Turkana Oil Discovery
The announcement by President Kibaki that oil is discovered in Turkana’s Ngamia-1 well by Tullow Oil is news. To most of us in Turkana South, the news is not new as such; it is not a discovery but confirmation of existence of oil in Turkana. Locals in places that have been explored for oil such as Loperot will tell you that drilling did take place in the early 90s, results were positive but government somehow failed to rise to the occasion. This month, it is public. It is official. There is oil. The potential for oil in Block 10BB has been positive all along. Exploration of Block 10 BB began in 1985. According to Turkana Energy Inc., Loperot-1, a well drilled by Shell, A 29 degree API oil was recovered, but commercial rates were not established. New evaluation of the well and seismic results indicate potential reserves of 20-25 million barrels may have been discovered by the Loperot well.
The timing of the announcement is like the president fired the first shot to start a race, the prize of the race being a share of Turkana which the weak owner has to compete for. If the attitude of this economic competition is like athletics, which many say it is a fair game, Turkana is about to enter the most unfair race of all time. This race comes at its weakest socio-economic time, yet potential political point in time.
The socio-economic weakness is characteristic Turkana: naturally strong yet systematically weaken by nature and fellow man. Ethnic wars, directed violence, hate attacks, extreme drought, occasional indifferent government, seasonal help and shrinking natural resources are main setbacks for Turkana.
The political potential is heap. A completely new outfit for self governance in the name of County Government, albeit conditioned by the reigns of national government is the hope Turkana has. It will be up to the incoming devolved government to realize what successive régimes failed to do for Turkana, develop it fully. If you doubt this political weight, you probably need to have a second look at trends in the social networking sites yesterday afternoon. Turkana was top in Facebok and tweets around Kenya. That is no mean feat for a land with low telecommunication density and poor (in-existent in many places) support infrastructure.
The timing to us is received with mixed reactions. First, on a sad note, Turkana Community is experiencing one of the worst periods in conflicts. We are mourning. we have lost so many lives and livestock in the last few months, weeks and days preceding this announcement. The Killings in Todonyang, Turkwel River from Lorokon, Kaputir, Kapelibok to Lokapel; Isiolo ethnic violence and many places about Turkana are painful. Painful in the sense that most raids are preventable with pro-active defense strategies.
Second, on a lighter note, we have all along known there is oil in Kalapata area since the early 90s; official confirmation is what has been delayed. And the government knew all along (re-check Vision 2030).
The timing of the announcement is not bad either. The defense forces of the country have demonstrated they are no push over. They crossed the border to Somalia without warning and made no apologies battling an organized military outfit that begged for challenge. Kenya Defense Forces have massively rearmed as a result; with increased aerial capabilities and modern acquisitions in military hardware that are a significant deterrent measure.
Port of Lamu
The port of Lamu construction brings good tidings to Turkana too. A brand new rail link to Juba and a reliable road complete with an accompanying oil pipeline, largely at the cost of South Sudan.
ICC debates and political campaigns
The announcement breaks monotony of public debate on ICC, the presidential race to succeed President Kibaki and springs to top a real national issue that does not require cutting deals to make it tops. For once, we, in this part of the world can crowd and fill our humble news points, to scan the high-tech channels for news bits that really concern us all. On concern, comments from many Kenyans are hinting on Turkana trouble on oil find.
Oil curse or oil blessing?
In the Turkana culture, oil is a substance associated with rejuvenation. A sick person is given ram oil to prepare the metabolic system to return to normal after medication. Is this oil finding a rejuvenation of Turkana land? According to us, Turkana is not cursed; it is the land of our destiny, Eden awaiting restoration. For most with a keen sense of environmental awareness, the signs of better times are here with us: the largest irrigation scheme in Kenya set to be implemented in Turkana North by Israeli help, the largest wind farm in Africa in to roll out in June in the environment of Lake Turkana, there are infrastructure projects started, in paper and on the ground, to be completed. In short, Turkana will see the most amazing transformation of this century. This only requires a few steps taken:
Critical reforms in governance are imperative to ensure public confidence in government. Land laws and policies, boundaries, disputes and conflict resolution mechanisms, Police reforms, devolution, judiciary and civil service reforms are some of the most critical areas.
Boundaries and Conflict Resolution
Turkana County and people are already feeling the heat of investments in the power sector that are turning out bloodier than anticipated. Power production related conflicts are already taking a toll on Turkana from two fronts, Turkwell Gorge Dam and Gibe III dam in Ethiopia. The Boundaries of Turkana are extremely volatile in cardinal points, North, East, South and West. Sudden attention to man oil installations and key infrastructure at the expense of indigenous people’s security is a gamble in civic confidence. Unresolved boundaries and conflict issues can force certain plans to slow or halt. It will depend on the pro-active response of the state.
Transition to county government
Political success in county government and national government will determine the status of success. The kind of leaders ascending to office are work-people that will shape governance in Kenya in pioneer county governments. The pitfalls are if corruption, nepotism and incompetence are devolved.
Will oil find tow Kenya out of the list of failing/failed states or will it accelerate it towards the top of the list? The answer depends on the balancing act the government of the day will engage. In our opinion, the government will need to address and make amends on:
Use oil revenues to eradicate extreme poverty
Develop Turkana people’s capacity to compete effectively to meet natural human resource demands to sustain the county and contribute meaningfully at national level.
Develop sustainable and effective community security mechanisms to take care of the unique position of Turkana in lifestyle and regional conflicts.
Turkana Borders three of Kenya’s five international neighbors; Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. How the government of Kenya handles the developments in Turkana oil now, will determine, to a large extent, the success or failure of Kenya’s regional policy. Turkana is going to be the new development convergence zone in Eastern Africa.
To succeed in utilizing oil for the good of people and country, Kenya needs to embrace international best practices in dealing with oil matters. Some countries have successfully drilled and continue to utilize oil as resource without bloodshed. Norway, Israel and United States are some of the countries that have oil and do not have internal wrangles over the same resource.
The ball changers are Turkana resource persons and leaders who ought to rise to this challenge and opportunity. That can only happen if attention is paid to technical details of The Constitution of Kenya, The Petroleum Act, Local Authority Act- The Trust Land Act, Land policy, Energy Act and Environment Conservation Act; among others.
Oil is a good resource that when well utilized can change lives for the better in a region like Turkana.
Turkana Technical Network
*Michael Kapolon contributed content to this article