With the discovery of a large oil deposits in the isolated northern Turkana region of Kenya by Tullow Oil PLC and British Oil, the east African nation has begun its journey of joining the exclusive club of African oil producing nations.
Africa is becoming the gold rush for oil exploration: Oil and gas exploration spots are crowding African landscape. With already older oil exploration spots in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan , Chad and the most recent discoveries in Ghana, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, the continent is over washing with oil and gas.
Kenyan oil discovery is “good news” as was assured by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga but he was also right when he emphasized that the country’s administration should remained “cautiously optimistic". History has proven that African oil producing nations have not done right with their oil revenues.
When oil revenue is properly invested and managed, it becomes the foundation and source for further wealth creation and the building block of an economically prosperous nation. Norway has shown that oil wealth can be used for a nation development and the so-called “oil curse” did not apply to Norway.
But take a look at the African oil producing nations including Nigeria, Angola, Chad, Sudan and others, their oil revenues have not bring much quantifiable and tangible economic turnaround. Majority of their citizens are still living in penury poverty with abysmal existential indices that indicated that “oil blessing” have eluded these nations. The social infrastructures are neglected without upgrade while health and educational facilities remained deteriorated, while capital flight becomes imminent. The gap between rich and poor widens, the richer continues to increase in wealth and poor continues to live in squalor.
Invest in Agriculture, Tourism and Infrastructures
The golden opportunity that comes with oil revenue is enormous if Kenya is willing to do the right thing. Kenya source of foreign exchange is grounded in cash crop exports and tourism. The major exports are tea and coffee together with fresh flower export to Europe. Kenya can develop and invest in modern mechanized agriculture.
Kenya should learn from the mistake that Nigeria made. Before the flowing in of oil revenue into Nigerian coffers, the country was the largest producer of palm oil and among largest exporter of cocoa, groundnuts and millet. But Nigeria delayed on investing in agriculture and when they came around it became nearly impossible because oil revenue has weaken the country’s resolve to develop her agricultural facilities.
Kenya should tackle the problem of food preservation and processing to enhance export, which will give them the leverage to negotiate for higher prices without the concern of crops decay.
Another great thing Kenya can do is to invest in its infrastructure – provides road, health facilities, electric light and improve its primary and secondary schools. When it comes to education Kenya must invest in his people for economic growth and development to be sustainable. Kenya must be careful and do a good job in order to train and develop adequate manpower to supply the skill for running the oil hi-tech industry.
Most importantly, Kenya should subscribe to transparency and accountability, anything short of that is a disaster. Kenya must muster the will power to change the story in Africa on oil mismanagement, thereby opening a new chapter for the continent.