Words from Kenya

Cancer in the Chalbi Desert

There has been some long overdue publicity recently about the abnormally high levels of cancer in the Chalbi Desert area of northern Kenya (see this Standard article and this KTN video). There is some evidence to suggest that the high rates of cancer may be linked to toxins in the water. Many people believe that there is a connection between the oil exploration that occurred in the area in the 1980s and the contaminated water sources. It seems important that this should be investigated more thoroughly, both to aid the people who currently live in the Chalbi Desert and also for future generations here and in other parts of northern Kenya where oil is being discovered. How will we know, for ... Continue Reading

The Flamboyant Tree

Outside my house is a Flamboyant tree. It is aptly named. Once a year, near the end of the long six months dry season, when everything, including itself, is just bare gray brown twigs and sticks, it burst into flower. This huge tree, without a single leaf, buds and in the space of a few days is draped with large red flowers. They cover every branch like a heavy red snowfall. No other plants appear even to be alive at this time, in the last week or two of the deepest dryness before the rains. Consequently this tree’s overabundance of flowers becomes a magnet for insects from miles around. During the day it vibrates with wasps and flies of every description but mostly with African honey ... Continue Reading

The rise in gun crime in urban areas of Northern Kenya

Illegal small arms have been a common feature of cattle raiding, resource conflict and retaliatory attacks in the wide open spaces of northern Kenya for the last 20 years. However the use of guns for criminal activities in urban areas has not been so common until recently. The dramatic rise in urban gun crime in northern Kenya is a serious concern. The urban areas of northern Kenya are rapidly expanding and gun use in this environment potentially puts a lot more people at risk than traditional conflicts which tend to involve specific groups and occur intermittently. In the space of just two years robberies in the town of Isiolo have gone from being mostly undertaken without guns to armed ... Continue Reading

Oil and Water in Turkana

People fight wars over oil and it is predicted that in the near future people will fight wars over water. There is now evidence to suggest that the remote, arid Turkana district in the north west of Kenya has both. Turkana district, especially the northern half, is very poor, politically marginalised and with little in the way of infrastructure. It is peopled largely by nomadic and semi nomadic pastoralists whose skills and traditional knowledge enable them to live, without the aid of modern technology, in an incredibly harsh land and alongside often hostile neighbours. Here men feel naked without a gun and encroachment on the scarce resources needed for life by people from neighbouring ... Continue Reading

Seasons on a Parched Equator

It is wrong to say there are no seasons here so close to the equator. The hours of daylight may not change more than a few minutes throughout the year and the temperature is always hot or a bit hotter but the environment changes every bit as dramatically as it does in higher latitudes. The changes that come with the transition from wet to dry season make such utter transformations to the landscape, the colours, smells and sense of the place. From lush verdant land of plenty to bleached out semi desert. In a place where people still live off the land it completely changes the mode and pace of life. During the wet season some people, till, plant and weed small patches of ground. ... Continue Reading