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INFRASTRUCTURE: Upgrading of Eldoret-Turkana road is music to the ears of commuters

Two weeks ago, a police reservist from Kainuk, Turkana County was laid to rest. He was downed by bandits at Kalemngorok, some 46 kilometres from his home, as he escorted truckers on their way to Lokichar.

The reservist is not the only casualty of the marauding bandits who rule the treacherous route to Turkana. Some months ago, a young man from Muguga in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, died in a hail of bullets after he was ambushed by robbers on the same road.

As he maneuvered his loaded truck around the winding dips that characterize the road, he had nowhere to escape when the shots rang out.

With the discovery of oil in Turkana, the region has opened up in ways never seen before.

The sleepy Lokichar area, one of the main mining zones, has become an instant investment magnet, attracting local and foreign investors in equal measure.

Courtesy of the oil exploration activities, the area now has electricity, a local road network, water supply and high cash circulation.

At least two passenger flight services are plying the route and one investor has leased out land from the Turkana County government to expand a multi-million shilling resort that is set to host catering, leisure, office, warehousing, storage, workshop, medical and other facilities.

OIL-RICH REGION

A new era has dawned on this oil-rich region. But there is a major catch for investors who have moved to take advantage of Turkana’s fortunes.

There is still no road connecting the area to the outside world. Transport of goods and services poses the worst nightmare; particularly when it rains. If lucky to escape armed highway robbers, your vehicle will get stuck in mud traps for days on end.

In dry seasons, scorching dust bites into you like a thousand needles. Don’t talk about vehicle maintenance cost yet.

This has made even feeding Lokichar and the oil wells workers a nightmare in a region with little, if any, agriculture.

A local women’s group, Akiberan Aberu (industrious women), have learned the hard way.

The women recently came together to take advantage of the black gold windfall. They approached Tullow Oil, and were given an opportunity to supply several camps with fresh vegetables.

The group pooled resources, and purchase vegetables in Kitale – a distance of five hours on a good road – to Lokichar. With limited resources, the women could not afford a freezer lorry, and most of fresh produce would inevitably go bad in transit.

Amid losses, they opted out of the deal and desperately renegotiated to strictly supply dry foods.

Many other budding businesses in Lokichar have suffered similar fate, the poor infrastructure taking its toll on entrepreneurship.

ROAD TO PROSPERITY

It therefore came as glad tidings when President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the construction of the Eldoret-Kitale- Lokichar-Amosing road last Wednesday.

The road, which links Kenya and South Sudan at the Kainuk border point, stretches 297 kilometres and traverses Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot and Turkana counties.

The ‘emergency’ rehabilitation of the road is meant to facilitate transportation of oil from Turkana to Mombasa as the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum prepares for the implementation of the Early Oil Pilot Scheme.

Two thousand barrels of oil are expected to be transported by road on insulated tank-tainers daily.

So, courtesy of the black gold, locals will have the opportunity to make profits supplying fresh groceries. Those who can’t afford air tickets finally have a chance to explore the rest of Kenya.

Simply put, Turkana is literally on the road to prosperity.

Unlike many mega projects currently underway, it is also remarkable that the Eldoret-Turkana road project will be implemented by local contractors, not the Chinese.

This is good news for Kenyan contractors who have been decrying loss of jobs to expatriates.

But owing to previous experience of shoddy work from local contractors, the government must ensure there is value for money.

It will be devastating for women like the Akiberan group to celebrate too soon, only to realize that Sh3.1 billion earmarked for this important project has gone to the drain.