A government, an old man and oil.

Story originally ran in the Standard on Sunday.



Nairobi Monday March 26 2012. After a lengthy mid-morning function, President Mwai Kibaki, all excited, officially confirmed news that had been sweeping across newsrooms as mere speculation.

At the tail end of a rather colourless state function Kenya’s third president announced the country had struck gold. A rich vein of black gold that would play a big role in transforming the country’s fortunes.

The timing couldn’t have been better. For years, the East African powerhouse looked enviously as her neighbours announced the presence of oil in their territories. But on that day, it was Kenya’s time to shine.

“I have been informed by the minister that our country has made a major breakthrough in oil discovery…this is the beginning of a long journey to make the country an oil producer,” President Kibaki said.

As the announcement was made, an old man’s heart skipped a beat. It was happening again. It seemed he just couldn’t catch a break. He switched off his television.

“I thought that I ought to have been part of the announcement. Perhaps the president didn’t know at the time that I was the one who discovered oil,” Dr Kengar Monena tells the Standard.

But, Monena says, big money, politics, a corrupt judiciary as well as insincere lawyers have all colluded or been co-opted into what he says is a grand scheme to keep him off the fruits of his hard labour.

Rewind to 1987, when a younger and spritely Monena, on a water drilling assignment for a European aid agency chanced upon something that he thought would change his life forever.

“We were drilling a borehole in one of the villages up north. As the drilling went on, we noticed that what was gushing out of the hole was different. It even smelt different. Like kerosene and after a short while the extracts changed from a clear liquid to a blackish liquid that smelt like kerosene gushed out.

“At that time I knew it was oil,” Monena says.

After that, they moved the drilling to several other places and the results were the same. He was certain he had struck oil.

“I talked to my friends about the find and they convinced me not to tell any more people about it,” he says.

Monena and his friends were afraid of what might happen to them if they walked to the then Energy minister Nicholas Biwott and declare his find.

“I wasn’t sure what would happen. Those were dangerous times. Once you walked into a minister’s office you wouldn’t know if you’d walk out,” he says.

So he decided to get a sample of that black substance and sit on the news. Until nearly twenty years later.

After a regime change and the house on the hill had a friendlier occupant, Monena decided to finally inform his government of his find. He had all the coordinates and, he says, knew Pokot and Turkana like the back of his hands.

“It was time. I knew, or thought, those in government then were noble and of good intention,” Monena says.

On December 13th 2005, Dr Monena, through his company Interstate Mining Company sent samples of that black substance to the Kenya Petroleum Refineries Limited (KPRL) Ministry of Energy. A letter accompanying the samples read in part as follows:

“This is to inform you that we have been carrying out drilling programmes in Turkana and West Pokot areas of Rift Valley Province to prospect for water for local communities.”

“In the course of our work we encountered a black substance smelling like kerosene which we suspect to be crude oil. This is a request to your office to carry out chemical analysis of the substance provided in the three samples…,” the letter read.

Two weeks later on 30th December 2005, Dr Monena got a reply from KPLR. His sample had been tested.

“Our opinion is that this material is more likely to be fuel oil. This is however not a full analysis, however due to the small sample size delivered to KPRL, a larger sample is required to enable a conclusive analysis and we can provide the correct sized sample bottles if requires,” read the communication from the state oil agency.

Excited, Monena ended that year on a high and couldn’t wait for 2006. He had grand plans, grand plans drawn up over two decades.

And on January 3rd 2006, through hi contacts, Dr Monena reached out and got in touch with the Norwegian Secretary of State for Energy, who then referred Dr Monena to the Norwegian embassy in Nairobi. Also he also reached out to the Permanent Secretary, Energy, Mr Patrick Nyoike.

“We set out to ensure everything was in order, even meeting the then Permanent secretary of energy Patrick Nyoike,” Dr Monena says. “The meeting was brief but detailed. I was asked to give details of the location of my find including the amounts of the samples retrieved as well as another batch of for a new round of analysis. The PS then promised to get back to us,” he says.

Meanwhile, Dr Monena, through his company Interstate with help from the Norwegian government had engaged top gear in preparation for the inevitable exploration and exploitation that lay ahead. Interstate applied for consent for exploration consents from the county councils of Pokot and Turkana. By mid-2006, permission was granted by both counties in writing and copies of the consent letters copied to the ministry of energy.

Unknown to him, plans were being hatched elsewhere regarding his find. And his role in the discovery would remain only known to him. From then on, his excitement to telling the world about his discover would be replaced by a certain despair as fate and what he calls a flawed judicial system conspired to kill the best of his dreams and relegate him to a black hole of court proceedings.

It all begun with a second communication from the ministry of energy regarding the sample Dr Monena had provided for further analysis.

A letter from the Ministry of Energy to Dr Monena dated July 14th 2006 said the following:

“The material you presented for testing was tested at the Keya Petroleum Refineries Limited and was found to be black and very heavy. The sample was found to be heavier than the crudes processed at KPRL. It had significant amounts of water entrained which could not be separated in the KPRL laboratory and as a result, no distillation could be done on the sample…given this position, I am exploring other avenues for testing your sample. I will keep you posted on the progress.”

