The discovery of oil and the continued presence of exploration in Lodwar has awoken the spirit of the town and the surrounding areas to prosperity.
Good things have come for the daring and millionaires are sprouting up like wild mushrooms.
With the advent of devolution and the formation of the Turkana county government, there is more money in circulation than hitherto dreamed of.
What previously came to mind about Lodwar was dust, insecurity, scattered acacia trees, famine, colonial detention camps and the general feel of backwaters – a region of dead-calm only awakened once in a while by the crack of bandit gunfire.
But things have changed and now the main portrait of Lodwar is that of a growing town enjoying the boom.
Most youth and women have formed associations to advance chances of winning business tenders in the county government and contracts from companies involved in the hunt for oil and gas in the region.
They have formed companies and invested in road construction, real estate and the hospitality industry, among other sub-sectors.
Pastoralism and the Kraal system of rural settlement has been abandoned near urban centres, such as Lodwar and Lokichar. The once communal land is now in private hands as young millionaires expand their business empires.
The value of land has tripled in the past three years, with a parcel on the outskirts of the town now going for Sh300, 000, up from Sh80, 000.
The prime plots – previously grazing fields – are located along the Lodwar-Lokichar highway and have attracted investors from all over the world.
This has led to a huge demand for housing to accommodate staff in the devolved unit and non-governmental organisations, some of whom work in South Sudan.
“Nakwamekwi and Kanam Kemer centres on the outskirts of Lodwar are growing very fast because of the opportunities from oil companies. Devolution has played a crucial role in the changes,” said Abdiwahid Emuria, an investor.
Pastoralists embracing modernity
Joseph Omoit of Elman Construction Company – which is handling a Sh75 million project – urged the national government to boost security, especially along the border to ensure projects are completed on time.
The building of hotels and conference centres has also boosted the local economy as more pastoralists embrace modernity.
The Ceamo Prestige Lodge, Stegra Hotel, Sand Fields and The Cradle are among the posh facilities around.
“Lodwar town is growing very fast. There has been a tremendous transformation from a few semi-permanent structures into a real estate hub,” said Jacob Mwangi, managing director of Stegra Hotel.
Cecilia Asinyen Ngitit, who runs Ceamo Prestige Lodge, attributes the rise in property development to increased circulation of money unlike the past, when livestock was the main source of income.
The entertainment industry – often associated with big towns and cities – is also gaining ground in the region.
Top East African artistes 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 own region to make it attractive to other investors from different parts of the country,” said Robert Lowoko, who owns Homeland Club in Nakwamekwi, about two kilometres from the town centre.
Abraham Losinyen is another young millionaire who runs Marble Club & VIP Lounge near Kanam Kemer estate.
“We have to show the world we are ready for the next level. It’s not just about livestock and culture, we can also engage the rest of the country in technology,” he said.
David Lochuch, who owns Ekoriagete Enterprise that deals in supplies and construction, said he started his company with Sh10 million he had saved after working with the United Nations Mission in Liberia for two years.
10,000 registered companies
One of his key projects is the Sh55 million-Lokiriama Revenue Centre in Loima Sub-county. His firm also constructed the Speaker’s residence in Lodwar at Sh40 million.
Governor Josphat Nanok said there are more than 10,000 registered companies in the county itching for a slice of the pie.
Most contractors have, however, complained of insecurity and lack of skilled personnel, forcing them to hire from neighbouring Uganda.
The county government has formulated an urban management plan to prevent the mushrooming of informal structures due to the mad rush for black gold.
“The plan will coordinate the growth of the town by providing strategic locations of commercial, industrial, residential and general development,” said 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 put in place to provide an attractive environment for investors,” he added.
The chief roads officer, Emmanuel Ekai, said the county government had set aside Sh200 million for the expansion of infrastructure.
“We have built a drainage system on a 3.2km road that was 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 said.
The road was built at a cost of Sh168 million and has given the town an adorable view.
But a majority of the population in the vast county aren’t however living a life of luxury.
Turkana was classified as the poorest county in a 2016 survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) with more than 79 in every 100 of its population living in poverty.
KNBS defined households living in poverty as those earning below Sh3, 252 a month in rural and peri-urban areas and Sh5, 995 in major urban centres in the report released in 2018.
Turkana’s poor population of 860,000 persons was the largest in Kenya at the time of the survey.
However, according to KNBS’s first-ever study of the 47 counties’ wealth to ascertain how much each region contributed to the national cake, Turkana performed much better in Gross County Product ratings released in 2019.
The counties that contributed the least to national wealth were Isiolo at 0.2 percent and Samburu at 0.3 percent. The others were Lamu (0.4 percent), Marsabit (0.5 percent), Tana River (0.5 percent), Mandera (0.5 percent), Wajir (0.5 percent), Garissa (0.6 percent), West Pokot (0.7 percent) and Taita Taveta (0.5 percent).
Gross County Product is a measure of how much each county contributes to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).