The continent of Africa is known for her beautiful scenery, amazing holiday destinations and charm of her people; they are welcoming, always smiling and generally good-natured people. Individuals who have visited Africa always fall in love at first sight. My friend Dr. Doig and his wife Brenda from London, when they first did a Safari in Kenya three years ago, they were blown away with the Big Five that they have gone back several times. Let's just say Africa is beautiful, shall we?
Africa not only has the looks, but also the "goods." That is, the precious minerals. And these valuable resources have made the lovable continent turn into "God-forsaken continent" according to the movie Blood Diamond, a political thriller about precious stones mined in Sierra Leone and sold to finance conflicts in the region, thereby profiting warlords and diamond companies across the world.
Last week, the government of Kenya announced that oil was discovered in Turkana, in the northern part of the country. The locals received the news with a gesture of relief, particularly knowing that this is one of the poorest areas in Kenya. Residents of Turkana depend on handouts from NGOs due to poverty and harsh dry weather. Most of people are pastoralists and because families move to different places looking for pastures for their animals, and the majority of children don't go to school.
In the beginning of this year, Turkana's people were beneficiaries of "Kenyans for Kenyans," a campaign that was initiated by corporate leaders and Kenya media personalities to support the starving people of Turkana. The campaign was very successful and it raised not only millions of Kenya shillings but created awareness of situation in Turkana.
The discovery of oil must be good news for people of Turkana, who have always felt left out by government of the day. But will the people of Turkana really benefit from the excursion? The signs do not look good and I fear for Turkanans' dream. The block of land in Ngamia 1, where the oil was discovered, has been fenced and, according to the local newspapers, any news and information about the oil is being received from Nairobi, the land is being managed not from Turkana and the area is heavily guarded and no one is allowed to be around the "holy grail."
Turkana is a very volatile region with bandits and cattle rustlers running the show. Since the announcement of the oil, Turkana residents have declared it is their "time to eat" and residents have been very vigilant and any visitor to the area is seen as a "suspect." With bandits' situation and now with newly found wealth, time will tell until how long the cattle rustlers will graduate to "self-Lords." (Notice, I didn't use "war lords.")
People from Turkana have always seen themselves as not Kenyans and whenever someone from Nairobi visits the place, residence always asks, "Habari ya Kenya...." (which translates to "How is Kenya"). Respective governments have always neglected the area due to its dry condition and severe poverty. Unfortunately this will not change. The area where oil has been discovered has already been associated with politicians and this is bad news to the Turkana people. Where minerals have been found in Africa countries, politicians have always been the beneficiaries. They are seen as the voice of the community, they manipulate communities and who-ever wants to access the resources in the area must go through the "players." In Nigeria, despite the vast wealth created by petroleum, the benefits have been slow to trickle down to the majority of the population, but it is producing political millionaires.
International companies have always been the "experts" in discoveries and they usually have a stake in profits. And to Turkana's dreamers, I am happy to report that some of your "cake" will be going to foreign stomachs -- mind you, they are the bakers! The block of land where oil was found was sold to Canadian Firm Africa Oil Corporation which in turn sold 50 percent of its stake in the block to Anglo-Irish firm, Tullow Oil, which struck the "oil diamond." This means lots of people will share the "cake" and there is no privilege for being a Turkana (or Kenyan).
"Sometimes I wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we've done to each other... Then I look around and I realize... God left this place a long time ago." (Blood Diamond)