Thursday, July 14, 2005

Northern Kenya Should Be Invited Into the 21st Century

Onyango Oloo Adds His Ndururu Saba to the Discussion on the Marsabit Terror...


It has been mind-numbing and very painful, slapped in the face by the brutal honesty of gory images of northern Kenyan children wincing and writhing in agony, oblivious to their bloody survival epics told and retold over and over and over and over again to familiar faces and strangers armed with all the formidable weaponry of the modern mass media personel on assignment-covering yet another African "famine/cholera/coup/ quake"(as in the only things which happen in Africa are natural calamities, epidemics, coups and tribal conflicts) story.

Most Kenyans who are not native to the northern Kenyan region have never ventured anywhere near Marsabit; few Kenyans are likely to accomplish this feat in their lifetimes.

Yet yesterday, today and the day before the communities of North Horr and other divisions and locations of this, one of the largest of Kenyan districts have achieved a very transitory super star status in mass media reportage.

Suddenly Kenya is among all the major international stories: a major Reuters story; picked up by CNN; broadcast on Al Jazeera; a staple on the BBC; certainly not ignored by Prensa Latina;deemed to be worthy of inclusion on Japan Today;and not too obscure for the New Zealand Herald or for that matter, Ireland Online or the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian or a feed from UPI on Science Daily as well as Special Broadcast from Australia.

Of course prominent coverage in local Kenyan outlets such as this piece by the Nation's Muchemi Wachira and this second one by the same journalist and equally strong coverage by the East African Standard team is something that will remain ongoing for quite sometime.

Like vultures picking at the ribs of a nearly dead quarry, the world's media has zeroed in on a remote Kenyan community of communities that has been systematically ignored by colonial and neo-colonial governments for over one hundred years.

Today, North Horr, Marsabit serves as the back-drop to remind those recent Live 8 attendees, enthusiasts and television watchers that Africa is still a very dark, primitive, poor and tribal continent; a place where villagers will slit the throats of primary school children in a desperate tussle over water and other scarce resources.

Sure, it is important that the television cameras, minidisc recorders and uniball scrawls on dog-eared note-pads coalesce to bear witness and capture the latest episode of humankind's propensity for internal inhumanity.

Still, from where I perch in the city whose name some people have insisted refers to the "Royal Mountain", I am convinced that there is more at play than just hunger for the big story; the thirst for a scoop; the thrill of a spectacular photograph; the desire to dispatch a blockbuster breaking story....

Perhaps I will revert back to this sub-theme, but first of all let us confront, head on, the naked act of TERRORISM that has been taking place in northern Kenya over the last couple of days.

A group of marauding men, ostensibly from across the border with Ethiopia went on a murderous rampage targeting children and any other defenceless civilian who met their definition of the "ethnic enemy" in this case, anybody who looked like a "Gabra".

We are told that this is a tribal conflict; we are told that this is an ancient ethnic feud over water and other resources; we are told many things which are definitely aspects of a very incomplete picture in my view.

It is true that there is animosty fostered between the Borana and Gabra- I was reading somewhere that even the appellation "Gabra" is a derogatory slur from the Borana meaning "inferior". Here is one source on Gabra identity- I cannot vouch for its veracity. When I was doing research for this essay I was fascinated to find that in the 21st century, Western Christian missionaries are still doing elaborate anthropological studies of various African "natives" with the intention of "winning them over for Christ." The Boranas, who are predominantly Muslim and traditional believers have not escaped from the eagle gaze of these Christian reconnaissance missions as you can see from this profile.

Rightfully so, the broad Kenyan civil society movement has lambasted the NARC regime for not doing enough to prevent or stem the violence or restore peace and calm.

I also concur with observers who see the Marsabit carnage as a spill over from the militarized ethnic conflicts raging in many parts of Ethiopia- and partly stemming from the national oppression of the majority Oromo people by successive Amhara and Tigray led ruling elites in our neighbour to the north- although I hasten to add that the complexity of the national question in Ethiopia is far beyond my ken and the scope of this current digital intervention. Here is a special UN report on the Boranas- of Ethiopia.

