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IRIN - Kenya


Why I’m proud to be African today

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:34:06 +0000

It’s not easy to get a sitting president to leave office. In some cases, corruption, violence, and institutional inertia have conspired to keep some African presidents in office for decades.   In other cases, the sheer weight of going up against a person who knows the system, has the theoretically unlimited resources of the state at their disposal, and to whom political appointees owe their allegiance is often too much for opposition parties.   So, elections are held, but there is rarely a surprise. Hence why today’s annulment of the election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta by Kenya’s supreme court is such a landmark moment.   Change certainly can happen at the end of a constitutional term in office. But the power of incumbency means that it is rare for a sitting president to be turfed out if he or she is not ready to retire.   But in the last three years some significant shifts seem to be occurring. A quick survey of the status of incumbency across the continent suggests a growing political maturity – not in African voters, who have always turned out in big numbers to make their voices heard – but in African politicians who are increasingly willing to accept defeat.   In a world where generalisations and trends about Africa tend to be negative, this resurgence of democratic spirit is an important one to note.   Steps forward   It began in Nigeria in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan in a hotly contested poll. Given Nigeria’s chequered political history there was real apprehension over whether Jonathan would concede. But he not only conceded, but congratulated Buhari for his win.   Then John Dramini Mahama became Ghana’s first one-term president. He happily handed over to Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017, that man he defeated in the 2012 vote.   A slightly different set of circumstances led to an unexpected transition in the Gambia. Self-proclaimed ruler-for-life Yahya Jammeh surprisingly accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in office.   Granted Jammeh did try and walk back his concession after the opposition threatened to prosecute him for crimes committed in office, but in the end he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea.   And then in Somalia, Mohamed Farmaajo took over from Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in February this year in a peaceful transition that defied the logic of the country’s ongoing civil war.   Status quo   Of course, it’s not all been smooth sailing. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza’s tampering with the constitution to stay in office has thrown that country into chaos. In Gabon, Omar Ali Bongo needed one of those last-minute 99 percent turnouts in his home constituencies in order to secure his stay in power.   Elections in Chad and in Guinea led to violent boycotts that did nothing to shift the status quo, while in Angola, although Jose dos Santos is nominally stepping aside, his hand-picked successor is about to slip into his shoes.   And while the victories of perennial presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) were never in doubt, there was still a measure of disappointment that neither made any serious effort to at least sustain the illusion of democracy.   In Uganda, perpetual oppositionist Kizza Bessigye has been repeatedly detained and harassed, while Diane Rwigara, one of Kagame’s challengers, has lately gone missing.   Asante Kenya!   That’s what makes the news from Kenya so astonishing, and the court’s judges such unlikely heroes.   The commission that runs the elections had declared incumbent Kenyatta the winner of the 8 August election – despite loud protest by the opposition party, NASA. The opposition insisted that though the vote had been free and fair, the tallying of the results had been fiddled with.   So certain was NASA that it would not get a fair court hearing that it initially refused to lodge a petition and present its evidence of electoral fraud.   The decision by the supreme court, by a 4-2 majority, that there were enough irregularities in the conduct of the ballot to invalidate was ther[...]

