From the beginning, oil has been a symbol of power, productivity and pride. It evokes the idyll of boundless wealth, affluence and ecstasy.
Many view it as a mystical resource with the ability to confer enormous socioeconomic might. It has been a perpetual focus of aspiration for communities sitting on significant reserves.
British firm Tullow Oil sparked national celebrations when it struck the black gold in Turkana a decade ago. Kenyans from all over the nation trooped to the north in search of lucrative business deals, while ambitious investors staked claims to prime land spots around the Kapenguria – Lodwar highway.
One such investor is Mr John Korikel, the director of Black Gold Hotel in Lokichar. The resort has spacious air-conditioned rooms, entertainment, security, and uninterrupted water and power supply.
He says there was a big gap in the hospitality industry that had long distance drivers heading to Juba as the main customers. They realised that skilled foreign workers prospecting for oil in Turkana South and Turkana East Sub-counties needed good services. It would have been tedious to commute from Lodwar town, which is more than 80 kilometers away.
“We built this hotel between 2016 and 2017 due to the demand. When we opened, it was fully booked for six months. Most of them were Tullow employees, others were people from other counties. We have 52 spacious, air-conditioned rooms with televisions and WiFi,” says Korikel.
The population expanded fast, with it even more opportunities and a steady market to push goods. With the improvement of services and better roads, even the bandit guns went silent; they could no longer act with impunity since the police were now available and could get to them faster than they could run from their senseless slaughter.
In Lodwar, the building of hotels and conference centres boosted the local economy. The posh facilities are the Ceamo Prestige Lodge, Stegra Hotel, Sand Fields, and The Cradle.
“Lodwar town is growing very fast. There has been a tremendous transformation from a few semi-permanent structures into a real estate hub,” says Mr Jacob Mwangi, managing director of Stegra Hotel. Ms Cecilia Asinyen Ngitit, who runs Ceamo Prestige Lodge, attributes the rise in property development to increased circulation of money, unlike in the past when livestock was the primary source of income. The entertainment industry is also doing well. Top East African artists such as Diamond Platinumz, Size 8, Willy Paul, Jose Chameleon, AY, Sauti Sol, Bahati, Prezzo, and Jua Kali have all performed here.
“We need to invest in our region to make it attractive to other investors from different parts of the country,” says Mr Robert Lowoko. He owns Homeland Club in Nakwamekwi, two kilometres from the town centre. Mr Abraham Losinyen, who runs Marble Club & VIP Lounge near Kanam Kemer estate, offers: “We have to show the world we are ready for the next level. It’s not just about livestock and culture.”
The county government has formulated an urban management plan to prevent the mushrooming of informal settlements.
“The plan will coordinate the town’s growth by providing strategic locations of commercial, industrial, residential, and general development,” says Mr Joseph Egiron, the county director handling urban areas.
“Lodwar town is expanding fast towards the southern part due to the availability of ample space and a sewerage system. Measures have been implemented to provide an attractive environment for investors.”
The chief roads officer, Mr Emmanuel Ekai, says the county government has set aside Sh200 million for infrastructure expansion.
“We have built a drainage system on a 3.2km road handed over to the county government by the Kenya Urban Roads Authority, and a huge trench is to be constructed to lead the water to River Turkwel,” he offers.
Investors now hope the government and oil exploration companies will resume petroleum activities in Turkana.
“We had 45 workers: security officers, cleaners, grounds men, a manager, cooks, and barmaids. We have retained only eight. We even postponed our plans to build the first ever swimming pool in Lokichar,” says Mr Korikel.
After the Early Oil Pilot Scheme, the Ministry of Petroleum had plans to acquire land for the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project to facilitate Full Field Development.
As a critical component of the Sh2.5 trillion project with an 820km long pipeline from Lokichar to Lamu, Petroleum Cabinet Secretary John Munyes says the project is critical for Kenya to realise its ambition of joining the league of oil exporters with the production of 100,000 barrels per day.