Kenya's ambition to become one of the global oil producers was boosted yesterday following the flagging off of the first barrels of the resource destined for Mombasa from Turkana fields.
President Uhuru Kenyatta led a host of local leaders to celebrate the feat that enabled the country to join Uganda as the only two oil-producing countries in East Africa.
In a historic occasion held at Ngamia 8 oil fields in Turkana East, and attended by Turkana leaders who recently entered a truce with the national government over the sharing of oil proceeds, the President flagged off four lorries ferrying the lucrative resource to the Kenya Petroleum Refinery tanks in the coastal town.
The crude oil is being transported in an experimental programme dubbed Early Oil Pilot Scheme. It will be kept in Mombasa as the country looks for viable international markets.
Each truck ferried 156 barrels. The producing company, Tullow Oil, targets trucking at least 2,000 barrels a day. It already has 70,000 barrels stored in tanks in the fields. The oil was drilled from Ngamia 8 field. There are at least eight oil fields located in various sections of Turkana East and Turkana South.
Aware of the protracted disagreement on how the proceeds should be distributed, President Kenyatta warned of the curses that could come with the oil. He promised that all concerns raised by residents would be attended to. "The economies of countries that have failed to manage their resources have also suffered the ripple effect of hungry and poor citizens. It is my hope and prayer that together we shall work so that such is not visited upon us," the Head of State said.
Without mentioning names, the President said two countries had already faced the painful side of oil, adding that Kenya would do everything possible to avoid getting itself in similar situations.
"The negative competition for oil and other natural resources has seen hitherto two peaceful countries go to war. It has seen brothers take up arms again each other as mothers bury their children with no hope for the future," he said.
Nigeria and Angola are two African countries where deadly fights have broken out because of disagreements on oil proceeds.
The President said he would be keen to ensure that what comes from the new venture would not turn joy into sorrow. "I pray that we will view the discovery of oil and gas as a blessing that we will manage effectively and efficiently for the benefit of not just the present generation but, importantly, future generations. I call upon our leaders to ensure peace and stability in the region so that any disagreements that might arise are resolved in an amicable and sustainable manner. I stand ready to work with all leaders to ensure that we achieve this," he said.
Deputy President William Ruto, while highlighting the occasion as a proud moment for the country, said they would not turn away from the grievances raised by residents, adding that they had removed the capping of the proceeds after listening to local concerns.
"We are all proud as Kenyans that this is possible because of the partnership between the government, our partners and the community here. The benefits from this oil will be shared and nobody will be left behind. Every member of this community will be on board," said the DP.
Petroleum and Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes said the country was witnessing a historic moment that would see the economy emboldened by oil sales.
"It is a historic day and a historic moment. We are now in the league of oil producers," said the CS.
Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok emphasised the importance of putting in place a comprehensive law that would cover how the money allocated to the county and the host community would be spent.
"We will talk to residents in the next few weeks and get back to you (President) on how the money allocated to us will be used. We would also like that to be covered by the law," said Mr Nanok.
From the proceeds, the government will remain with 75 per cent while 25 per cent will go to the county government and five per cent to the host communities.
The oil was discovered in March 2012. It has taken close to seven years to get the first barrels out of the fields.
The flagging off was also attended by UK High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey and Tullow Chief Executive Paul McDade.
"It is a crucial milestone the country has achieved and we are grateful for the flagging off today," said Mr Mcdade.
Mr Hailey said British companies, including Tullow, were among those that had contributed to the improvement of the country's economy. "The companies are some of the high tax payers in the country because of their several investments," he said.
The trucking became successful after a number of challenges were dealt with in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago, the President summoned Turkana leaders to State House, Nairobi, where an agreement was reached on how the oil benefits would be shared between the county and the national government.
In the meeting that came in the backdrop of the leaders' threats to frustrate the pilot scheme, it was agreed that the government would get 75 per cent, the county 20 per cent, and the host community five per cent. Capping of the proceeds to locals was also scrapped.
Also, the bridge at Kainuk was repaired in a record two days to facilitate easier crossing of River Malmalite by the trucks.
Banditry, mostly targeting motorists on the Lokichar-Kainuk Road, had also gone up recently but deployment of more police officers has reduced these attacks.