Kenya must avoid the dreaded ‘oil curse’

Kodekode village in Turkana County near Ngamia One

Some residents of Kodekode village in Turkana County near Ngamia One where oil was discovered. Locals say they have never benefited from the oil, apart from water, which they get occasionally.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

I wish to appreciate and compliment Allan Buluku’s informative and objective article, “The paradox of raging poverty amid oil riches” (DN, July 18).

The curse of mineral wealth in Africa need be highlighted as much as possible. Mr Buluku has correctly accentuated the emerging parallels between Turkana oil wealth and the mineral-rich DR Congo and oil-rich Nigeria. I can add South Sudan, Angola and Chad, among several others.

There are three (too many, aren’t they?) common denominators in all these countries. One, they are all part of black Africa. Two, the beneficiaries of the natural resources are foreign former colonial powers and the local political elites. Three, the real owners of the resources, the local communities inhabiting the land for generations, “live in crippling deprivation” as Buluku says.

Natural resources are found in other parts of the world, too, but their populations get some notable benefits at least, even if the major beneficiaries are the big corporates and their local political partners. Not so in Black Africa. We read about tragic massacres on daily basis in the DRC. Entire families are wiped out. Even children are not spared.

The invaluable lesson from the article, which could not have been put better, is: “That poverty and wealth always nestle together is not a natural law: It’s the spirit of capitalism.”

I also admire the intellectual and moral capacity of John Baraka when he told the writer: “We need a shift in our thinking to avoid the route other oil producers have taken. Transparency in revenues and and expenditure is crucial to defeating the resource curse. Our natural resources should, ideally, be used to foster growth and reduce poverty.”

These two lessons should be transformed into the rallying cry of the people, the lobbies and the media to help our suffering population of Turkana to realise their rights to the oil wealth.

In Kenya, when we adopted the new Constitution in 2010, the game changer was meant to be the devolved units. County governments were meant to protect the interests of the local populations. We celebrated. Having learnt from Buluku’s article that Turkana residents are dying of hunger while billions of oil reserves lie beneath their land, it becomes manifestly clear that even devolution is a curse on our nation. It has only added to the burden that we carry.

Let the Nation please continue updating the readers about the social and economic injustices Kenyans are made to go through, which will help the people to demand their rights, lest we go the DRC, Nigeria or South Sudan way.

Mohamed Harunany, Mombasa

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