The discovery of oil in Kenya’s Turkana region is indeed great for the country because it puts Kenya in the ranks of other countries that are blessed with rich mineral resources like oil. This is the good side. The bad side, hope it does not get here, is that the oil could easily plunge the Turkana region and even the rest of the country into long term conflicts and turmoil, deeper poverty, extensive frustration, and unending wars just as witnessed in other African countries where the presence of rich natural resources is often a cause of bitter conflicts. But is there any reason to go down this route? Absolutely NO.
With good planning, everything should easily fall into place and every party will stand to benefit. At the forefront of the benefiting stream should be the very local people (the Turkana) whose locality is lucky to have the oil. These are the people that should be given the first attention because ignoring them will set stage for conflicts that will inevitably throw the country into trouble.
When you look at a county like Nigeria, it is not hard to see where the constant conflicts are coming from. How about the Democratic Republic of Congo? The real source of the bitter instability in the country is just the rich mineral resources that the country possesses.
Yet there are several countries around the world that have demonstrated that the presence of rich mineral resources does not have to necessarily be a source of trouble. In fact the presence of such resources should inspire hope and prosperity.
Norway for instance, ranked the 8th largest producer of oil in the world, has been propelled to significant economic growth by its oil and gas reserves. So what are countries like Norway doing so
differently that cannot be achieved in all the African countries that have the same resources? In Norway, they shelved everything and took their time to make extensive plans from the very moment they discovered the resources. They never rushed into partnerships and percentages. They sat down and asked where the revenue from oil should go and what specific sectors of the economy should benefit most. They then decided to pump the revenues into infrastructure. They built good transport networks, they built exceptional energy systems, they built schools,they built good hospitals etc.
That is exactly what Kenya needs to do. Yes majority of the Turkana people may not have gone to school. But not going to school does not mean the community is doomed forever. In fact now is their time to go to school and get empowered. Revenue from the oil ought to be used to build good schools for the local kids, good hospitals for the community and most importantly,INFRASTRUCTURE.
Let there be good schools, so the kids can go learn and get the right skills to enable them manage the resources and transform the living standards of their community. Let there be good infrastructure especially in terms of energy, transport and security, so businesses can be attracted to set base in Turkana, use local talent and resources to produce and export goods and services. With good infrastructure, the local community will have been given the most powerful tool of self empowerment which is an enabling environment. What they need most is empowerment so they can run their own lives. This is what the country needs to focus on. Kenya must think long term, analyze the possible risks and implement mechanisms to counter them.
Without detailed and objective planning, there will never be anything to celebrate about the oil in Turkana. One need not search so far away for a good example of how the fight over natural resources can lead to long standing problems. Cattle rustling is already a huge problem in this region, fueled by conflicts over pasture which have presented agonizing challenges over time. Add oil into this mix and the outcome is the kind that will make life permanently miserable for everyone,not even the locals alone.
Is it all gloomy?
Not at all. Energy is a critical resource for any country and there is every good reason to be excited at the discovery of oil. The problem starts when the fine, tiny details are ignored at the very beginning. Ignoring such details as how the revenues will be utilized is a recipe for uncontrollable disasters. If the local people don’t feel that the oil is enriching their lives,they will not sit and just watch as ‘outsiders’ reap all the benefits. They will certainly fight back with far reaching consequences not only for the region but also for the entire country. No one wants this to happen but the bitter reality is that it can happen. The good news is that it can be prevented from the onset. The best way to ensure prevention is to put everything aside and conduct objective planing first.
Kenya need not go down the path of resource-generated conflicts, not when there are more than enough examples which demonstrate the bitter consequences of neglecting the small things that make a strong foundation for sustained peace and tranquility amidst resource enrichment.
Objective planning is all it will cost Kenya to avert oil conflicts both in the foreseeable future and in the long term.
It can be done,it should be done. Now is the time.