New Wealth, New Security Challenges: The Impact of Energy and Mega-Infrastructure Projects in the Greater Horn of Africa

New Wealth, New Security Challenges: The Impact of Energy and Mega-Infrastructure Projects in the Greater Horn of Africa

The Greater Horn of Africa1 is one of the most complex and challenging regions in the world in terms of conflict and instability. Currently, there are internal conflicts in South Sudan, southern Somalia, Sudan (Darfur), and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), while armed inter-communal clashes are common throughout. Areas where conflict is concentrated are often peripheral and remote, geographically challenging, and thinly populated. They are often border areas where the states have little capacity to police or patrol.2

In the past, such areas were often viewed as having little economic value; few public services were expanded into these areas throughout the colonial and post-colonial eras, and their residents have lived outside of state jurisdiction for the most part. In the past decade, however, these areas have come to be viewed as potentially profitable and “game changers” for their states’ economies, whether through wind or solar power, fossil fuels, or large-scale agricultural developments. These proposals also bring new opportunities for shared services, cross-border trade, and labor migrations. Four major rift systems in the Great Rift Valley, spanning from Somalia to the DRC and South Sudan to Madagascar, encompass large oil deposits, and governments have sought foreign investment and loans for mega-infrastructure projects to exploit these newly discovered resources and open up their peripheral areas.3 These include plans for oil transportation, such as the LAPSSET (Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport) Corridor Project and the 1,443 km (896 mile) Hoima-Bukoba-Tanga Port pipeline; and rail links such as the 750 km (466 mile), $3.4 billion electric rail from Djibouti to Addis Ababa and the 450 km (280 mile), $13 billion standard gauge rail from Mombasa to Nairobi. The Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) Project is another major venture in Kenya, while in Ethiopia, the Gilgel Gibe III Dam Project and associated sugar and cotton plantations are dramatically transforming the once-quiet Lower Omo Valley.

These mega projects in East Africa are raising many challenges for peace and security. At the local level, populations are being displaced by the projects themselves, environmental degradation, roads and urbanization, and speculative land-grabbing. Importantly, legal frameworks to protect indigenous peoples’ interests are lacking; it is all too easy for communally owned land to be compulsorily acquired “in the national interest” by states, without compensation, adequate resettlement, nor livelihood restoration for those who previously subsisted upon the land. Pastoralism, which until recently has been virtually the only form of sustainable land use in arid and semi-arid areas, relies upon a high level of mobility. However, pastoralist mobility patterns are difficult for outsiders to understand; hence, though it may seem that much of the necessary land is “unoccupied,” this is not the case. Furthermore, people in marginal areas often lack access to basic state education and political representation, which severely limits their ability to exercise their own rights, particularly where corruption is high. In such situations, elites often hive off even the benefits intended for local communities.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that communities respond to threats with demonstrations and roadblocks.4 In Turkana, Kenya, community members have staged two major riots over their displacement and the lack of local opportunities, leading to the closure of a major oil installation for three weeks and extensive damage to an investor’s property. As yet, they have not resorted to armed violence.5 They are, however, heavily armed; the South Sudan-Kenya border hosts a thriving arms trade. The LTWP Project is also facing a court battle with community members over land acquisition. Numerous other examples of similar investor-community conflicts are often characterized by a distinct lack of responsibility claimed by both state and investor. Hardship caused by physical and economic displacement compounds existing inter-communal and inter-ethnic conflict: the bloody battles between the Dassenech and Turkana on the Kenya-Ethiopia border are exacerbated by the displacement of the former from the Lower Omo Valley due to the developments noted earlier.

On a national and international level, several border disputes and conflicts are fueled in part by new discoveries. These include armed conflicts between pastoralists of Turkana County and Pokot County in Kenya, between Kenya and Somalia, between Somaliland and Puntland, within Ethiopia, and along the DRC-Uganda border; disputes between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar; as well as inter-communal conflicts and inter-state disputes over the Ilemi Triangle between Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan. The discovery of oil has exacerbated many of these conflicts. There is also competition among the states in getting the oil out of the ground and into the market, which influenced the decision to reroute Uganda’s oil through Tanga Port in Tanzania instead of Kenya. However, regional unity is important for states to benefit, because their economies are not sufficiently strong on their own. Geo-political interests in the region also have the potential to introduce new conflict dynamics.

Security governance—a phrase that expresses the multitude of actors in security, both state and non-state—is thus a vital consideration in these rapidly and unevenly developing peripheries. A multitude of different security arrangements exist, provided by state police, which are thin on the ground; state paramilitaries; armed auxiliary forces; private security and military companies; and armed local community members, used to defending their communities and property against “enemy” communities competing for land-based resources. Another arrangement in northern Kenya which goes under the banner of conservation is the “conservancy” model.6 These large conservancies, some of which have morphed from private ranches, employ armed Kenyan police auxiliaries in an arrangement with the state to provide security against poachers, but the arrangement raises critical security governance questions. Moreover, the conservancy model has been proposed as a means of land management and security for oil-rich parts of Turkana County, but plans have currently halted due to questionable benefits and lack of participation.7

In conclusion, massive change, which is already undermining local people and leading to unrest, is expected to continue in peripheral areas of the Greater Horn. The combination of local grievances, elite interests, weak legal frameworks, fragile security, and chaotic security governance arrangements could lead to an escalation and protraction of existing violent conflicts and outbreak of even further violence.

  1. The Greater Horn Countries comprise the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
  2. This is a condensed version of a paper presented at the International Studies Association’s (ISA) 58th Annual Convention, “Understanding Change in World Politics,” which took place February 22-25, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
  3. The World Bank has reported that Kenya’s infrastructure spending has risen fourfold in the past six years, and many projects are debt financed. “Kenya Economic Update,” World Bank (Washington DC: World Bank, 2016), 28.
  4. Kennedy Mkutu, “Oil and Emerging Conflict Dynamics in the Ateker Cluster: The Case of Turkana, Kenya,” Nomadic Peoples Journal 21, no. 1 (2017): 34-62.
  5. Kennedy Mkutu and Gerard Wandera, “Conflict, Security and the Extractive Industries in Turkana, Kenya: Emerging Issues 2012-2015,” Nairobi: USIU-Africa/Kenya School of Government, 2016.
  6. Mkutu and Wandera, "Conflict, Security and Extractive Industries."
  7. Mkutu, "Oil and Emerging Conflict Dynamics."
Jocelyn Perry
About the Author

Kennedy Mkutu is an Associate Professor in International Relations, Peace and Security at USIU-Africa in Nairobi. He is the author of Guns and Governance: Pastoralist Conflict and Small Arms in North Rift, Northeast Africa (James Currey, Oxford). He has continued to work in the North Rift exploring issues of conflict, gendered impacts of conflict, state security, and peacebuilding. More recently he has explored the impact of new oil discoveries in pastoral areas and the security implications of devolution in Kenya. For the last six years, he has been the manager of the Crime and Violence Prevention Training, a collaboration between Kenya School of Government and USIU-Africa, funded by the Open Society Initiative, East Africa. Dr. Mkutu is among the architects of the “African Potentials” project with the African and Asian Area Studies Department, Kyoto University, Japan. Collaboration between Japanese and African scholars exploring African old and new initiatives in solving conflicts/encouraging negotiation and peace. In 2015, he was a visiting Professor in Peace and Security at Kyoto University in 2015. He is currently a Senior Consultant in Conflict Sensitivity with the World Bank.

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