How devolution, oil discovery changed fortunes of Turkana towns

Walter Onyango has never regretted relocating from Kitale, Trans-Nzoia County, two years ago.

An artisan, Onyango found a steady income away from his home and in the unlikeliest of places: In Lokichar town. Onyango’s change of fortune is driven by the ever-rising number of clientele on one side and fewer people doing what he does.

Many residents of Turkana County have had a change in fortunes thanks to employment and contract opportunities brought about by devolution and the discovery of oil.

“The discovery of oil in the area has created a multiplier effect in Lokichar town with businesses like micro-finance, hotel industry, jua kali and agriculture emerging to meet the needs of workers involved in oil exploration,” said an artisan at Lokichar.

The semi-arid region, which has for long been associated with banditry, drought and hunger, is experiencing economic transformation as some of the reformed warriors continue to secure contracts from the national and county governments, something that has improved their livelihoods.

Pastoralism and the Kraal system of temporary settlement is being phased out in major urban centres that include Lodwar, Kakuma, Lokichar and Lokichoggio towns, where once communally-owned land is being sub-divided to set up commercial enterprises.

Lokichar is among towns that are becoming a business magnet as more commercial premises emerge following the discovery of oil deposits in the semi-arid Turkana County.

The once lethargic town is experiencing a transformation with the emergence of a wide range of commercial undertakings, ranging from micro-finance to hotel industry, a clear yardstick for sterling economic growth and source of revenue generation for the Turkana County Government.

“More investors have been attracted to the area due to the prevailing peace situation after decades of cattle raids and banditry activities,” said Peter Emuria Eleon of Naoyaregae agricultural youth group from Kainuk on the banks of River Turkwel.

The group has invested in various agricultural projects targeting markets in the Western Kenya region.

“Most agricultural produce like vegetables and a variety of cereals find their way to Lokichar and Lodwar, among other towns in the area, where there are ready markets, brought about by increased population,” Mr Emuria, a reformed warrior, explained.

Strategically located along the Lodwar-South Sudan highway, Lokichar town is receiving a new lease of life thanks to the unearthing of ''commercial'' oil deposits at Ngamia I by Tullow Kenya.

The oil discovery makes Lokichar a business magnet as it continues to attract more investors.

More than 10 medium-scale hotels and accommodation facilities have been established in the past few years as more investors flock to the town that has for long been considered as a cathedral in the desert owing to low investment levels.

The town has fascinated players in the financial sector with several M-Pesa services, banking agents, mini-supermarkets and juakali (informal) businesses surfacing which has resulted in high circulation of money in the otherwise agriculturally potential town.

Investment in the town has been boosted by the construction of an earth road by Tullow Oil Company linking Lokichar and Lokori trading centres in Turkana East District, some 20km away.

“Most transit vehicles to South Sudan make a stop-over here for meals or accommodation, making the town a 24-hour economy business centre,” said Zeinab Mohamed Hersi of Mashallah Hotel, one of the investments in the town.

“The discovery of oil has opened up more business opportunities as we are sometimes forced to increase our food offerings to meet the high demand,” says Ms Zeinab.
The establishment of micro-finance institutions and banking outlets has made financial services easily accessible to most of the town's residents who can now secure loans and set up businesses.

“Most locals, oil company employees and motorists who make stop-overs here find it convenient to send or receive cash via the mobile money transfers which has resulted in increased currency circulation and economic growth of the town,” said Loupe Akiru, an operator in the town.

The town is a transit point for industrial and agricultural products destined for South Sudan, creating employment opportunities to the locals while employees involved in oil exploration generate additional revenue to the county government.

To help revitalise business activities in the town, Turkana County Governor Josephat Nanok has prioritised security, infrastructure and promoted public-private sector partnerships to facilitate the delivery of quality services and drive further economic growth and development.

The on-going maintenance of the damaged Kainuk-Lodwar highway will attract more investors and propel the economic growth and development of Turkana County.

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