Transparency will save Kenya from oil curse

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

-William Shakespeare

Similarly, in relation to oil export, ignorance could lead us to the proverbial oil curse, while knowledge will certainly be the wings to take us to fortune lands.

Open governance is the foundation of the knowledge we need. Even as President Uhuru Kenyatta was promising the nation that the proceeds from the oil exports will be equitably shared, there was reason to worry.

The absence of data undermines the President’s good intentions. As it is at the moment, there is no public data showing how many barrels of crude oil have been extracted, how much of it was transported to the Kipevu oil terminal and at what it cost.


The only data shared with the public was the first consignment exported totaled 200,000 barrels of Turkana’s low-sulphur oil.

These are simple questions but they form the basis for trust in governance. Trust is what was in former US President Barack Obama’s mind when he advanced the philosophy of Open Data.

It later culminated to a global initiative - Open Government Partnership (OGP) – that sought to make governments transparent, participatory and collaborative.

Kenya was one of the early adopters of this initiative, with the country’s action plan for 2018-2020 having six action plans.

The six commitments include beneficial ownership (publish list of all registered companies and their beneficiaries) open contracting (transparent tender processing utilising Open Contracting Data Standard), open geo-spatial data for development (spatially referenced data to support both public and private sector for service delivery).

Other commitments are, public participation (enabling public participation on all matters of policy, decision making and service delivery), and governance indices (enable the public to judge the performance of government and governmental institutions from a composite analysis of the indices).

Each of these commitments touches on different data points necessary to build sufficient knowledge for citizenry to hold government to account.

In my view, we have reason to start worrying whether these commitments will lead to a just and fair society that we so desire.

Despite Mr Kenyatta issuing Executive Order No 2 of 2018, which was meant to align local procurement processes to international standards such as the Open Contracting Data Standard, procurement in government still remains opaque.

The President’s order has been ignored. Even more worrisome is the fact that perhaps very few Kenyans know the commitments the country made to the world. The presidential order was also meant to ensure that 30 percent of public procurement opportunities are set aside for youths, women and persons with disabilities (PWDs) and benefits these categories of “disadvantaged groups”, while actively monitored by citizens.

Yet citizens can only monitor effectively if data and metrics are freely available. If these commitments have to be realized, some of the data that must be made public, including all companies that have been contracted and their beneficiaries, and the number of youths, women and persons with disability who have been contracted by oil industry.

If the citizens are not careful, the term equitable distribution of resources will soon take a new meaning as tokens in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility that will be distributed, pictures taken and a high-level media campaign to demonstrate that local citizenry are incapable of helping themselves.

The elite have mastered ways of distributing resources such that they never reach to those who need the resources most.

To achieve the objective of inclusivity, a lot has to be done especially in educating and training of the locals within the oil reserves to understand economic dynamics that favour their course of development.

Kenya’s inaugural oil shipment should be a great opportunity to showcase to the world that an African nation can avoid conflict over resources, be inclusive in her development approach, protect the environment, respect cultural rights of her people and build a sustainable democracy through open governance.