In a remote region, riven by years of drought and conflict, the prospect of new oil is attracting attention from oil-hungry economies in Asia

Villagers search for water in Turkana, Kenya – where experts say oil discovery risks exacerbating the effects of poverty and climate change-driven drought. (Photo: Africa Progress Panel)

China and India have emerged as the buyers of the first ever crude oil export from Kenya, with the East African country shelving plans it had to export its crude to Europe.

The two Asian countries will be the first to do business with Kenya when it ships out its oil in June in what the government is calling a test programme.

British oil company Tullow, the firm that discovered oil in Kenya in 2012, has stored 60,000 barrels of oil in Lokichar, 600km north of the country’s capital, Nairobi.

The oil will then be transported by road from Turkana to Kenya’s main port in Mombasa, more than 1,000km away. From there it will be shipped to Asia.

The shipments mark the start of what the Kenyan government and Tullow hope will become a major new source of African oil. Tullow estimates its Kenyan reserve at 750 million barrels of oil, with further exploration planned.

Tullow and the government expect that by 2020, Kenya will have embarked on large-scale oil production and by then, a pipeline connecting the oilfields and Lamu, another Kenyan port, will have been completed.

Once complete, the 865-kilometre pipeline will pump out approximately 100,000 barrels a day, far more than the 2,000 to be moved by tankers by road each day and stored in facilities at the Kenyan coast.

Advocates of the pipeline in Kenya estimate that the production of…