Words from Kenya

Oil isn’t a curse it’s inequality that does the damage.

Oil isn’t a curse, it is the inequality of wealth and power that so often accompany oil that is the problem. When large oil deposits are found in an area as poor and marginalised as Turkana there is the potential for that gap to be at its most extreme. The word ‘marginalised’ is used a lot in relation to communities in northern Kenya but it is worth stating exactly what it means regarding the people of Turkana. It means that the local people have not had a direct or indirect voice in the governance of their area. Not directly because civil society is weak or non-existent and because government positions are elitist, requiring skills and qualifications most do not possess. Not indirectly ... Continue Reading

One rainstorm doesn’t break a drought (but two or three could cause trouble).

Several parts of northern Kenya have experienced rain in the last week. This comes as a huge relief to many. The last rains either failed or were very poor across northern and eastern parts of the country. Everybody is desperate for the rains to come so that there will be enough water and pasture to see them through the next dry season. However, according to the Kenya Meteorological Department, we shouldn’t get too excited. They have forecasted that these coming rains will also be below average for most of the north and east of Kenya. Even in Turkana, where more normal amounts of rainfall are expected, they have warned it will not be sufficient to fully recharge underground water sources ... Continue Reading

Upside Down Trees

In parts of northern Kenya you can encounter the curious sight of many upside down trees. They dot the landscape, as many of them upside down as right way up in places. Some areas of northern Kenya have been so dry for so long that there is little but dust to hold the roots of the trees in place. A strong wind pushes at the bare branches and worries away the dry soil round the base of the tree. Sometimes it takes just hours, sometimes weeks or months, but once loosened the result is nearly always the same. An upside down tree. The wind blows the tree over, the roots slip free of the dry sandy soil, then the wind flips it over like a tumble weed. Once upside down a better balance is ... Continue Reading

A Night of Gunfire in Isiolo

Last night people living in the areas immediately to the south and west of Isiolo town listened anxiously to more than two hours of gunfire. At around half past nine the first gunshots were heard to the south of the town, where livestock were being stolen. It is thought that close to 20 cows and a large number of goats were taken and then driven off towards the west. At first the gunshots were intermittent, it seems that the raiders were shooting to warn off any followers. Their path westward could be guessed at from the sound of gunfire as they went along. After about an hour the gunfire became more intense and frequent. The gunfire was coming from several different directions and ... Continue Reading

Pink Flip Flop Boat on Lake Turkana

One day, as I walked along the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, I came across this wonderful pink flip flop boat. Parents and older children often make toys for the younger kids from bits and bobs of rubbish. Cars made from plastic cooking oil containers, cut in half and with plastic lids for wheels. Or large plastic pot lids nailed to a stick and used for wheeling along. But this simple plastic flip flop boat, with a stick for a mast and a bit of plastic bag for a sail, is one of the most stylish rubbish toys I’ve ever seen. It was sitting all alone on the sand. I think it must have sailed off rather efficiently leaving it's owner far behind, and probably quite sad. However, I have no doubt ... Continue Reading