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Opinion & Analysis

Prioritise capacity building in oil sector

I am scheduled to speak at a Law Society of Kenya conference on extractives. The topic of my presentation is going to be the nexus between extractives and devolution.

This forum is a culmination of an intensive awareness and capacity building programme on the subject to lawyers by their society. A key challenge to harnessing the benefits that the sector has and responding to its challenges is understating the intricacies of the sector.

In Kenya, we have in the past focused only on the downstream component which deals with refinery and marketing.

While important, it only represents fraction of the industry. There are also the upstream and midstream components comprising exploration, production, processing and transportation.

Each of these stages raises their own technicalities and requires different skill sets. To be able to fully appreciate and benefit from the sector the country has to prioritise capacity building.

Many communities and the larger society in which oil and gas are discovered, more often than not will raise concerns about the need to have locals employed. In reality, even when these demands are met, the bulk of the specialised positions go to foreigners.

While several explanations can be given for this state of affairs, an important underlying challenge is invariably the lack of enough skilled manpower.

Many a times countries do not have sufficient engineers, geologists and other personnel required to man the oil and gas exploration and extraction business.

When Kenya discovered oil and gas, like in many countries, it quickly emerged that the levels of awareness on the finer details of the industry was extremely limited.

In addition, there was and continues to be a dearth of trained and qualified personnel to take charge of the industry.

This is despite the country priding itself on having one of the most skilled human resources on the continent. Responding to this reality requires concerted action from the country.

Building human capacity requires planning, deliberate action and resources. Whenever oil is discovered, it should immediately be clear that the resource being non-renewable will only be available for a fixed period of time.

If we take that based on available quantities of the oil reserves and the capacity per day that can be extracted, it is possible to determine how long the oil will be available.

This period will be an indicator of the length of time the country can expected to derive revenue from the sector. The period can also be used to plan for a long-term capacity building programme to support the sector.

A country can decide to invest in training the required personnel in the right quantities. This will enable these professionals to, within a few years, obtain the required skills to serve in positions within the sector. Kenya should develop a long term plan for capacity building.

Already there are few donor supported programmes that seeks to ensure that Government in partnership with local universities offer specialized courses that are relevant to the sector. While a useful initiative, it is not sufficient.

Kenya should borrow from the experiences of other countries that have been more systematic with their capacity building processes and taken a long-term perspective.

This would require that the laws and policies being developed recognize the importance of capacity building.

Back to the training by the Law Society of Kenya. Professionals will play an important role in shaping the direction that decisions and actions relating to the sector take.

The reality though is the number of professionals with the requisite depth of knowledge is limited, unless these professionals and their membership bodies organize programmes to share knowledge on the sector, two outcomes are likely.

Either professional services will be the preserve of a few within the country especially foreign professionals or those who provide the services will not have the depth of knowledge required to offer critical advice to their clients and the nation.

It is for this reason that the ongoing awareness and capacity building efforts by various bodies need to be commended. They should, serve as a call to the country to ensure there is a long-term and comprehensive capacity building programme.

Dr Odote is a senior lecturer, Centre For Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy(CASELAP), University of Nairobi.

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