Enclaved or Enmeshed? Local Governance of Oil Finds in Turkana, Kenya
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The development of high-value extractive resources in the rural peripheries of sub-Saharan Africa is often viewed as a securitised project separated from society and politics in neighbouring areas. It follows that extractive operations can happen in an enclave, partitioned from political society, contestation and struggle in nearby areas. Yet, this way of understanding extractive operations – ‘seeing like an oil company’ – draws analytical attention away from other ways of ‘seeing’ at the geographic and political margins, and associated reconfigurations in local governance and political relations that follow the establishment of sites and wayleaves for resource extraction. Taking the example of oil exploration and appraisal operations in the Turkana region of Kenya’s far northwest, this article examines how investments in oil operations at the periphery are governed. Territorialisation processes driven by oil capital have been unable to advance through the establishment of walled-off enclaves. Rather, oil operations in Turkana are enmeshed with local influence networks and political society, whose significance is even greater in a context of devolution. These findings contribute to debates on strategies used by large outside capital to define and hence territorialize resources for extraction in places where the presence of central state authority is weakly felt and negotiating power is both localised and diffuse.