Words from Kenya

Why is it acceptable for schools to be so bad in developing countries?

The photograph is of a well equipped classroom in one of the best government schools in northern Kenya. Every time I visit such a school I always wonder why it is that everybody accepts such ridiculously low standards for education here. Or indeed in most countries across the African continent. The prevailing ideology of development agencies seems to be that if you build a classroom you have a school. Yet we all know that a building is not a school. A building only becomes a school when it houses a collection of things that enable people to learn. Often the most important element in a school are teachers. A teacher is someone who facilitates learning, other things that facilitate ... Continue Reading

Guns in Northern Kenya

I have mixed feelings about all the guns in northern Kenya. It is obviously scary, and when you hear of people being killed over some dispute in a distant village you instinctively feel that if only all the guns could be taken away things would be so much better. Then someone attacks your village, steals your livestock or asserts rights to land or resources that are vital to you. Then you find yourself looking for some protection. If your village is far from a town there is unlikely to be any police to help you. Then you want the men with guns to be 'your' men with guns. The community shares food rations with them, cooks for them, prays for them. Now there are good men with guns and bad men ... Continue Reading

Mount Kenya with Snow

Some days I see my home country everywhere I look. Mount Kenya, covered in snow, on a grey day during the dry season, looks a lot like Scotland; or at least it does to my unaccustomed eyes. The camel gives it away though, I have never seen a camel in Scotland. ... Continue Reading

Livestock herders dream of grass like this.

This is what the grass looks like in a conservation area. I am a pastoralist by marriage, we love our livestock. Cows, goats, camels; pastoralists love their animals beyond all reason. And that, I guess, is the trouble. There are now so many animals that there is rarely any good grass to be found any more. Poor rains don't help, but even when the rains are good the grass never gets that way, unless it is in area protected from livestock. The livestock we love is striping northern Kenya bare, and then what will we do? It will be like a drought year every year. We will be picking up animals trying to keep them alive, dragging carcasses out to be scavenged. We will be crushed under the weight ... Continue Reading

Hard times in northern Kenya, the long and the short of it.

For most of northern Kenya the long rains aren't actually any longer than the short rains. This year the long rains (arriving somewhere from late March and rarely staying beyond the first week in May) have been looked for with more than the normal amount of anxious anticipation. Across the north the short rains (usually occurring between late October and early December) were very poor, or failed completely. This disappointment came after an especially harsh long dry season, where many people lost livestock. The livestock that survived, to stagger through the scarcely wet short rains and the subsequent dry months until now, are a skinny and desperate lot. Good rains were needed this April ... Continue Reading