The letter was signed by Patrick Nyoike, the then permanent secretary. Unlike the initial results from KPRL, this latest letter did not come with a chemical analysis report.

This was the last communication Monena and Co. got from the energy ministry. But he still pushed for the granting of an exploration permit into Blocks 10B and 11.

Meanwhile, one of the two mining blocks on which Dr Monena had struck oil had somehow elicited interest from another company. Turkana Drilling Company (TDC). Investigations by the Sunday Standard show that the company that was granted an exploration permit in late 2007 was at that time co- owned by two Kenyan businessmen Yunis Mohamed and Amyn Lakhani plus two other foreigners. One Jurg Hemann, a taxi owner and operator in Switzerland and Albert Raponi a Canadian legal expert with some interest in the oil business.

Yunis Mohamed was a longtime Ford Kenya insider. Subsequent court legal processes by TDC were executed by Wetangula, Adan and Makokha Advocates a firm in which the then Assistant Minister Foreign Affairs and current CORD co-principal Moses Wetangula was a partner.

“I have never dealt in anything to do with oil. I own neither an oil block nor shares in an oil mining and prospecting company,” Wetangula told the Standard on Sunday. “This was a plot by my political detractors to tarnish my name. IN the fullness of time the truth shall be known.”

As this went on, Dr Monena continued to write to the ministry of energy seeking for an exploration and production license.

“By this time, our partners in Norway had already pulled out. But we hadn’t given up hope. Despite numerous visits to the ministry of energy and several letters requesting the granting of a permit, we got no feedback,” he says.

Almost two years later, on 26th August 2009, he wrote to the president determined to inform Mwai Kibaki of his find. Part of the letter, which was received by the Principal Administrative Secretary in the Office of the President on January 18th 2010 reads as follows:

“Good news to you your Excellency. Interstate Petroleum Company Limited has struck oil in Kenya long before Uganda. Unfortunately the minister of energy has robbed us of this God given find. He has given a Petroleum Exploration Licence to foreigners and denied us the same using our oil sample…our petition is for you to intercede forthwith and grant us an exploration license on blocks 10B, 10BB, 13T and 12A…”

To date, Interstate awaits a reply from OP.

By the time he was writing to the president the license had already been granted to Turkana Drilling Company.

A secret memo from 2007 titled “Remittance of US$1million by Turkana Drilling Company Before The Scheduled Negotiations” from the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of energy to Moses Wetangula alludes to a phone conversation between Wetangula and Nyoike, during which a sum of 1 million dollars was transferred to a bank account thought to be associated with the ministry.

“I would like to refer to our (Hon. Wetangula/Nyoike) telephone discussion this morning, Thursday July 5th, regarding the above captioned subject. It would be appreciated if Turkana Drilling Company remit US$1 million into the account of the Ministry of Energy…negotiations for Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) for blocks 10BA and 10 BB will be held within three days of receipt of the US$1 million as signature bonuses.”

The mining act is silent on signature bonuses. However, the Kenya government gives the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) Sh100million annually to undertake preliminary exploration surveys. Data from these surveys is then sold to various companies that might be interested in exploration.



Dr Monena is confident that it is the data from his initial survey and test results from samples provided by Interstate that were sold to TDC. It is also noteworthy to mention that the PS energy sits in the NOCK board.

“By 2010 we realised things were not working as we expected,” Monena says. “We wrote to the Attorney General over the manner that we had been treated by the ministry of energy.”

The letter to the AG had several accusations. Interstate accused Patrick Nyoike, the PS of abusing secrets of Interstate Petroleum and of collusion with TDC to deny his company an exploration permit.

By the time we went to press, the former PS had not responded to phone calls or questions posed by the Standard on Sunday.

As this was being done, ownership of the mining blocks was changing. Fast.

TDC sold its mining and exploration rights to Canadian firm Africa Oil Corporation for US$30 million.

That same year, Africa Oil Corporation and another of its sister companies Centric Oil sold half of their operations to Tullow Oil gaining mining rights to blocks 10BA, 10BB, 10A, 12A and 13T. Two years later in 2012, Tullow increased its share in several of the initial five blocks significantly.

And in early March 2012 the big oil companies got the president’s ear resulting into that big announcement to the nation:

“I have been informed by the minister that our country has made a major breakthrough in oil discovery…this is the beginning of a long journey to make the country an oil producer,” President Kibaki said.

With that, Dr Monena’s heart skipped, and since then its beating has never been quite right.

The frenzy that accompanied that announcement was enough to sweep away anyone who would challenge the legitimacy of the discovery.

In a press conference, soon after the president’s announcement, Tullow termed the oil samples as “high-quality oil that will yield more gasoline and diesel per barrel than some other crude discoveries in Africa.”

In 2006 a sample from the same block provided by Interstate was dismissed by the PS energy as containing too much water.

Dr Monena just couldn’t sit back. Letters to the ministry or even the highest offices of the land had done him little good thus far. He turned to the judiciary.

“After all, I knew I had the truth by my side. What could go wrong,” he says. He was unaware at that time, but many things could and did go wrong. And just four months after the announcement on the oil discovery was made, his years-long affair with the judicial system began.

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