Same old problems for Kenya’s newest refugee settlement

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 16:35:18 +0000

Kalobeyei was supposed to be different. Refugees here would be self-reliant. They would be integrated with the local community in a mutually beneficial arrangement of shared services and bustling markets. And it would all cost a lot less for Western aid donors.   But it hasn’t quite worked as planned.   Kalobeyei, in Kenya’s remote northwest, was built to decongest nearby Kakuma camp and attract the more entrepreneurially-minded refugees who could take advantage of the tiny plots of land on offer and trade with the local community.   The World Food Programme provides a $14 monthly cash allowance to each refugee*, which it says is enough to cover 80 percent of minimum needs. The 40,000 refugees are expected to supplement that stipend.   The problem is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war intensified. With Kakuma full, people have been arriving in Kalobeyei with little more than the clothes on their backs – and without the resources to make a go of it.   Jean-Marie Shamalima, who fled Burundi’s brutal civil war last year, is the kind of refugee Kalobeyei was designed to accommodate.   Beside his shack, constructed out of tarpaulin and corrugated iron, are rows of okra, beans, and spinach growing in a small sunken bed. It’s an incongruous sight in the middle of the arid Turkana region.   He arrived when the settlement opened, and his seeds were among the few possessions he brought with him.   Integration   Kalobeyei, built by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in conjunction with the local Turkana county government is an “integrated settlement”. That means it aims to provide economic benefits and services to host and refugee communities alike, including schools, hospitals, and marketplaces where Shamalima can sell his produce.   "It was difficult when we first arrived. There wasn't a lot of water available. But now things are improving and I'm growing lots of different vegetables," Shamalima said, gesturing proudly to his five-by-six-metre plot.   “I sell my spinach and okra in the market place,” he explained. “It provides me with an extra income so that I can buy clothes and seeds to grow more crops to sell.”   But even he struggles to make ends meet.   For other refugees it’s harder still. A 20-kilo bag of just maize flour, the staple carbohydrate – enough to last a family of five for a month – costs around $9 and one litre of oil is $2.50. Then there's all the other ingredients that go into a meal, plus the charcoal to cook the food, and the WFP allowance becomes increasingly stretched.   “I buy maize, beans, onions and oil with the money I get and it's barely enough for us to eat," South Sudanese refugee Mary Naduru, a mother of four, told IRIN.   Kalobeyei is a new model for Kenya. It is an acknowledgment that Kakuma, and the larger Dadaab camp in the northeast, are outmoded. They are in effect refugee islands sucking up dwindling donor aid.   Although the new looser settlement model doesn’t go as far as neighbouring Uganda, where refugees have free movement, the right to work, and access social services anywhere in the county, Kalobeyei offers a part-solution in a country where the politics of asylum is highly charged.   "The ultimate aim is to make Kalobeyei a self-serving, self-reliant settlement,” Neville Agoro of the Danish Refugee Council told IRIN. “The idea wasn't to make people rely on humanitarian agencies from the start.”   But there is a large wrinkle. “So long as we keep on bringing people who've just arrived from South Sudan, bringing them to Kalobeyei and trying to [introduce] self-reliance is not possible,” he added.   New arrivals get a patch of ground to grow food on, and that’s it – not even seeds and tools or training.   “They just tell us 'this is your house, this is your garden', and then just leave us to get on with it," said Mary Naduru, who fled South Sudan two months ago. Charlie Ensor/IRIN "I would like to plant vegetables here, but [...]

Briefing: Inside Kenya’s troubled elections

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:31:26 +0000

More than a week after Kenya’s general elections, the opposition continues to dispute the results, but rather than calling for further protest action on the streets, it’s taking its challenge to the Supreme Court.   This briefing explores the key issues thrown up by the poll – in a country that is the region’s economic powerhouse but also one where electoral turmoil a decade ago spawned ethnic violence that left more than 1,200 people dead.   The poll pitted Uhuru Kenyatta – one of the country’s wealthiest men, vying for a second term in office – against veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga. At aged 72, it is perhaps Odinga’s last stab at the presidency.   Kenya’s elections have historically been plagued by fraud and voter intimidation. Odinga and (many independent analysts) believe he was rigged out of the 2007 election, and possibly cheated again in 2013.   Four years ago the electronic voting system had suspiciously failed. This time Odinga’s opposition National Super Alliance, NASA, had pushed hard for reforms in the electoral authority, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The IEBC’s promised safeguards were in place for a free and fair poll.   But after one of the world’s most expensive elections – an eye-watering $499 million – Odinga has again cried foul, and labelled the newly elected government as “computer-generated”.   Why did the opposition protest?   The murder and torture of Chris Msando, IEBC’s IT chief a week before the elections sent NASA concerns into overdrive. His killers have not been found.   The assumption was that as the custodian of IEBC’s computer system, he had been forced to reveal the passwords to the servers.   Most opinion polls had predicted a tight race. So as the initial electronic results came in putting Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party well in the lead, NASA claimed the fix was in. They alleged that an algorithm had been planted in IEBC’s servers to undercount Odinga’s votes.   The IEBC moved fast to quash those claims. It acknowledged there had been an attempt to hack into the system, but that it had failed.   “On the question about passwords: no passwords were given to anyone within the Commission until on the eve of the election as part of assuring the integrity of the system,” the head of the electoral commission, Ezra Chiloba, said.   What undermined NASA’s argument was that it kept shifting the goal posts over the election malpractice it was exactly alleging. By its own tabulation Odinga had won handsomely, but it also unaccountably changed the numbers it claimed were his real votes.   Jubilee fought the election on its economic record, despite accusations that it had bungled the response to a savage drought, and allegations – and anger – over widespread corruption.   But it also campaigned hard and intelligently in key swing regions. NASA’s organisation by contrast was underfunded and shambolic, with reports of even polling agents – its key representatives inside the voting centres – having not been paid.   According to the Elections Observation Group, an independent monitoring body, NASA had agents in only 84 percent of polling centres. ELOG’s parallel tallying in roughly four percent of polling stations matched IBEC’s official results.   What should have settled the question quickly were the individual result forms from all the 40,000 polling stations, the so-called 34As, verified by the party agents. IEBC did not wait for all of them to come in and be validated before announcing Kenyatta and Jubilee’s victory.   The 34As should have been transmitted electronically to the national tallying centre. But even allowing for connectivity problems, the IEBC’s failure to account for all the forms and publicly post them on its website, days after the polls had closed, was an embarrassment.   "The absence of forms 34A, and the lack of clarity from the IEBC on this issue has bred mistrust and been very unhelpful," Nic Cheeseman, p[...]

