I was born in 1980 to parents from Lokitaung – Turkana County. Folklore has it that there was such a drought that two-thirds of the entire animal population perished and this is the genesis of so many current professionals in their late 30s to mid 30s entering the school. They were drawn to the school feeding program which was then offered free in the few schools. Growing up, I confirmed the veracity and seriousness of this information. In fact, it was the worst famine that has ever affected our people competing for space with the infamous Year of Dispersal (1922) when the British sent a full battalion of 5,000 men to break the Turkana resistance to the British rule by killing any Turkana on site and confiscating all their herds in the name of the queen’s throne (Reference: Scatterjng times by John Lamphear).
Let me dive into a bit of history.
Turkana has experienced severe and catastrophic droughts every 10 years since time immemorial. My reading and my memory can only tinker and quote the following:
- In 1950 there was a drought called Lotira (loosely translated as hunger that just can’t go away) and in 1951 Lokulit (loosely translated as hunger that whips you like a baby) followed. The UK government stepped in to provide relief to the people and the natural coping mechanism of wild fruit and cattle splitting helped a bit.
- In 1960 we had a severe drought and it was locally named Kimududu (roughly translated, burn all to ashes). The British, for the first time, while we were still in the colonial period, transported Turkanas to Lake Turkana and taught them how to fish. Before, it was anathema to eat “water snakes”. The large colonies of Kalokol, Kataboi and Lowarengak trace their origin to this emigration of old. Other Turkana families were transported by a private boat “Atubwa Nangorok” and settled along the Turkwell River – one of two permanent rivers flowing through Turkana and flowing into Lake Turkana and from Mount Elgon. People have been settled in Katilu, Kaputir, Kapelboke etc. and taught agriculture.
- The third recorded drought dates back to 1970. The locals call it the year of Kibekbek (the year when everything was turned upside down). The drought was so severe that inter-ethnic conflicts increased and many Turkanas migrated to neighboring countries to seek water and pasture. This year gave way to the year of Achaka Ekipul (the year God threw down the padlock that locks the rain in the sky). He reported that it rained so much for days until major flooding occurred and our animals were washed away.
- In 1980, when I was born, they call it the year of Lopiar, loosely translated as the year of cleaning everything). The drought was so severe that the residence ate the skins of their animals and nearly two-thirds of the cattle perished. This left many Turkanas destitute and our pride as a people was shattered. Migration from the countryside to the cities began and many children came to school as a coping mechanism to get free meals and not necessarily to seek education. Many people are said to have died from this terrible hunger.
- In 1989 there was another drought and we called it the year of Lokwakoyo. (The Year of White Animal Bones) our animals died en masse and there were white carcasses of animal bones strewn across the landscape.
- After 1990 something bad happened. The frequency of droughts has started to decrease. From 10 years to a little 2-3 years.
Smart people call it the effects of climate change or the advent of global warming. That some people emit toxic gases into the air and puncture the protective layer, exposing us to harmful direct radiation from our sun and our universe.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. Missionaries have existed since the 1960s in Turkana as an “alternative government”. They have provided schools, health facilities, boreholes and even emergency response. These were quickly followed by NGOs. In fact, there is currently no eminent person in Turkana who is not the product of missionaries or the help of an NGO.
It is a fact that drought and famine are the product of Mother Nature’s wrath and the vagaries of the weather. However, hunger is caused by the lack of money against which to do anything.
It is true that a huge fundraiser has been carried out by the church and some NGOs. Cutting and displaying disturbing and grotesque images of the suffering cachexic and emaciated population to raise alms for their projects which end up 80% of the time is wasted in administrative costs or in corruption. These operating scenarios which bent into chicanery exist because of the vacuum created by the national government of the time by not giving ASAL countries a priority in the allocation of development funds and thus making them suffer from neglect. flagrantly triggered by the ripple effects of the African Socialism Paper. of 1965 by Tom Mboya who dictated that government resources should be allocated to areas that are seen as contributing positively to the economy. Thus, the entire Nordic belt has been made economically useless. Dead economy. Yet constitutionally they are entitled to receive recognition and a piece of the national cake.
Likewise, in 1976 there was a poster outside Lodwar which was erected by the colonialists which stated that Lodwar and Turkana are generally a closed neighborhood and you need government permission to visit it. . There was also a law to this effect. The first tarmac arrived in Lodwar in 1984. The first bank was also in 1984 and most people began to attend school actively in the 1970s.
These are evidence of the great economic, social and development chiasm that existed between Turkana and the rest of Kenya.
So the spot which is called Nothern Kenya and Turkana for example has been an eye sore in the Kenyan consciousness ever since. Everyone knew that something had to be done to ease him from the abyss of poverty, but no one did except for Kibaki who formed the Northern Kenya Ministry in 2007, who is also concentrated in the northeastern province. Even Uganda, incidentally recognizing the uniqueness of the drylands, ”has quite a ministry for Karamoja affairs.
Fast forward to the era of devolution.
With the money sent, we found so many issues that it was difficult to determine what was a priority and what was not.
We have prioritized food security, animal production, education, water, health, safety and infrastructure as Turkana County.
We have built 169 dispensaries, employed 900 more doctors, built ECD wells in boreholes, built roads, started to encourage people to diversify and plant along river ecology, built the funds of the river. ECD for emergencies, provided scholarships, etc. using the resources provided we went astray for a long time. problems with the resources provided and sheer determination.
This had the effect of a positive change. Change that is being felt throughout Turkana. But the drought has rightly marked a mistake in this area which we will correct as a county.
The idea that the current drought is a way for some people to cope is misinformed as 13 counties are affected as a result of missed rains.
What the Turkana County Government has done so far:
1. He bought food worth 350 million and distributed the first cycle to affected families. Other families are not yet reached because of the distances and our nomadic way of life
2. Water trucking and borehole repair threw out the whole county to make sure people get water for themselves and for the engineering cattle.
3. Buy animal feed to encourage pastoralists to feed their animals and save Glenn from starvation and prevent them from migrating to neighboring countries and counties, which usually exacerbates inter-ethnic conflicts.
4. Collaboration with the national government to strengthen food distribution and enrichment of water points.
5. Improved screening of children under 5, elderly mothers, pregnant and breastfeeding and giving food supplements to germs.
We now have the medium and long term measures which are related to food security, animal production, availability and accessibility of water and preparation for future floods.
I know Kenyans are annoyed by the current deaths from a preventable cause, but isn’t it safe to save lives first and post morterm the problem later and see where the rain has gone? started beating ourselves up as we make medium and long term plans that get funded.
1. Map all affected households with laser precision, including those on the brink of famine, and provide them with food and water in case of emergency.
2. Make sure the animals have been fed, water has been made accessible to people and that programs like cash transfer programs have been activated as an emergency.
3. Screening of the most vulnerable (under 5, elderly women, pregnant and breastfeeding women, widows, orphans and the disabled).
4. Prepare for future floods by moving people and animals to higher lands, investing so much in an early warning system that we are leading evidence-based interventions.
5. Invest in the education of the people. Education is the greatest equalizer and enables people to have an open mind, turns them into disciples of the theory of change, and emancipates them from poverty.
6. Invest in food security which is driven by technology with Israel as an example where they have turned a desert into a good power plant.
7. Ensure that strategic grain reserves and emergency funds are set aside for difficult times like this and prevent us from falling into this cyclical drought trap.
8. Arrive at a medium and long term investment in projects that will prevent us from reaching where we are and this becomes our defining moment that we should never return to.