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Kenya: The Landscape of Turkana County

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Turkana County is located at the meeting of Kenya’s blurred borders with Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan. Turkana County is an arid region, long neglected by successive Kenyan administrations. However, in recent months, Turkana County has become a key area of interest for the Kenyan government and investors alike following reports that British-owned oil exploration company, Tullow Oil PLC, discovered an estimated 250 million barrels of crude oil there. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Fishermen at work in Lake Turkana. The lake is formerly known as Lake Rudolf and is situated in the Kenyan Rift Valley, with its far northern end crossing into Ethiopia. A new report documents how a dam and series of irrigation projects being built in Ethiopia threaten the world’s largest desert lake and the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it. It describes how hydrological changes from the Gibe III Dam and irrigation projects now under construction in the Omo River Basin could turn Lake Turkana in Kenya into East Africa’s Aral Sea (the infamous Central Asia lake that almost disappeared after the diversion of rivers that fed it). Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Garbage that has been dumped in the middle of nowhere in Turkana County. It came most probably from the nearest town of Lodwar where corruption and mismanagement make it difficult to deliver basic services. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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View of an an oil rig operated by Tullow in Turkana County, an arid region, long neglected by successive Kenyan administrations. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A man in Kalokol fish-landing bay in Kenya's northwestern Turkana region loads his truck with dry fish. When the fish come in the place is a hive of activity. Well-to-do fish buyers from urban centers with refrigerated trucks benefit most from the catch. Turkana’s indigenous communities are highly dependent on the lake for their food crops, livestock grazing and watering, and fishing. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Hundreds of Geo phones are spread out all around Turkana to allow geologists at Tullow to use seismic waves to put together a picture of what's beneath the soil. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A deserted camping site on the shores of Lake Turkana in Eliye springs, land is becoming a sought-after commodity with multiple plans for hotels. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A motor bike parked in front of a traditional hut which incorporates modernity in a remote part of Turkana county. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A man and a woman on the main and only road in Lokichar, a frontier town in Turkana county. The town is isolated due to poor road sand infrastructure. All this might change very soon with the recent oil discovery in the area. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A Tullow oil rig seen from outside of its perimeter. The security around the rig consists of a wall made out of the earth making it impossible to see what or who is on the inside. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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On a Tullow oil rig in Turkana County, an arid region, long neglected by successive Kenyan administrations. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Ekales Camp, one of many tented camps that Tullow has built for its staff operating in Turkana County. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Traditional Turkana man herds his young camels. Lake Turkana lies on the border of territories occupied by two tribes that have been engaged in a centuries-old conflict over cattle. The area has become increasingly violent in recent months, the aggression fueled by a severe drought and a recent flurry of large oil discoveries. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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Traditional Turkana women return with jerrycans of water. Sometimes it takes hours to fetch water from a water point in this arid region. Turkanas and the Pokots have been engaged in a centuries-old conflict over cattle. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A petrol station under construction near the town of Lokichar not far from the British petroleum company Tullow. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

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A traditional Turkana man protects himself from the brutal hot sun near Nakechichok village. Image by Guillaume Bonn. Kenya, 2014.

Turkana County is dry. Hues of yellows and browns paint the landscape, creating a sense of emptiness. But Turkana County, the planet's oldest landscape known to have been inhabited by modern humans, is anything but empty.

Tullow Oil PLC, a British-owned oil exploration company, has discovered an estimated 250 million barrels of crude oil beneath the arid surface. While resource extraction is not expected to begin for several years, the Turkana oil finds have been celebrated. Oil revenue is seen as a solution to poverty in the region, where nine out of ten people live at subsistence level.

But behind the optimistic rhetoric, the prevailing political and security environment in Turkana County is looking conspicuously similar to that which sparked insurgency in the Niger Delta. If left unaddressed, the region could potentially become a theater for oil conflict.

In addition, the environmental impacts, which could include a huge drop in Lake Turkana's water level, could lead to a collapse of local livelihoods and foment insecurity in the already conflict-ridden Horn of Africa. The Lake Turkana area is regarded by many anthropologists as the cradle of humankind due to the abundance of hominid fossils.

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