Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday official launched a pilot project to truck oil for export from its remote northwest to the port of Mombasa in an effort to boost the economy.
“This… marks the beginning of a long and fruitful journey,” Kenyatta said as he flagged off a convoy of oil laden trucks.
“My government will therefore focus on the development of our oil and gas sectors for the betterment of the economy and people,” he added.
Initial plans are for trucks to carry some 2,000 barrels of oil per day from wells near Lokichar in the far north, all the way to Mombasa, about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) away.
Critics say large parts of the route may not be passable given damage to the road and bridges caused during the rainy season.
Arnold Nyaga, researcher at the Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, said the project was “a distraction from what really matters” for Kenya’s development.
“I think the idea behind this ceremony is for Kenya to show that they are active when it comes to oil, and that they want to be a leader in East Africa,” he said.
The pilot programme, planned to run for two years, was supposed to begin in June 2017 but was held up by differences over sharing oil royalties.
President Kenyatta recently announced that the central government would take 75 percent of the proceeds, with 20 percent going to Turkana province and five percent for local communities.
Officials say the object is to see how the oil fields — discovered in 2012 — respond to increased extraction, with actual exports a long way off.
The government hopes that will happen with the construction of a pipeline capable of carrying 100,000 barrels per day to the coast but the earliest completion date is 2021.