When Kenya Pipeline Company and University of Nairobi launched an annual public lecture series in oil and gas in July 2016 to kick off a public discourse on the most prudent ways of utilizing the oil and gas resources in the country and the region, I told a packed Taifa Hall audience that Kenya is still importing pipeline welders and coaters from Nigeria, South Africa, Lebanon and China to build for us oil pipelines. Much as this was a shocker for the country, it is a reality that we must face. However, I was delighted when the Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Petroleum Hon Charles Keter in his keynote address was candid enough to admit that lack of requisite skills for the oil and gas sector remains a major challenge as the country prepares to exploit the newfound resources. The other challenges, the Cabinet Secretary said, were lack of adequate oil and gas infrastructure; and the high cost of capital required to set up the oil and gas technology coupled with the huge upfront capital outlay required in the sector.
As a country, we must moot sector strategies and programs and that is why a focused and sustained public discourse on the opportunities and challenges that come with the discovery of oil and gas reserves in our backyard must now begin. The public lecture series is just one such avenue through which government, private sector, donors, international community and above all the citizens of this country can be empowered with the right information to help the country and the region avoid the ‘resource curse’ whereby rising resource revenues lead to instability, poverty and corruption.
With these glaring sector gaps, two questions remains critical: how do we prudently utilize the oil and gas resources in our midst? How does Kenya position herself strategically for economic prosperity given the discovery of these opportunities in the region? These questions may not be answered exhaustively today but to address the skills gaps in the sector, Kenya Pipeline Company has set up the Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas with the aim of developing human resource capacity for Partner States in Oil & Gas Pipelines Management, Operations and Maintenance to reduce dependence on expatriate human resource. The Naivasha-based local training school for specialized skills in oil and gas is designed to save on costs incurred hiring foreign experts to work on the country’s oil and gas infrastructure and it will draw students from eastern African with a view to building local capacity for future oil and gas assignments. It is important for Kenyans to know that KPC is currently spending over Sh3.6 million monthly on imported manpower from as far as Nigeria and South Africa to weld and coat the ongoing Mombasa –Nairobi pipeline alone.
The setting up of this oil and gas school is a brainchild of the Heads of States for Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan during the 3rd Heads of States Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda, on 28th October, 2013 during which member states agreed that Centres of Excellence for capacity building be created in order to support the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP). Among the Centres proposed was KPC’s Morendat Training and Conference Center (MTCC). The school was thereafter designated as a Center of Excellence for Oil & Gas Pipelines during the 7th Summit of the NCIP held in Kampala, Uganda in October 2014. Being the only such institution in the region and the third in Africa after Sonatrach in Algeria and Transnet in South Africa, Morendat Centre of Excellence will offer competency based technical courses in pipeline maintenance, project management, pipeline technology, operations, safety, quality control and legal and regulatory framework. The courses to be offered have been reviewed by relevant government agencies such as the Technical, Vocational Education & Training Authority (TVETA) and the Curriculum Development and Assessment Certification Council (CDACC) under the stewardship of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
KPC is the only white pipeline operator in the region with over 1,300 kilometres of pipeline network but as the region embarks on large scale oil and gas exploitation, experts estimate that over 2,700 kilometres of pipelines will be developed to coincide with this significant growth. This will require over 2,500 technicians up from the 700 that the region has all of whom are working in KPC. These demand dynamics in the sector is what Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas will be out to address so as to build human resource base in the member states to manage, operate and maintain oil and gas pipelines.
As the school opens her doors, a new dawn in oil and gas sector is beckoning. The following six courses will be on offer: Oil Pipeline Mechanical Maintenance Course, Oil Pipeline Instrumentation and Control Maintenance Course, Oil Pipeline Operations Course and Oil Pipeline Laboratory Technology Course, Oil Pipeline Fire Officer Course.
Granted is the fact that the problem of skills gap has been denying Kenya a big portion of mega projects, with most of our young people confined to menial labour. Despite the fact that Kenya has some of the most educated population in the region, unemployment is running high with some companies struggling to hire adequate qualified talent. Our new school will not only prepare our young people for the future and help reaffirm the country’s status as a leader in oil and gas commerce, it will also build human resource capacity in the neigbouring countries to enable them manage, operate and maintain oil and gas pipelines and reduce dependence on expatriate labour. This is good for the region and Africa in its entirety.
The writer is the Managing Director of Kenya Pipeline Company Limited