Lodwar has changed over the last two decades, and continues to change. Lately, its transformation has become hectic. New people are streaming in every day from all parts of Kenya and from abroad. New houses, shops, bars and offices open almost every week. New commercial and financial companies arrive. Fly540 Kenya, the premier low-cost airline in the country, has increased the frequency of flights between Nairobi and Lodwar, ‘in response to popular demand’.
The recent discoveries of oil and water in Turkana district are set to change it for good. In March 2012, former president Mwai Kikaki announced that the Anglo-Irish multinational Tullow Oil had discovered oil in the Ngamia I well, near Lokichar. Two months later, Tullow and its partner, Africa Oil, who operate Turkana’s Block 10 BB, revealed that an extra 43 metres of potential oil lay in the Ngamia-I well. Angus McCoss, Tullow Oil’s exploration director, explains: ‘This ongoing wildcat is an excellent start to our exploration campaign. The net lay encountered so far in Ngamia-I is more than double that encountered in any of our East African exploration wells to date’.
Last November, the company said it had found new large quantities of oil at the Agete-1 exploration well in Block 13T, other wells that have shown similar results and sent the country into a frenzy about the prospects that Twiga, Ekales and Etuko promise.
Though the actual quantities are yet to be established, the reserves are estimated to be anything upwards of 20 billion barrels and could last the next 300 years. Kenya is expected to start commercial production in 2016.
Away from oil boom discussions, in the towns of Kalokol, Lodwar and Lokichar, the residents are aware of the multibillion dollar development project that, coincidentally, ties in to the oil: the proposed Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, which touches these three towns. The $24.7bn project foresees the construction of a 32-berth modern port in Manda Bay, Lamu, 341 kilometres by road northeast of Mombasa. The project will include: a railway line to Juba (South Sudan), of 1,602 km, and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), a road network (with a 1,720 km super highway to connect Ethiopia and South Sudan), oil pipelines (1,300 km, linking Lamu with the oil fields in Southern Sudan), an oil refinery at Bargoni, near Lamu; three airports (Lamu, Isiolo and Lake Turkana shores). The impact of all these infrastructures will have an enormous influence on Turkana.
Charles Natwon, who lives in Lodwar, says: ‘We have always known that Turkana had oil. The oil that has been found here is massive. It will change our lives and we know change comes in pairs of good and evil. That is how life is’.
Last September, UNESCO announced that large reserves of groundwater had been discovered in Turkana County through satellite exploration technology. The drilling has confirmed the discovery.
The oil boom excitement has seen scores of business people rushing to Lokichar, Lodwar and Kalokol. Joseph Kariuki and Francis Muriungi, two businessmen from Nairobi, have set up shops in Lokichar’s trading centre and are pinning their hopes of prosperity on the oil boom. Says Kariuki: ‘We have come here for business. Unlike in the past, when this area was seen as having nothing, the oil wealth will definitely change life here. That’s why we have come. We are not oil traders, but we know that other jobs will be created. There will be great need of hotels, shops, schools, hospitals and new equipment. Someone will have to supply new goods and new services. Tourism will also begin and the need of modern accommodation facilities will be in great demand. We are here to offer these services’.
Less than two hundred metres away from them, seated under an acacia tree, two Turkana elders stare at the continuous movement of people from down country, with brand new four-wheel drive cars and enormous trucks. They lament the changing patterns of life in the whole county. The old good cattle raids, the joyful meat-feasts, the traditional wedding ceremonies, and many more celebrations and rites may soon be stories of the past. One of them takes, from what used to be the plastic container of a film-roll, a pinch of tobacco and inhales it with two powerful sniffs. He offers the precious stuff to his friend, who does the same. Before closing the small box, he takes another pinch of tobacco and blows it into the air towards the ground. He prays: ‘O ancestors, protect your land’.