Since nature abhors the vacuum, it is not surprising that the discovery of oil deposits has been declared in arid wasteland of Turkana (Northern Kenya), where shortage of food often leads to famine among its inhabitants. The oil has been discovered in the least developed region of Kenya, where basic infrastructure like roads, energy lines, schools, hospitals, police posts etc are inadequate to the current needs. The first reaction to the discovery was euphoria and delights that started from the grass root levels and sprung to the corridors of power. “This is the first time Kenya has made such discovery and it is very good news” – as President Mwai Kibaki announced to the public. TV stations showed dancing and cheering crowds of people living in the area the British company – Tullow Oil made discovery.
But when initial excitement faded out a number of questions were raised out. The first warning came from the members of civil society and media, who reminded the fate of local communities in oil reach regions of Nigeria, Chad or Angola. The black gold – nickname for oil was changed to black curse in the mentioned states.
The local communities can watch the precious commodity leaving their land, making wealth for multinational companies and local oligarch, while what remains in the area of discovery is natural environment polluted by oil spillage.
Hopefully, the Kenyan government, as well as the local administration, fully understands the challenges. Several politicians and technocrats stated that the discovery brings opportunities and challenges as well. The law that regulates oil discovery and extraction is from 1986, and there is no doubt has to be changed. Roads and electricity supply line must be built if any oil is to be extracted and transported to the refinery. The next challenge is which model of managing oil Kenya will adopt, with strong inclinations from officials towards the Norwegian and Dubai system.
Regional politics are also to be taken into account, since the discovery could bring rivalry with neighbouring Uganda, something that both countries wish to avoid. The role of multinational companies in the oil production and distribution is another important issue to be tackled. Finally, the benefits for the local population from the oil rich region are to be discussed before any exploration will take place.
The statement of Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi: “We intend to use the interest accrued from the oil fund to improve roads, education and health services” rings hope that the fate of Turkana will not be similar to the Ogoni in Nigeria or other ethnic groups for whom oil discovery brought further marginalization and institutional neglect.
Fot.: prezydent Mwai Kibaki