“Recovery lending” helps disaster-stricken African farmers get back on track

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 17:04:23 +0000

Accessing credit has long been a major hurdle for small-scale farmers in Africa, who produce some 70 percent of the continent’s food. Not only does this mean yields fall far below their full potential, but the ability of farmers to manage the increasingly frequent and severe weather shocks brought about by climate change is also greatly reduced. However, help could be at hand. A new method of aid microfinancing, known as recovery lending, aims to give such farmers a much-needed short-term boost, especially in times of crisis. Vision Fund International (VFI) is a project of the international NGO World Vision. It sourced a £2 million returnable grant from the UK’s Department for International Development to be loaned to 14,000 families in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia after disasters so they can rebuild their lives and start generating income again. Farmers need loans at the beginning of agricultural seasons to buy seeds, fertilisers, and other vital inputs. But as smallholders often lack title deeds or other forms of collateral, traditional banks don’t view them as viable debtors, while the rules imposed by other kinds of lenders – the return of the principal sum in full, for example – don’t always suit the seasonal economics of farming. Charity Mati, VFI Kenya’s business development and integration manager, explained that the lender tries to tailor its repayment terms to borrowers’ needs, unlike other microfinance institutions that charge interest every month, leaving the entirety of the loaned sum due on maturity. “Most of our clients are farmers,” Mati told IRIN. “While recovering from the El Niño rains, they were met with a second shock: the drought. We sat down with them and developed workable repayment plans, listened to their voices, and arrived at a solution,” she told IRIN. A case study In 2015, Alice Muthee, a smallholder farmer in Motonyi, a village nestled in Kenya’s Narok County, took out a $200 loan from a microfinance organisation and leased an acre of land with the aim of turning a good profit from growing tomatoes. “With five mouths to feed, in addition to the pressure of educating my children, life had seemed overwhelming,” recalled Muthee. “I had had to sell livestock to meet the rising demand for finances in my family.” Muthee believed her tomatoes would bear fruit and she would be able to repay the loan within three months. But tomatoes are a notoriously fickle crop and certainly no match for the El Niño rains that wreaked havoc in late 2015, not only in parts of Kenya, but also in Somalia, Uganda, and Ethiopia. “From the cost of leasing the land, labour, purchase of seedlings, and fertiliser, I ran a deficit,” Muthee told IRIN. “My several attempts to have extra money for buying pesticides failed. When the 2015 rains persisted, I watched helplessly as my tomatoes disappeared.” Facing the daunting prospect of having to sell more livestock in order to repay her loan – the terms of which required full settlement of the principal sum in a single payment at the end of the agreed period – Muthee heard about a new kind of finance geared specifically for small-holder farmers, small businesses, and communities recovering from disaster shocks. ‘Hand up’, not ‘hand out’ Recovery lending, described as a “hand up” rather than “hand out” approach, was pioneered by VFI in the aftermath of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, with the disbursement of almost 5,000 loans with an average value of $430 designed to help people restart their lost small businesses. According to Philip Ochola, CEO of Vision Fund Kenya, in the wake of major disasters, many microfinance institutions grow reluctant to continue extending loans because potential customers lack collateral and are seen has having little ability to make repayments. Robert Kibet/IRIN “Credit is required most during post-disaster to help rebuild communities,” said Ochola. “[...]

