Political white elephant slime lies beneath crude oil ‘export’

Tuesday June 5 2018

Ngamia 8 Early Oil Pilot Scheme

President Uhuru Kenyatta flanked by Deputy President William Ruto and other leaders turns on a valve to signify the start of oil production in Kenya during the inauguration of the Ngamia 8 Early Oil Pilot Scheme in Turkana County on June 3, 2018. PHOTO | PSCU 

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One would have thought that beyond the feel-good factor, at least one positive outcome of the rapprochement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga would have been a window for the government to abandon schemes and scams based on election promises.

Discarding some of the more useless and wasteful projects would free the government to refocus on the things that really matter.

This past Sunday, we were rudely reminded that some madcap projects launched in the euphoria of electioneering are still on stream.

President Kenyatta officially declared Kenya an oil-exporting country after flagging off the first trucks transporting crude from the oil fields of Turkana to storage tanks at the coastal port of Mombasa for unleashing onto the export market.


I have read carefully through the briefings put out by the government and Tullow Oil to justify an armada of cross-country trucks covering over 1,000 km. None make a convincing case for what is dubbed the Early Oil Pilot Scheme. They are probably more notable for the critical questions they evade or gloss over than what they reveal.

This scheme was first publicly mooted amongst all the grandiose campaign promises by the Jubilee machinery ahead of the 2017 General Election — one of the more outlandish ones, even then seen as unlikely to see the light of day. Nobody in the oil industry, even Tullow executives in private conversations, thought it made sense.

The ridiculous justification provided then was that early export would allow for Kenyan oil to be tested on the international market. But the obvious thing is that a single beaker for laboratory tests would suffice for that — no need for truckload upon truckload.

Now, in addition to that, we are being told that early exports will provide all sorts of spin-off benefits, including development of roads along the trucking routes, provision of technical data on well performance, building local technical expertise in oil exploration and production, as well as creating employment and business opportunities.


The only direct benefit I see is opportunities for the contracted truckers, making it look like the classic vendor-driven procurement that has been the bane of Kenya.

While lauding the great day as Kenya becomes an oil exporter, the government should at least have dampened expectations by clarifying that our coffers are not about to start overflowing with petro-dollars. Those expecting Kenya to swiftly become another Qatar or Saudi Arabia are in for a rude shock.

First of all, there is no caution being broadcast that the exploitable reserves so far discovered are nowhere near Arabian Gulf quantities or, closer to home, Nigerian or Angolan proportions.

The government is also being economical with the truth that the trucking is such a slow, laborious, inefficient process, that it will take the better part of a year for sufficient quantities to be loaded into the storage tanks ready for potential buyers. That there are no buyers yet queuing up as the trucks roll towards Mombasa is another issue not being mentioned.

Anyway, even assuming that all goes kosher, another major imponderable is the damage fleets of oil tankers will cause to roads along the length of the trip, and traffic disruptions on a busy artery that is clogged in many places.


Right now, a great deal is being made about the repair of roads and bridges leading out of Lokichar, but that is on sparse and rarely used transport infrastructure that was crying out for upgrading.

Once the trucks reach Eldoret and embark on the real long haul, they will be competing for space with millions of cars, trucks, buses, matatus and thousands of other vehicles on the busy highways.

Driving on those roads is already a nightmare. They are narrow, dangerous, dilapidated in many places and completely unsuitable for the current level of traffic.

They have been crying out for resurfacing and widening, or even complete reconstruction into dual carriageways.


But even before those massive works have commenced, entirely new traffic loads are introduced with absolutely no regard to the certain damage to the road surfaces and underlying foundation, and the traffic gridlocks sure to follow on hundreds of slow-moving trucks ferrying sensitive, highly volatile cargo.

We are set to witness the folly of political projects launched without regard to the actual benefits, the real financial cost, damage and inconvenience.

The saving grace is that, in his address, the President indicated that he was aware that for many African countries abundance of oil and other natural resources have been curses rather than blessings.

With that lesson, we should manage our windfall, if any, more prudently.

[email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho