Examining the cracks in my house
“How Tullow hurt me” – Cheptoo’s Story as close to verbatim as possible (translated)
“A few years ago, my neighbours and I were called to a meeting by the chief to meet with an oil company called Tullow. At the meeting, we were told that the oil company thought that there was oil under our land and so they wanted us to allow them to drill some holes in some sections of our land – it was like a one-lane road that went right down one side of our land, through fences, trees and our healthy maize farms.
“We were a bit hesitant, in fact our MCA (Member of County Assembly) told us to decline until our title deeds came. Somehow in the course of the meeting we were prevailed upon to agree and we did.
“The deal was that they would come down with their heavy machinery and dig holes in our land. They promised to fix our fences as they went and pay us for the trees and crops that they cut down. As far as houses go, they said that there would be no damage to our houses if they drilled at least 70 metres away from the home. In my case, they drilled just 57 metres from my house.
“You cannot imagine the vibration that happens when they drill near your house. Your entire land vibrates and if you are at home, you feel like your heart is vibrating. Those machines are strong. They passed through my land and broke the fence as they came in, uprooted two trees and cut through a large swathe of my maize crops running one end of my farm.
“As they were drilling, we noticed a serious crack that started from one room in my house – the one closest to the drilling, down a corner of the house diagonally across the floor, through the floor of the other room and up the wall again.
I was not worried when I went to Tullow to report to them that my house had cracked in the midst of their drilling – after all, they had said that they would fix whatever damage they caused. I had to go three times to meet the officer in charge but when I did, he instructed me to go to the county engineer and ask them to conduct an assessment of my house.
The Baringo county engineer reviewed my house a few days later and found that indeed there were cracks in my house caused by the drilling and he sent his report to Tullow oil officials. Based on that assessment, Tullow asked me to go and get a contractor to quote for the repairs of my house. I found a contractor in Kabarnet, 13 km from here and after he reviewed my house, he quoted Kshs. 250,000. I took the quote to Tullow Oil officials who told me to wait as they sent the quote and report to their headquarters to be dealt with.
A few weeks later, I was called to the chief’s office and when I went I found him with the Tullow officials. They told me that they had got word from Nairobi and that they had brought me a cheque of Kshs. 100,000, which is all the company said they would agree to give. Kshs 100,000? That’s not enough to repair my house and I could not take it, I protested.
For two other meetings at the chief’s office I was asked to accept the Kshs. 100,000 and I was adamant. I would not take the money. After all, the Baringo county Engineer had assessed the house and found that the cracks were caused by the drilling. A contractor had given his quote and I just want my house the way it was.
Later, a woman called Elizabeth joined the meeting with the chief and told me that I should just accept the money. After much cajoling by the chief and the Tullow officials, I agreed to take the money. I went back to the senior officer at the oil company and he told me that his hands were tied. What the headquarters had given was final.
I felt so helpless.
A few months later, in 2017 towards the end, I was called along with my neighbours to a meeting at a nearby hotel. The Tullow Oil company was conducting some monitoring and evaluation and they wanted our views. Because most of us were unhappy, we told them our story passionately. They listened and promised to return with news.
We have not heard from them. Who do I go and complain to? These people have money and access to the big people in government. The only thing I will do, is when they come to my land down there, where they said they found oil, I will not allow them to lay a foot in it.
Me? I am just a local teacher and farmer. How can I fight them?
Citizens are invisible
At the Open Institute, we are lately engaging with communities in Mining, Oil and Gas exploration areas. A big finding is that many citizens in the sector are disenfranchised and feel powerless in the governing of how extractives are to be done in their areas. Most of the issues are discussed among large corporations, senior government officers and large civil society organisations.
How can citizens participate better? How can they become more visible as policies are generated?