Kenya’s nail-biter election could turn on the price of a bag of maize

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 13:56:25 +0000

Food shortages and rising prices could be a decisive issue in Kenya’s cliff-hanger election in two weeks’ time, with the government accused by the opposition of mishandling a savage drought that has left millions hungry, and the two sides neck and neck in the polls.   The drought has been one of the worst on record. As many as 2.6 million people are “acutely food insecure”, and aid agencies fear almost one million more could be at risk by August, with the remote regions of Marsabit and Turkana possibly sliding into "emergency levels of hunger... one step away from famine."   The long rains, which usually start in April and end in June, were far below normal, with some counties recording 75 percent less rainfall than on average. Kenya’s food security is almost entirely reliant on rain-fed agriculture.   This has had a disastrous impact on the harvest. A UN Food and Agriculture Organization report in April said production of maize, Kenya’s staple crop, was down by up to 70 percent on the average of the last five years.   As a result, food prices have rocketed. Unga, or maize flour, was up by roughly 50 percent, milk 12 percent, and sugar 21 percent, affecting household consumption across the country.   But some argue the problem is not the drought alone: The crisis has been exacerbated by poor decision-making by the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta.   “Kenya doesn't have a famine or a food crisis but a governance challenge with multiple symptoms,” John Githongo, a well-known Kenyan anti-graft activist, told IRIN.   ​“The food crisis, cost of living, rampant theft and pillage, and insecurity do pose a threat to Kenyatta's position at the election,” he said. “There is a generalised malaise and disgust with the lies Jubilee [the ruling party] has told.”   Fumble   Detractors claim this was a crisis Kenya, as a middle-income country, should have been prepared to handle.   In January, Deputy President William Ruto predicted that maize stocks would last until June. But early warning systems were forecasting depressed rainfall, and the government was forced into an embarrassing U-turn a month later on its policy of not importing grain to meet the growing crisis.   “In terms of the problem and preparation for the upcoming crisis, there wasn't any preparation,” said Kwame Owino, head of the the Institute of Economic Affairs, a Kenyan think tank.   “That tells you, on that basis alone, it's not too unfair to say that this is incompetence.”   The government responded only in May to consumer anger, introducing price controls and subsidies on maize flour, and lifting tariffs on maize imports. Voters will get to decide at the polls on 8 August whether it was too little too late.   The opposition National Super Alliance, or NASA, led by Raila Odinga, has not been slow to politicise the issue, blaming the government for fumbling the crisis. The hashtag #ungarevolution is trending on Twitter – capitalising on the government’s discomfort.   “The food inflation crisis works in NASA’s favour,” Kenneth Kambona, Odinga’s food security adviser told IRIN. “It is any government’s responsibility, first and foremost, to feed its people.”   The government is trying to limit the damage. Agriculture cabinet secretary Willy Bett – who the opposition has called on to resign – has promised the maize shortage will be contained within the coming month.   In the meantime, the introduction of subsidised price-controlled unga is bringing some relief for consumers. The  government stepped in after record retail prices in May, pegging the cost of a two-kilo bag at 90 shillings (around $0.86) – down by almost 50 percent.   But some small shop owners like Edmund Wabwile are struggling. "Because of shortages, we’re forced to hike prices so that we as shop owners can get something,” he told IRIN. “Instead of selling at 90 shillings, we're selling at 95 or 100.”   [...]

