Oil fuels politics in pastoralist county

The suspended early oil export, insecurity and poor access to water and food are among key factors set to shape the politics of Turkana.

Discovery of oil has made the vast county one of the richest, and now that the country is at the production stage, the next government would be more comfortable if it also wins the governor’s seat.

Because Turkana is a pastoral region, residents will be seeking a governor who can ensure their perennial pasture and water scarcity is addressed. Some 800,000 residents rely on relief food and hundreds of livestock have died in the recent drought.

In the 2013 General Election, Turkana Senator John Munyes, then in Ford-Kenya, and Governor Josphat Nanok of Orange Democratic Movement supported each other under the now-defunct Coalition for Reforms and Democracy.

The residents voted overwhelmingly for the duo with hopes that they would work together to address the perennial challenges of water and food scarcity as well as foster peace with hostile neighbouring communities to achieve long-awaited development.


Mr Munyes defected to the Jubilee Party and six MPs James Lomenen (Turkana South), Christopher Nakuleu (Turkana North), Daniel Epuyo (Turkana West), Protus Akuja (Loima), Nicholas Ngikor (Turkana East) and Joyce Emanikor (Woman Representative) endorsed him for the gubernatorial seat.

The only sitting local MP backing Mr Nanok, who was recently elected the Council of Governors chairman, is Mr John Lodepe (Turkana Central), who quit the now-defunct United Republican Party and joined ODM.

Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro, who is from the county, will not be seeking an elective seat, but is leading President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election drive and Jubilee campaigns. He said Jubilee deserves re-election as it has prioritised health, infrastructure development and food security in the region through irrigation.

The ongoing construction of the dilapidated Lodwar-Kitale highway, ignored by previous regimes, will help to open up the county to investment, he said.

“This would be the first time a national government is delivering on a major infrastructural project,” said Mr Ethuro. “And when the devolved unit is led by a Jubilee governor, more goodies will automatically trickle down.”


Mr Ethuro said Jubilee was campaigning for peace, development, poverty eradication and ensuring residents have food and water.

Top on Mr Munyes’s agenda is to devolve funds further to sub-counties so that residents prioritise their needs. He said water scarcity will be a thing of the past as he will drill a borehole every five kilometres.

“Most residents of Turkana are pastoralists and, therefore, that will be a key sector to invest in — to ensure access to water for our livestock and have peace with our neighbours to make pastoralism a worthy venture,” he said.

Mr Nanok will have to ensure ODM wins more seats. He has the National Super Alliance coalition agenda to sell but, also has to deal with fallouts resulting from disputed ODM primaries that led to losers vying as independent candidates.


Among his top achievements is improvement of the health sector and early childhood development and opening up the region through investment in road construction.

He said a Sh1 billion bursaries by the devolved unit had benefited 19,000 bright but needy students and 5,000km of murram road built to ensure access to far-flung villages, especially along the porous Ethiopia and South Sudan borders.

“My administration has established 82 Early Childhood Development Education centres and, to tackle water scarcity, at least 145 boreholes have been drilled and 114 rehabilitated,” said Mr Nanok.

Deputy Governor Peter Lokoel, who defected to Jubilee, however criticised Mr Nanok’s administration for failing to meet the needs of residents.


Mr Lokoel, now Mr Munyes’s running mate, said Mr Nanok’s government also failed to address the perennial food crisis through irrigation. He dismissed the governor’s claim on bursaries, saying many students had dropped out, forcing leaders to donate to keep them in school.

Mr Nanok settled on 2013 rival Peter Lotethiro, whom he described as a good manager and administrator and a leader who is committed to serve residents, as his running mate. This has seen the top county ODM camp comprise three main contenders in the 2013 gubernatorial race. The Senate candidate, Prof Malachy Ekal, was second.

The CoG boss has always termed devolution as “independence” for Turkana, which he said has suffered many years of neglect. He said residents now have a chance to elect their own government and own and contribute in budget making to have more funds in priority areas.

With the county among the worst-hit by the drought, Mr Nanok has told off critics over claims that he has nothing to show for his tenure.


He said his administration had received only Sh33 billion and he has continuously maintained a 70 per cent allocation of total annual budget to development. He said being the first governor, he could not easily tackle the water and food shortage that has been mounting for decades.

“The money that we are receiving is a drop in the ocean, which cannot address the challenges in all sectors,” he said.

The county boss acknowledging that health, water, agriculture, roads and education sectors, as well as programmes on women and youth empowerment, were all wanting. That is why he is seeking re-election, to have more time to address such pertinent issues, he said.

Mr Munyes, who is optimistic of clinching the seat, said besides devolved funds, Turkana will bank on petroleum revenues to boost infrastructure and improve livelihoods when Kenya starts exporting oil.


He pledged to reverse the effects of the underdevelopment and marginalisation that has been in the pastoral region since independence.

“Turkana South and Turkana East Sub-Counties, where oil was discovered, will have their share meant for communities around oil sites,” said Mr Munyes, adding that he expected the county government to be allocated 20 per cent of the proceeds of oil.

He said: “The oil revenue will ensure they have tarmac roads and piped water for every household, opening up the area for more development”.

The senator urged parents to embrace education as there will be bursaries in secondary school and tertiary institutions besides scholarships to study abroad.

He pledged to ensure that the Petroleum (Exploration Development and Production) Bill, 2016, which is before the Senate, will guarantee a 20 per cent revenue allocation to the county.


Residents, leaders and activists have maintained that the benefits sharing percentage for the host community should be 10 per cent of oil revenue and not five per cent, after President Kenyatta wrote to the Senate to consider some sections of the Bill.

Mr Munyes urged the residents to be entrepreneurial.

He, however, pointed out that such development can only be achieved with a corrupt-free county government, like the one he hopes to lead.

Mr Lomenen, who echoed Mr Munyes, said: “We have told the national government that no oil will be transported from Turkana when the road is not completed and Lokichar connected to the national grid”.

Mr Nanok has often stressed that the county government could seek legal redress to correct the President’s recommendations on the oil revenue Bill.

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