Bucking the prevailing trend (at least in online Kenyan discussion circles) I want to gaze beyond the specific atrocities to try and locate the REAL CULPRITS behind these extreme acts of ruthless and completely sadistic acts of terrorists who seem to have a special relish for maiming and butchering innocent kids.

By the way, I do not think there is much of a mystery to this puzzle.

All we have to do is to look at the 19th century make-shift dwellings that the northern people of Kenya are still condemned to squat in in these, the years of the 21st century.

Behind the death duels over access to water is the sad saga of communities struggling to stave off extinction because of the ravages of a globalized capitalist reality that has dictated the development of further underdevelopment in a context of regional uneven development and a Kenyan national context of neo-colonial marking time.

Let me translate the above paragraph into plain English:

Marsabit is still stuck in the 19th century. Pre-colonial and colonial socio-economic backward conditions define the lives of the desperately poor Gabra,Sakuye, Garri, Pokot, Borana, Rendille, Turkana, Somali and other northern Kenyan people. In the face of globalization and against the backdrop of 42 years of "non-Maendeleo" policies by the Kenyatta, Moi and now Kibaki neo-colonial regimes, why is ANYONE shocked at the constant "clashes" between the Turkana and the Pokot; the various intra- Somali clan fights and now the so called "ancient rivalry" between the Gabra and the Borana?

The biggest driving factor behind the terror is POVERTY and OFFICIAL STATE NEGLECT of northern Kenyan people by the ruling elites in Nairobi.

As long as these two factors prevail, there are destined to be even more vicious bloodbaths all over northern Kenya.

A contributing factor has been the fallout from the imperialist driven internal conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan that has left northern Kenya awash with deadly automatic weapons and former government soldiers and guerrillas turn brigands for survival. As long as regional peace, security and stability eludes the collective and respective leadership of the governments in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan etc, one so called ethnic conflict will flare up after another- now in Darfur at the Sudanese-Chad border; now in the environs of Lokichoggio on the Kenya-Uganda border; now in Mandera on the Kenya-Somalia border; now in Marsabit along the Ethiopian-Kenya border.

As long as the dream of African unity remains an illusory chimera, the artificial separation of ethnic communities across boundaries established in Berlin during the infamous "Scramble for Africa" will foster seeming "international incidents" between neighbouring countries that may even escalate into full-fledged armed conflicts between various African states.

That is why I am insisting that we transcend the sensationalism of the breaking story to focus on the reality that remains in Marsabit after all those foreign correspondent cameras have been packed and flown back, along with their owners, to the comfortable watering holes of Nairobi.

You know what is absolutely obscene, surreal and bizarre?

This desperately poor and yes, PRIMITIVE (in the scientific sense of being deliberately ignored by successive Kenyan governments to fester and wallow in backwardness when it could be bubbling with social development) pre-colonial backwater is the El Dorado for a very important group of elites who make a fabulous living off Kenya, her people and her unique landscapes, flora and fauna. I am talking of the RACIST leeches who still peddle the myth of an idyllic pristine pre-historic haven that North American, European, Japanese and other rich overseas tourists can sample on their "safaris" to Kenya. The very BACKWARDNESS and DESPERATE POVERTY of northern Kenya is what makes it lucrative and attractive to bevies of tour operators who make a killing marketing Kenya as a tourist destination.

Here is an excerpt from a tour company's glossy blurb:

To this day, East Africa remains the finest wildlife paradise on earth. Travelling through landscapes of staggering beauty, witnessing the fascinating traditional lifestyles of the indigenous peoples, living among the spectacular herds of game and sleeping under canvas beneath the vast African sky, stimulates all the senses; the never-to-be-forgotten experiences that provoke moments of profound reflection. As Mick Jagger wrote in our guest book, it “Took me back.”

Africa takes people back to their roots, to childhood dreams of striped horses, spotted cats, and giraffe, creatures impossible to believe until you see them in their natural habitat, in the landscape where our own kind began.

