Kenyans have a unique talent for firsts – whether
good or bad.
It is the first country in the world to send both its
president and deputy president to trial at the
International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Some say one is a mistake but two is carelessness.
It is the first country in Africa to burn down its
international airport , well its arrivals terminal.
Some argue it was an accident, some say it was
arson. Either way, it’s pretty bizarre.
It is the first country in Africa to claim lineage to a
serving US president – Barack Obama.
Whether or not America is grateful for this generous
African contribution is neither here nor there.
Indeed, it is also the first African nation to raise from
the dead an independence leader – Kenyatta – and
seemingly sit him at State House again, complete
with matching eyes and voice.
When you close your eyes and listen to speeches by
both father, Jomo Kenyatta, and son, Uhuru Kenyatta,
it can get rather confusing!
Kenya is the first African country to produce a woman
winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – the late Wangari
Never mind that as a fierce government critic and
environmental campaigner, the authorities were
hardly peaceful towards her.
‘Pioneering’ cars
Kenya must also surely be the first nation in Africa to
locally manufacture a car that never went anywhere.
Named Nyayo, the pet name of then-President Daniel
arap Moi, prototypes of the Nyayo Pioneer cars were
developed and could gallop at a top speed of 120km/
h (75 mph).
However, because of a lack of money in the 1990s
the car never went into production.
Kenya is also the first country in Africa to entice
almost its entire population to move its cash from
the hiding places under mattresses or in
expensive bank accounts to a small portable
gadget that sings and talks – otherwise known as
the mobile phone.
And this month Kenya added another first to the
record, by becoming the first African nation to
discover huge amounts of underground water and
underground oil in the same remote part of the
country – the Turkana region in the north.
I have always heard that it is never wise to mix water
and oil.
But in Kenya we will do it anyway because we have a
highly advanced and sophisticated coping
To understand the significance of this week’s
discovery of two massive underground aquifers, with
enough water to meet Kenya’s needs for the next 70
years, one needs to understand the region where the
finding was made.
You cannot describe Turkana if you are not armed
with enough superlatives.
Although it is the second largest of Kenya’s 47
counties, Turkana is also the poorest county.
Situated in the extreme north-west of the country,
Turkana is one of the driest and least developed
regions of Kenya.
The people are so marginalised that two months ago
when I visited the area to moderate a public debate
on development issues, the Turkanas told me openly
they do not consider themselves Kenyans.
When they are leaving for Nairobi they will often say:
“I’m travelling to Kenya.”
There are no proper roads to access Turkana, and
water and food are so scarce that two years ago
ordinary Kenyans ignored their lethargic government
and conducted a massive national fundraising
campaign to feed Turkana and other regions of
northern Kenya affected by regular food crises.
You will hardly meet a Kenyan who ever wants to go
and live or work in Turkana – until now.
With the discovery of vast amounts of underground
water and oil, Turkana now is potentially one of the
richest regions of Africa.
It has enough water to quench Kenya’s thirst for
decades and irrigate the land, and also has the
capacity to produce over 300 million barrels of oil.
The rush to splash in these two precious liquids is
now on with a vengeance: People who could not point
the location of Lodwar, Turkana’s main town, are now
overnight experts in its real estate value.
But no-one seems to pay too much attention to the
Turkanas who walk barefoot on the ground above
these precious assets in search of daily food, water,
healthcare and some education.
Optimists like myself hope that Kenya can supersede
its record for firsts and be the first African country to
successfully mix oil and water in equal measure and
bring the poor and the marginalized to the dining
table of the rich.

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