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"The search for Kenyan oil: could it be a blessing or a curse?"
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"The search for Kenyan oil: could it be a blessing or a curse?"

Simon HartAs surging worldwide petroleum prices reap damaging effects on developing countries such as Kenya, 27-year-old aspiring Commonwealth Correspondent Simon Hart living in Nairobi examines the wisdom of seeking out oil sources closer to home.

The sudden shortage in oil that has gripped Kenya, and more specifically Nairobi recently, has caused resentment amongst commuters who already face hours of delays due to multiple construction projects occurring on Kenya’s highways.

Record-breaking fuel costs have led to increases in bus fares, fewer services, cars abandoned on the roadside as they run dry, and endless queues outside petrol stations (Daily Nation, 4th May 2011).

Kenya’s dependence on foreign oil imports is partially to blame. There is only one offshore Jetty in Mombassa to offload oil from international cargo ships, leaving ships queuing for weeks, the cost of which is passed onto the consumer (Daily Nation, 29th March 2011).

Dependence on oil imports is only partially to blame, and despite having no proven oil reserves, the government has spent billions on exploration. The hope remains that Kenya will soon be able to produce its own oil and reduce dependency on overseas companies. The remote northern Turkana region is considered a prime location, and several exploration contracts have been granted in recent years.

However, if oil is discovered in this arid and largely lawless region, it would be naïve to assume this a blessing. One only has to look across the border to Sudan to see what newly discovered oil fields can do to an already unstable region, where oil there has acted as a catalyst for exposing deep religious, social and economic dividing lines that have driven Sudan apart.

It is easy to imagine similar troubles erupting in the north of Kenya, a largely unregulated region of the Horn, besieged by inter-country tribal disputes. Recently clashes have erupted between Turkanan pastoralists and militia of the Merille tribe based in Ethiopia over fishing rights, water and other raw materials, leaving dozens killed in an economically barren area.

The region has been hit hard by droughts in the past years, intensifying conflict over the few available resources. Adding a rich commodity like oil to the disputed region is likely only to increase these clashes in the future.

The infrastructure and government presence does not exist to oversee the peaceful extraction of oil. Despite President Kibaki’s pledge to secure the region (Daily Nation, 9th May 2011), the Merille militia recently occupied the Kenyan villages hit by the recent conflict, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga could not access those affected in fear of being attacked, illuminating the lawless nature of the region (Daily Nation, 12th May 2011).

On reflection, maybe it would be wise to reconsider oil exploration in the north. The queues at the pumps and the increased fuel prices we have to face appear to be the lesser of two evils when compared to the potentially catastrophic effects ‘successful’ oil exploration could have on Kenya’s fragile northern communities.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit:http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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