Article written

  • on 05.10.2015
  • at 10:42 AM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Maximizing the benefits of oil and water discoveries in Turkana, Kenya 0

Kenya’s newly discovered oil is located in a part of the country marked by extreme poverty, high levels of illiteracy and insecurity primarily arising from years of neglect by successive governments. With the discovery of large water reserves as well, hopes in the region are high that life is set to improve for the people. But how can these dreams be realised?

Turkana County, in the extreme north-west of Kenya, is a semi-arid area that suffers from low rainfall, high temperatures and frequent droughts. The Turkana people, who are traditionally pastoralists, face constant problems in finding sufficient water and grass for their cattle, especially during the dry season. To complicate their lives still further, they are locked in an interminable and longstanding conflict with their neighbours, the Pokot, for water and grass.

With the discovery of huge deposits of oil and a large aquifer of water within their land the Turkana’s fortunes should change for the better: the finds could transform the county economically, socially and politically. This brief paper will examine some of the challenges that the Turkana will have to address if they are to maximize the positive returns of their oil and water .

Practical Challenges

Given that the county is semi-arid, climate change is one of its biggest challenges. The increase in temperatures since the 1960s has resulted in a decline in the amount of water in the Omo River and Lake Turkana, which has added fuel to the conflict between the Turkana and their neighbours (Powers, 2011). Fortunately, the discovery of a major aquifer means that there are good prospects for the removal of one source of this violent competition between neighbouring peoples, once the county and the national governments are able to provide and share sufficient water not only for livestock but also for irrigated agriculture and other uses. The availability of water should also encourage more of the Turkana people to take up mixed economy farming and, possibly, irrigated farming: the introduction of a modern livestock industry would build on the skills that most Turkana already have as pastoralists.

There is no doubt that Turkana will not benefit properly from either oil or water if the problem of guns is not solved. Currently, according to Powers (2011), every Turkana male over 17 years has an AK47 automatic rifle. The men claim that guns are essential for the protection of their livestock and their families against raids by the Pokot from the south, Ugandans from the west and Sudanese and Ethiopians from the north and east. Until these threats are countered disarmament will be strongly resisted. Turkana is the largest county in Kenya, has a low density of population, possesses few roads and, having been sidelined since colonial days, very little infrastructure. To establish effective government control over the area is a huge and expensive project with the problems compounded by the discovery of oil, uncertain borders and Islamic fundamentalists. The county government should work with the national government to disarm the Turkana and their neighbours but the county needs a military presence and a rapid-response police force to protect its borders.

Turkana has the lowest literacy rate of any county in Kenya: to build a competent labour force will take the county more than a little time. In this connection, the funds coming from oil and gas should enable the county to establish both vocational and technical colleges to serve students from Turkana and neighbouring counties. In addition, as in other countries, some students can be sent to other countries to train foinr specialized courses, especially for the upstream oil and gas industry. The planned training opportunities should include areas such as small and medium businesses with an emphasis on hospitality, logistics, distribution and marketing and the needs of the petro-chemical industry.

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by John O. Kakonge

Photo Credit: Nation Media Group/Billy Mutai

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