Magazine article New African

Good Tidings in Turkana: In Kenya's Far North-Western County of Turkana, Celebrated Worldwide for Its Prehistoric Human Origins Findings, the Backwater Town of Lodwar, Set in Dry, Sandy and Intensely Humid Semi-Desert, Is Steeped in Memories of Kenya's Independence Struggle. but the Discovery of Oil in the County Is Set to Change It for Good. Wanjohi Kabukuru Reports Why

Magazine article New African

Good Tidings in Turkana: In Kenya's Far North-Western County of Turkana, Celebrated Worldwide for Its Prehistoric Human Origins Findings, the Backwater Town of Lodwar, Set in Dry, Sandy and Intensely Humid Semi-Desert, Is Steeped in Memories of Kenya's Independence Struggle. but the Discovery of Oil in the County Is Set to Change It for Good. Wanjohi Kabukuru Reports Why

Article excerpt

LODWAR, CAPITAL OF TURKANA county, is where Kenya's founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was incarcerated at the height of the country's independence freedom struggle. His cell house there is today a national monument under the management of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). Nearly all of Turkana county is considered an archaeological site of international importance, thanks to the numerous spots being researched and studied by the NMK, due to the priceless hominid finds. But today, the country has even further good tidings--the discovery of oil which has set both local and international interest in the area into overdrive.

130km south of Lodwar, just off the dilapidated Kapenguria-Lodwar highway, is the much smaller centre of Lokichar, still within Turkana county. The remote region is served by daily flights to Lodwar. While the transformation of this town was planned three years ago, the reality of these plans took shape only early this year. In March this year Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki announced that the Anglo-Irish oil multinational Tullow Oil had discovered oil in the Ngamia 1 (Swahili for "camel") well located near Lokichar.

When the news of the discovery was announced in Nairobi, the country was abuzz with debates that were heavily tilted in favour of the "oil curse" argument. Few opinion shapers saw the find as an "oil blessing". Ironically, in Turkana, the oil issue is not a hot topic even though the locals are well versed of what is happening in their county and even the youngsters can pinpoint the direction of the exploration wells.

At present there are several exploration ventures across Kenya with much of the activity concentrated in Turkana, where there are more than six heavily guarded sites.

Oil talk among the residents is treated with unusual calm for such a subject. "This oil found here belongs to all Kenyans," says Katoo Awoi, a primary school teacher in Lokichar. "Of course, we will get our share as the people of Turkana, but this wealth needs to be shared by everyone within the Kenyan borders once they begin selling it."

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In the last six years the East African region has generated intense interest as far as hydrocarbon reserves are concerned, attracting various oil multinationals. Anza, Lamu, Mandera and the Tertiary Rift, whose combined surface area is estimated to be half a million square kilometres, are Kenya's four petroleum exploration basins which are subdivided into blocks for easier administration. Turkana, where Block 10BB is situated, became the first of the country's oil basins, and thrust Kenya into the limelight.

Two months after the discovery was made public, Tullow and its partner Africa Oil, who operate Turkana's Block 10BB, revealed that they had found an extra 43m of potential oil pay in its Ngamia-1 well in northern Kenya. Tullow has other interests in Ethiopia and Uganda, but the Turkana find is exciting the oil corporation.

"This ongoing wildcat is an excellent start to our exploration campaign. The net pay encountered so far in Ngamia-1 is more than double that encountered in any of our East African exploration wells to date. We now look forward to the drilling and evaluation of the deeper potential of this well and the acceleration of our seismic and drilling campaigns in the region," says Angus McCoss, Tullow Oil's exploration director.

From general conversations in Turkana county, a picture emerges of an oil company that has done everything not to antagonise its relations with the locals. …

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