The rocky road to Kenya's elections

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 16:52:55 +0000

In a remarkable, if coincidental, series of events across Kenya last weekend, nine people were beheaded by suspected al-Shabab militants, the internal security minister suddenly died, the main opposition leader was hospitalised with food poisoning, and the president appeared to accuse the judiciary of trying to delay general elections scheduled to take place in less than a month. The events underscore the immense challenges Kenya faces in combatting extremism and maintaining national security, as well in ensuring the elections – in which voters will choose a president, his deputy, members of parliament and of local government bodies – will be free, fair, credible, and peaceful. Read: Kenya reconciliation faces major election test On Friday night, nine people were beheaded in Jima village in the coastal county of Lamu, in the latest of a slew of attacks allegedly carried out by al-Shabab. In response, the government evacuated local residents and imposed a 90-day curfew in parts of the county, as well as in the two neighbouring counties of Garissa and Tana River. Four officers had already been killed by al-Shabab on Wednesday two kilometres away, at the Pandaguo police post. The previous week, on 27 June, in Lamu East constituency, eight people – four police officers, and four students – were killed when a police vehicle ran over an explosive device suspected to have been planted by al-Shabab. Death of a minister The curfew was imposed by the new interim secretary [minister] for the internal security and coordination, Fred Matiang’i, on his first full day on the job. On Saturday morning, his predecessor, Joseph Nkaissery, was pronounced dead after collapsing at his home and being taken to hospital. An investigation into his death has been opened. Leaders from all parties mourned the loss. Nkaissery, the most senior security official in government, was a highly divisive and powerful figure in Kenyan politics. He had served as a general in the armed forces in the 1970s, before joining politics, and led Kenya’s counter-terrorism efforts as minister. He was in charge of the response to the Garissa University attack in which 148 students were killed in April 2015 and admitted that vital intelligence was ignored and that various security forces failed to coordinate effectively. Nkaissery also stood accused of failing to properly respond to allegations of serious misconduct and human rights violations by police forces during counter-terrorism operations. He threated to arrest journalists who reported the alleged extra-judicial killing of a female terrorism suspect in December 2015. The late minister was also a major force in government efforts to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab camps, in some cases for decades, despite continuing insecurity in Somalia. His death is a major loss to President Uhuru Kenyatta – who is running for re-election – and creates a vacuum in national security as well as within politics among the Maasai community. He was the most senior Maasai in government, and a leader within the community. The day before his death he had been on the campaign trail with Kenyatta. Kenyatta attacks judiciary Amid intense campaigning by Kenya’s two main political groupings, hostile rhetoric and accusations of unfairness by Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are intensifying. The latest opinion polls released last week showed Kenyatta maintaining a five-point lead over Odinga. But this gap has narrowed in recent months – not long ago it stood at 30 points. The president and the chief justice traded barbs on Sunday over a recent case relating to ballot papers for the presidential election. Two days earlier, the High Court nullified the tender for printing the papers, which had been awarded by direct procurement to Dubai-based Al- Ghurair Printing & Publishing, to which the opposition says Kenyatta has ties. The[...]

Damned if you fish, damned if you don’t: No good choices on Lake Victoria

Tue, 04 Jul 2017 11:27:02 +0000

Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, has been affected by years of mismanagement, environmental changes, and a burgeoning population. Desperate families use illegal nets and poison to catch fish, piracy is on the rise, and alcoholism is rife. As fish stocks dwindle, more and more families struggle to make ends meet. Some fishermen still venture out onto the overfished waters. Among them is Juma Otieno, a Kenyan with no land to farm. In order to make a living, he travels in search of Nile perch to the island of Migingo, ownership of which is contested by Kenya and Uganda. Over the seven years he’s been working there, he’s become increasingly worried he’ll soon have no means of making an income. On the other side of the lake, on Uganda’s Ssese Island, Joseph Kibelu has long given up fishing and is now producing palm oil. His trees produce good fruit, he harvests and sells regularly, and he’s now able to educate his children. However, the destruction of the island’s natural forests to make way for palms has altered weather patterns and the seasons have become less predictable. Compounding this is the poor soil that demands a lot of fertiliser; something he knows can have a direct and fatal effect on the fish-breeding grounds that surround the islands. Threats to communities that traditionally depend on fishing are also explored in this multimedia story about Kenya's Lake Turkana.  No good choices on Lake Victoria width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Benj Binks Fishing on Lake Victoria No good choices on Lake Victoria lake_victoria.jpg Benj Binks Video Climate change Food Lake Victoria IRIN Africa East Africa Kenya Tanzania [...]

