Kenya: So Rich Yet So Poor, Is Turkana Selling Its Due?

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  • October 19, 2015

Article featured in the Star newspaper on 29 November 2013
see: http://allafrica.com/stories/201311290270.html

Imagine a place that is linked to the origin of humankind; is one of the world’s leading archaeological sites and is now a World Heritage Site; has preserved wildlife fossils, which include the giant tortoise and the 20-foot long crocodile; is home to one of the smallest tribes on earth who still wear goat or fish skins and accessorize with fish bones or fish teeth; has the world’s largest permanent desert lake which is also the world’s largest alkaline lake; has an island with scenic crater lakes each harbouring its own kind of animal species like flamingos, crocodiles and tilapia; has sand dunes that measure over 40 feet high that are surrounded by palm trees; has a forest;is rich in wild life; has commercially viable oil deposits and a lot of water. Well, what do you think about this place? I think it is too good to be true. I think it should be one of the world’s biggest attractions.

Unfortunately it is not. The people from this place, when compared to a Kenyan of average status (which is not that great), are two times poorer; fifteen times less likely to get a formal job; thirteen times less likely to earn more than seven thousand two hundred shillings (Ksh 7,200) per month; four times less likely to learn how to read and write; seventeen times less likely to have a primary education; sixty three times less likely to have a secondary education or above; three times less likely to have access to clean water; sixty three times less likely to have access to sanitary facilities; eighty two times less likely to live in a house with a cemented floor or a mabati roof; three hundred and thirty six times less likely to live in a house with stone/brick walls; thirty four times less likely to cook with cooking gas (LPG), bio fuels or electricity; and no chance on using electricity.

These are a lot of ‘less likelies’ for such a rich place but regrettably, these are the contradictions a person born in Kotaruk/Lobei in Loima Constituency, Turkana County, has to live with.

While on one hand the opportunities and resources in this county can be a blessing and thus the county has the potential to make incomparable sums of money to kick-start economic growth, eradicate poverty, raise literacy levels, improve health indicators, ensure food security, access to clean water and sanitation, create jobs to increase household incomes and purchasing power, enable the transfer of technology, improve infrastructure and encourage the flourishing of other related industries; on the other hand, these resources could be a curse.

World over, the resource contest for opportunities by the elite most often leads to poor governance, high corruption, a culture of rent-seeking, devastating health and environmental consequences at the local level and intensified conflict to divert attention as the resources are looted. This might be already happening in Turkana County.
The southern part of the county is under siege with armed militiamen from the neighbouring Pokot community recently holding three police camps hostage. While it may be assumed this is the usual age old difference over land, pasture, water and cattle, it is important to interrogate the extent to which there is political will to ensure that the abundant resources here mutually benefit all the people of Turkana.
Recently some companies prospecting for oil in Turkana County  applied to be exempted from paying taxes both to their country of origin and the Kenyan Government. They are known to have built a few schools, health centres and sunk a few boreholes in Turkana County. On the basis of these they argue that they should be allowed to extract Turkana County oil without paying their dues to either the County Government or the National Government. Should this be allowed? Corporations are known to spend little money on local communities in what is commonly known as ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, then proceed to extract valuable natural resources worth billions of dollars after which they leave. In most of these cases the local communities are left worse off because they were not skilled enough to take up the opportunities provided. The infrastructure left often collapses and the unchecked extraction of natural resources leads to extreme environmental destruction.
It is important that the Turkana County Government is cognizant of their role in providing adequate social services to improve the welfare of their citizens. Sustainability and equitable distribution of resources should therefore be at the forefront otherwise the custodians of the birthright of the Turkana people will be sold off for the proverbial ‘bowl of soup’ and the owners forever remain condemned to poverty and lack.
Katindi Sivi-Njonjo is an African Futurist, a Social Researcher and Policy Analyst, a Gender Budgeting Practitioner and the Programme Director at Society for International Development (SID) – East Africa. Katindi was instrumental in the recent launch of “Exploring Inequality in Kenya” Report by SID East Africa and The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). For more information about the report, please visit: http://inequalities.sidint.net/kenya/

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