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Sh70b wind power project boosts arid counties’ fortunes

BUSINESS
By Joe Ombuor | February 1st 2016

The Lake Turkana wind power project is promising to change the fortunes of a long-ignored corner of Marsabit County. The Sh70 billion project is expected to add 310 megawatts to the national grid by 2017.

Engineers at work onn one of the foundations for kthe installation mof turbines in the sh70 billion Lake Turkana Wina Project in Marsabit County

Project officials and residents say conflict in the region has gone down, as construction sites, residential camps, roads and other infrastructure projects create job opportunities. Cattle rustling has also become less of an occurrence as money trickles down to more and more people.

According to Caroline Ongeri, the deputy general manager of the wind power project, residents who initially had no reliable income are now earning salaries as security guards, drivers, carpenters, masons and casual labourers.

“Security guards who were previously herders are earning a Sh16,000 monthly salary after tax, and are provided with free accommodation, food and health services,” Ms Ongeri said.

“Unskilled casual labourers take home Sh520 after tax per day, while semi-skilled workers such as drivers, masons and carpenters earn a net daily income of between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500.”

Free accommodation

There has been a drop in the number of employees, however, from slightly more than 1,000 to 600, as the upgrading of the 207-kilometre Laisamis-Samira road nears completion. Work is also nearly complete on sites for 365 wind turbines spread across 162 square kilometres.

Ongeri added that the project had spent Sh44.4 million on corporate social responsibility activities, including improving facilities in schools and health centres, and providing water for people and livestock.

“We have engaged carpenters to make desks for schools where pupils once sat on the floor, and to construct shelves to hold medicine at health centres. Easier availability of water has enabled a greater focus on economic activities,” said Ongeri.

A tour of the area around the project site reveals vibrant town centres, with shops selling everything, from hardware to textiles and foodstuffs brought in from as far afield as Isiolo. Trade is booming, thanks to the improved road network.

Previously, a lack of power and frequent incidences of insecurity forced residents to get home early, but now, bars and night clubs stay open until late to satisfy a growing clientele.

There has been a similar transformation in Laisamis on the Isiolo/Marsabit Highway, to Illaut and Loiyangalani on the border of Samburu and Marsabit counties.

Project compensation has played an important role in changing the fortunes of these counties, too. Land owners forced to move to create room for roads, turbines and power lines became instant millionaires. Most have used their windfall to transform their neighbours’ lives.

In Illaut, for instance, permanent buildings now host the new businesses that have sprung up, replacing reed and grass structures. Butcheries with refrigeration facilities line the streets, creating a ready market for livestock.

In Loiyangalani, the number of fish traders has increased, with some coming from as far afield as Western Kenya.

They have been drawn in by the higher prices fish is fetching, thanks to an increased number of salaried residents. Previously, fish stocks came mostly from Lake Turkana,

“We are now receiving more customers demanding fish and meat, which they wash down with beer, water or soft drinks. Business is looking up,” said Benedict Orbora, the proprietor of Palm Shed Hotel.

More money

Loiyangalani is home to the El Molo, a fishing community on the shores of Lake Turkana and Kenya’s smallest tribe.

“We are making more money from our fish catches,” said an El Molo elder. “Business has never been better.”

As access routes improve, a region that has several overlooked tourist attractions looks set for increased visitor arrivals.

These attractions include the Koobi Fora pre-historic camp site that has human and other fossils dating back 4.5 million years, as well as the Sibiloi National Park. The Lake Turkana Cultural Festival and spectacular sunsets across the lake have long drawn curious adventurers from across the globe. With improved infrastructure, residents expect a lot more business from foreign and domestic tourists.

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