In Kenya’s drylands, education is an insurance policy, but only for some

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:11:32 +0000

Livestock is so central to the economy, food, and status of pastoralists in Kenya’s northern drylands that formal education has traditionally taken second place to the role children play in tending to cows, goats, and sheep. But with climate change increasingly seen as imperiling livelihoods, many pastoralists are now taking the longer view and regard education as a sort of insurance policy. And yet the severity of the current drought affecting much of east Africa, coupled with a long interruption in the provision of free meals, has led to a drop in school attendance. “The drought has become too harsh,” said Atiir Lokwawi, a 42-year-old mother who lives in the village of Kalokutanyang, in Kenya’s Turkana County. “Animals are dying in huge numbers. We restock, but before we stabilise, drought comes and takes away our investment.” Lokwawi’s husband travelled to Uganda to graze most of the family’s herd. Of the 40 goats he left behind, 35 have died because of the drought. “It is good if at least one child goes to school,” said Lokwawi. “Educating our children is also another way to earn money – animals alone cannot help us survive,” she said, explaining that of her seven children, only one, a 15-year-old girl, is currently attending school. “It will take time for our children to go to school and get jobs, but at least there is hope that, someday, someone will be there for us.” To help make ends meet, Lokwawi makes charcoal and attends evening classes at a local mobile school. “I burn charcoal to invest in my daughter’s education. The government pays for her fees, but I have to buy her books, pen, and uniforms. She is my hope, my only family hope,” said Lokwawi, adding that she would like her daughter to become a doctor. Another of her daughters was married off, bringing the family a substantial dowry of livestock. But most of these animals also perished. Teaching adaptation Christine Tukei, a teacher at Kalokutanyang’s mobile primary school, said education for pastoralists “needs to go beyond the [national] curriculum. “It needs to add value and incorporate their lifestyle. It is vital to help communities prepare for and respond to impacts of climate change while promoting a sustainable way of life.” The mobile school has about 100 students: roughly two thirds youths aged between nine and 17, and one third adults aged between 35 and 42. Classes take place between 8 and 10 pm, as during daytime the children are usually tending to livestock herds while the adults make and sell charcoal. The ravages of the drought have led Tukei to add adaptation strategies to what she teaches. “We discuss the importance of early destocking, minimising herds to manageable levels; the importance of investing in education; and alternative businesses. I also teach about preserving meat with salt as they slaughter some animals and store for food; and about good health and sanitation,” she explained. Disastrous drought The current drought, which started in 2016 and which the Kenyan government deems a national emergency, has dried up water resources in half of the country’s 47 counties, leaving an estimated three million people lacking access to clean water, according to OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body. “Recurrent droughts have destroyed livelihoods, triggered local conflicts over scare resources and eroded the ability of communities to cope,” OCHA said, noting that prices of staple food had risen considerably. The drought has sent rates of global acute malnutrition soaring: in Turkana North sub-county, the rate is 30.7 percent, more than double the emergency threshold. Across Kenya, up to 3.5 million people are expected to need food assistance in August, up from 2.6 million in February, according to the UN’s World Food Programme. Large numbers of livestock deaths have been reported in[...]

Kenya reconciliation faces major election test

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 17:02:21 +0000

Towns like Langwenda in Kenya’s central Nakuru County still bear the scars of the post-election violence that rocked the country a decade ago. With new polls just six weeks away, could history repeat itself or have the lessons been learnt? An estimated 1,200 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced during the disputed 2007/08 presidential election, with most of the violence errupting in the central Rift Valley between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, the two largest ethnic groups in the region. The area has been the centre of bitter land disputes since independence in 1964, with Kikuyu “settlers” accused of appropriating Kalenjin ancestral land. As Kenya heads towards elections on 8 August, the derelict houses in Langwenda, a small community in Nakuru’s Mau Forest, are stark reminders of that troublesome past that still haunts the country. “When the violence started, people came to Langwenda and looted this house,” recalled Christopher Towett, a Kalenjin. “They stole the sofa, the television, and other household possessions, and [they] stole our cattle.” Towett escaped with his family and neighbours into the forest because it was too dangerous to stay put and risk Kikuyu violence. As Kalenjin retaliatory attacks on Kikuyu properties across the valley intensified, he returned to find his house reduced to rubble and his life shattered. Since then, as part of a government initiative to resettle those displaced by the violence, Kikuyu communities were bought plots of land in Langwenda. “Kikuyus were compensated and given land here, but we [the Kalenjins] haven’t seen anything,” protested Towett. “I had to rebuild my house with my own money.” Despite this, Towett believes the two communities can co-exist. His son has married a Kikuyu, and children from the two communities play together. “We learnt from the past and we’re very careful now,” he told IRIN. “The Kalenjins and Kikuyus are now at peace. We don’t want to spill blood again.” Mutual suspicion But is Towett’s confidence misplaced? After all, the differences between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin are long-standing, going right back to when European settlers forced the pastoralist Kalenjin from their land and brought in outside labourers, many of them Kikuyu, to work their estates. At independence, some of the land was redistributed, with Kikuyus the main beneficiaries. In the late 1980s, the Kalenjin-led, single-party government encouraged attacks on Kikuyu communities, seen as the bedrock of the opposition pro-democracy movement. Tensions have been stirred by politicians ever since. “The land issue, which is always [at the heart of] the structural violence in Kenya, has not been dealt with at all,” said Maurice Amollo, who heads the Kenyan Election Violence Prevention Programme for the international aid agency Mercy Corps. “There’s a lot of talk, but if you ask me what has concretely been done to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself, my honest answer is nothing.” The Kenyan government and civil society groups did undertake grassroots reconciliation efforts after the shock of the 2007/08 violence, but a political alliance between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin in the 2013 election papered over these cracks. That “lulled many into believing historic foes were on an ‘irreversible’ course to overcoming animosities,” said a recent report by the International Crisis Group. “Yet Rift Valley reconciliation remains superficial,” it noted. Amollo agrees. “This tension has been suppressed, but not eliminated,” he said. “I think that people are confusing a lack of violent confrontation between the two communities with peace.” Pastor Joseph Maritim, a church leader in Keringet, a majority Kalenjin town in Nakuru, told IRIN that mutual suspicion still runs deep. “Politicians stand for t[...]

