trying to explain to them about greenhouse gas emissions and how environmental degradation leads to climate change and subsequently the droughts and famines has sometimes been a big challenge.

We, the young people in Turkana,who have dedicated our lives to this process, gain hope and inspiration from the fact that climate change is real and its effects have been witnessed. The burden to educate our community on this is on the shoulders of those of us who had an opportunity to go to college. The fact that there are young men and women in our community who, once enlightened, keep on doing the great work of educating the community on the need to advocate for their rights to a clean environment–even when the rest are in the capital, Nairobi–gives me a lot of hope. This motivates me to do even more advocacy.

2) Could you tell us a little more about how oil companies are impacting your home?

Oil was discovered in my community in the year 2011 by a British firm, Tullow Oil, and other partner companies. The news was received with happiness and celebration in Turkana and Kenya generally. After the oil and gas exploration began, there was an influx of foreign populations into my community, with most people coming in to take advantage of the oil discovery and to benefit from the opportunities presented by the same. This influx resulted to rapid expansion of already small towns and, in the process, the culture of the people was eroded in those areas due to the cosmopolitan nature of the expanded towns.

Secondly, huge chunks of the community land were fenced and allocated to the oil company through lease-agreements for oil and gas exploration.  Interestingly, most of these land agreements are concluded in Nairobi without the community being part of the process and have been a subject of a heated debate.

Oil and gas exploration involves clearing community forests and pastures, rendering the once-green community pastures into bare lands. As a result, the oil company and the local pastoralists regularly clash over resources with the company arguing that it has “a letter from Nairobi,” while the community argues that their land is being used without their community consent.

There have been numerous conflicts amongst community members especially on matters of employment. The company sometimes employs people from a specific region and rejects the rest because for example they don’t originate from places where the oil and gas project is taking place. These conflicts have created divisions among our people and the unity that was once there has been destroyed.

Insecurity has also increased in Turkana since the oil discovery because the neighboring communities claim ownership of the land where the oil was discovered, despite it being traditionally Turkana ancestral land. As a result, raids have been frequent, exacerbated by the fact that the local security persons have been absorbed into guarding the company property, leaving the community at the mercy of bandits.

Currently, there is a heated debate in Turkana on Establishment of Conservancies to manage community land which is being spearheaded by the oil company and its partners but without the knowledge of the leaders and without community participation. This has renewed the already tense relationship between the company and the local community.

3) You talk a lot to young people about climate change. What do you find to be the most effective when engaging youth in Kenya? 

The most effective way to reach out to Kenyan youth is to make them part of the climate change advocacy process. This enables them to better understand the discussions on climate change. Not involving the youth will detach them from the debate and one will not be able to achieve the desired results. Another most effective way of engaging the youth is through the use of local and immediate examples to illustrate the realities of climate change. In Turkana, for example, such include drying up of once known water sources, increasing aridity, reduction in the amount of rainfalls, and death of livestock among others. Use of scientific terminologies such as “greenhouse gas emissions” has proved to be unfriendly to the community.



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