The apparent discovery of oil in a remote, impoverished part of Kenya follows the intense exploration and development of petroleum resources in Uganda and in Ghana, where expectations of petro-riches are starting to distort political and economic life. Now the same may occur in Kenya, though there are signs that euphoria may not take hold.
Nairobi’s formidable Nation newspaper reported last week on the humble Turkana village — in an arid region in northwest Kenya — that is apparently ground zero for the oil strike. Residents already are thanking God for somehow putting oil in a place where, until this month, seemingly was forgotten by God.
Politicians in Kenya are also acting like their prayers have been answered; for at the rate Kenyan lawmakers get paid — and spend money themselves — perhaps only a gusher oil strike can make balancing the public finances plausible. The Nation newspaper exuberantly reported: “Economic experts and political scientists say the discovery of oil will transform Kenya into a major player in world politics and provide a battleground for global powers eager to reap from the oil reserves.”
That’s unlikely of course, at least any time soon. The most immediate impact of the oil find in Kenya will likely be to send more people into the country’s churches, where prayers for prosperity now seem to carry a greater chance of success. The Kenyan situation reminds me of how Ghanaians, about ten years, began calling on the Lord, sometimes in televised prayers, to move some of Nigeria’s ample oil supplies to Ghana’s territory. As the chief of engineer of the universe, God apparently can send oil from one subterranean hiding place to another, even moving the crude across national borders. At least that’s how Ghanaian preachers described the process in their prayers and sermons, which purportedly have been answered — with Ghana’s own oil discovery now well established.
Though there are no reports of Kenyans praying for the movement of some of Uganda’s oil to Kenya, because God did do so. Which may explain why he chose the Turkana to receive his gift. Great people, tough history. Men from all over Kenya are now lining up to marry the daughters of this exotic and noble ethnic group.