A way of life under threat in Kenya as Lake Turkana shrinks

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:29:07 +0000

The last native speaker of the Elmolo language reportedly died sometime in the 1970s. By then, only a few hundred Elmolo remained, eking out a living on Kenya’s southern waters of Lake Turkana as they always had, drinking its brackish waters and fishing for catfish, tilapia, and Nile perch. Thanks to intermarriage with other tribes and adopting the Samburu language, the number of Elmolo has today increased to a few thousand. But their long-term survival remains far from certain, thanks to a new threat. Lake Turkana is the largest desert lake in the world and has existed in some form for nearly four million years. Ancient hominids, like the contemporaries of Turkana Boy – the nearly complete skeleton of homo erectus discovered in nearby Nariokotome – fished and lived along its shores. Now, the lake itself, along with the populations that depend on it, are increasingly vulnerable. Nearly 90 percent of its freshwater inflow comes from the Omo River across the border in Ethiopia. Last year, the government in Addis Ababa unveiled Africa’s tallest hydroelectric dam and announced plans to build a series of water-hungry plantations along the Omo. Nearly 30,000 hectares have already been cleared in the Lower Omo for sugar plantation. Those projects threaten to strangle Turkana’s water supply, and have the potential to devastate the livelihoods of nearly 300,000 people in Kenya who rely on the lake for food. Because of this – and the largely manmade nature of the potential crisis – Lake Turkana is now being referred to as an East African Aral Sea. Communities like the Elmolo are already experiencing changes. Since 2015, Lake Turkana’s waters have dropped by 1.5 meters, according to satellite data collected by the US Department of Agriculture and published this year by Human Rights Watch. A recent study by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) showed declining catches, both due to changes in water levels and overfishing. For the Elmolo and others who depend on these waters, that means less fish to bring home to their families. “Sometimes you get one perch, and after two or three months, you get another,” said Lpindirah Lengutuk, a 32-year-old Elmolo fisherman who spent most of his life on the lake’s jade waters. “The fish have moved. We don’t know what has taken the fish.” The situation is only expected to get worse. Lpindirah Lengutuk, Fisherman | Lake Turkana, Kenya width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Benedict Moran//IRIN "If there is no lake, people die" - fisherman Lpindirah Lengutuk   Grounded fleets and brewing violence Should water inflow of Lake Turkana reduce to below that lost by evaporation, its sensitive ecosystem could be changed permanently, scientists say. In the worst-case scenario, the lake could be divided into two lakes, with a smaller section breaking off and eventually becoming a lifeless, salty pool of algae. “The salinity of the lake would likely increase to the level that it cannot support freshwater organisms that live in the lake,” said John Malala, a senior research officer at KMFRI. “Many productive areas will definitely be lost.” Shifting rainfall patterns due to climate change and cyclical drought are making the situation even worse. This year, much of Kenya, including the areas that straddle Lake Turkana, is experiencing a devastating drought, prompting the national government to declare a national disaster. In Turkana County, more than 60 percent of wells are dry, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority. Thousands of dead livestock li[...]