Words from Kenya

Slow Tarmac on the Wind Farm Road – Marsabit County

Once upon a time the Lake Turkana Wind Farm carved a beautiful dirt road across Marsabit County in Northern Kenya. It ran from Laisamis all the way to the wind farm, close to the shores of Lake Turkana.

For a few years this finely graded dirt road was used to speed lorries carrying wind turbines coming all the way from Nairobi to the far northern wind farm. It was also used by visitors and locals alike, who suddenly found that trips to that part of the north could be relatively trouble free and fast.

The windfarm road
The windfarm road

Sadly the government didn’t see fit to maintain this fine road after the Lake Turkana Wind Farm was finished with it. It is now a back breaking corrugated nightmare, the upper layers of murram stripped away by winds and water, leaving behind the rocks and boulders of the roads foundation.

Several years ago somebody decided to start tarmacking the road from its junction with the main north road at Laisamis. This has to be the slowest road tarmacking project in Kenyan history (well, with the exception of the north road itself that notoriously took three presidents to complete).

Tarmac on the windfarm road
Tarmac on the windfarm road

In the last couple of years it has crawled from the Laisamis junction to the top of the hill, and a little way down the other side. With one sad digger, a broken grader and no workmen I could see, I can image that the next section (over the famous Milgis lugga) could easily take another decade.

Dry Season Rain

There were thunder storms and heavy rain showers along the Laikipia Isiolo border at the start of the week. This was a culmination of moody weather and threatening rain from the week before. While we have seen a lot less rain than areas to the south of us it is even more unusual here.

Rain over Sanga

Not that the odd day or two of rain in February is unheard of, but rather that all of January seemed more like July (cold and cloudy) and most of February has been offering heavy rain cloud, light drizzle and eventually some really heavy downpours. Today I saw photographs of snow in the Aberdares followed some minutes later by a report on the decline of glaciers on Mount Kenya

“The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that only 10 of the 18 glaciers that covered the mountain’s summit a century ago remain, leaving less than one third of the previous ice cover. The #LewisGlacier, the largest on #MtKenya, has decreased by 90% in volume since 1934, with the highest rates of ice volume loss occurring around the turn of the century.”

Mount Kenya Trust

Are the glaciers to be saved after all? Global heating causes drought and heat waves, not snow and rain… surely?

Rain over Borana

One thing people often forget about global heating is that heat in the atmosphere creates more storms, of every kind, even the cold and wet ones. The inexorable change that global heating will have on East Africa is that rain will come in more damaging storms, dry periods will be more frequent and sustained, and yes, with increasing temperatures the glaciers will melt. This in turn will effect all the springs at lower levels that are ultimately fed by water from the mountain. With our ever increasing population these changes are going to be harder and harder to manage succesfully.

The abject failure of NGO and government led peace meetings

During the last 15 years I have witnessed countless peace meetings being held in various parts of northern Kenya; between conflicting groups of herders and between conflicting communities. People never tire of having them yet there is very little evidence that they are ever effective.

Peace meetings are a great selling point for NGO’s and government bodies though, who are hoping to raise funds from donors. They involve various expenses including (but by no means limited to) catering, transport, accommodation and even conference facilities. They look great in NGO pamphlets. Glossy pictures of locals sitting around in a circle somewhere in the bush, the NGO’s local rep standing in the middle talking sense into these poor misguided people. Because of course a photogenic, age/sex/identity appropriate youngster is going to sort out problems in an afternoon that these groups or communities haven’t been able to sort out themselves in months or years.

It should be obvious, even to the money hungry NGO/GO’s and their donors, that you are never going to enforce peace from outside without some form of effective policing. And of course, effective policing is largely absence from most of the northern half of Kenya.

Without policing any peace initiative needs to be driven from the ground, it must come from the people themselves, they have to want it. That means they have to really want peace, not just want the cup of tea and the t-shirt that comes with the peace meeting. Without a real drive and desire for the violence to end, by the people involved, these meetings are just photo ops.

Peace meetings are in general nothing more than a box ticking exercise for NGO’s and an abdication of responsibility for government bodies. They hold the meeting, task a group of elders to make everything right and then leave. We should not let NGO’s or the government get off so lightly by buying into these meetings. We should hold these bodies, that have been funded to help maintain peace, to account. Peace is not measured by how many peace meetings you have it is measured by how safe it is to live in one of these communities, how often your livestock is stolen and how many days you have without the sound of gunfire.

How do you maintain social distance during a natural disaster?

I have heard many people pondering how terrible it would be if, in the middle of this covid-19 crisis, we had a natural disaster that forced everyone to come together in rescue centres. Yes it would, and that is exactly what has been happening over the last couple of days in western Kenya.

Torrential rain causing mudslides, flash floods and the rising waters of Lake Victoria are costing lives, washing away homes and flooding whole communities. People are currently sheltering in groups on higher ground, crammed together in makeshift shelters and many are still totally cut off from aid. Here is this mornings report in the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper.

After mudslides, experts warn of Lake Victoria backflow

The 25 year anniversary of the Rwanda genocide reminds us that the destructive effects of violence continue long after the last shot is fired

In the drama of the latest viral moment, or breaking news from journalists tasked with finding the newest ‘bang bang’, we easily forget how extensive and serious the long term effects of violence are. I have seen first hand how violence leaves it’s mark on the individuals and communities involved. Time may obscure the effects on individual and collective psyche but, though new life events can help create distance, I am not sure the effects of violence every really go away.

These mental and emotional wounds, and the scars they leave, can all too easily develop into deep seated prejudice and even restart conflicts. I have watched that happen here in northern Kenya. You do not easily forget those that killed your family, or took away your home or livelihood. Memories of the fear, the loss and the pain (physical and emotional) can be buried, but when they surface they retain a horrific clarity.

Security, development and prosperity help greatly to move people forward and away from past violence. If those things are missing however, then these wounds can fester and become the trigger for new violence, even many years later. Those who wish to instigate violence for their own ends regularly use these wound to do just that. I have witnessed this too and it is a grim reality for the vast number of people who live in poor or marginal parts of the world with weak security mechanisms.

We have yet to count the true cost of modern conflicts such as that in Syria or the Yemen. European history is a great lesson for this. Look at how the first world war and the second world war are still such an integral part of European culture and heritage, even generations later. Every town has it’s memorials to those that died in these wars, every family can tell you which father, brother, uncle or cousin was killed in action and even the land the war was fought on is still scarred. These wars ended 100 years and 74 years ago respectively.

Western European countries were rich before the wars and massive post war investment hastened recovery. This was not the case in Eastern Europe where poverty hampered development and reconstruction, the scars from those wars lasted longest and most damagingly there. 25 years since the Rwandan genocide may seem long to some, but as the article by Nita Bhalla below shows, the effects of that war are still being lived every day by the people who survived it. Then consider what lies ahead for those countries and places that are currently suffering war and violence. The story of violence does not end with the ceasefire and the aid programs, when the cameras leave the story of violence has barely begun.

Read this:
Rwanda’s genocide survivors tormented by horrors 25 years on. By Nita Bhalla – Thomson Reuters Foundation.