Robin Hurt Photo Safaris supports sustainable ecotourism and to this end we patronize community group ranches that promote conservation in such areas as Il Ngwesi and Namunyak in northern Kenya.

Both Kenya and Tanzania are acclaimed for their political stability; the people are helpful and friendly, and officials, polite and courteous.

A company called Tassia Kenya still refers to northern Kenya as the "Northern Frontier District" almost FIFTY YEARS after so called independence! This is an OUTRAGE!

Some of the outfits I am referring to include Origins Safaris, Adventures in Africa and Choices Wild.

Given the above scenario and the importance of the stash of foreign exchange earnings from tourism, do you think it is in the financial interests of the ruling elites in Nairobi and their overseas collaborators to erase this mythical picture of a northern Kenya populated by time frozen human artefecats subsisting in a pre-colonial cultural museum that feeds the racist nostalgia of assorted kaburus and their kindred kind trooping to Marsabit and other parts of northern Kenya as so many wildebeest in human form?

Do not answer the above question dear reader-it was rhetorical.

I am openly charging successive Kenyan governments of consciously maintaining the deplorable conditions in northern Kenya because it BENEFITS the elites who cash in on the tourist industry. One wonders why those millions earned from tourism has not been pumped back into the local economy.

Were it not for the efforts of the local people and well meaning humanitarian efforts by various faith based regional and international development agencies, the situation would be even more parlous than it is today.

Shame on Jomo Kenyatta!

Shame on Daniel arap Moi!

Shame on Mwai Kibaki!

Shame on the KANU kleptocracy!

Shame on the DP, LDP, Ford-Kenya, FORD-People, NPK, Safina and all contingents of the disastrous NARC slothocracy!

The blood of those innocent children massacred in Marsabit are on your fingers as well.

Let me pause for a few seconds to simmer down.

Breathe in. Breathe Out.


I feel a little better now.

To proceed.

Here is a snapshot of Marsabit District:

Marsabit district is one of thirteen districts in Kenya, which are predominantly occupied by pastoralists. With an area of 78.078 square kilometres, it is one of the largest in the country, covering about 13-14% of the total area of Kenya. Administratively, the district is divided into six divisions, which are further subdivided into locations and sub locations.

Marsabit has a population of about 150.000 people, giving a population density of about two persons per square kilometre. Pastoralism is the main preoccupation of 84% of the people. This means that they derive most of their subsistence from keeping domestic livestock in condition, where most of the feed that their livestock eat is natural forage rather than cultivated fodder and pastures (Baxter, 1992). There are three groups of pastoralists. First, there are the pastoral nomads, who rear livestock for their own use and for barter. They do not practice any agriculture or have any permanent places of abode, but they migrate in a seasonal manner. Second, there are semi-nomads who are engaged in unspecialised herding and farming which is mainly a mixed form of subsistence. The third form of pastoralism is practised by sedentary people whose main economic activity is farming. Their seasonal movements are limited in scale, involving only cowherds, shepherds or goatherds (Omar, 1994).

Climatically, Marsabit is one of the driest districts in Kenya. The mean annual rainfall ranges between 150mm in the low-lying areas to 800mm in the highlands (Ministry of Planning and National Development, 1994ab). Rainfall is erratic and unreliable. The low rainfall is one of the principal factors explaining why pastoralists occupy the district. An annual rainfall of 150mm is not sufficient for agriculture, and therefore the search for water and pasture is the main reason for the pastoralists' mobility. In essence, the animals migrate and the owners follow them (Omar, 1994). Due to this regular movement, it has always been very difficult to provide the pastoralists with the appropriate health (and others such as veterinary or educational) services, as these services are delivered by stationary facilities. As a result, the pastoralists have difficulties getting treatment for health problems.

Another complicating factor here is the relationship with the livestock they keep. The pastoralists' survival is inextricably intertwined with the existence of their stock. Most pastoralists consider their livestock not only a property but also a means of survival. The animals have a special role in their socio-cultural pattern, which regulates the society's existence. They are used as dowry during marriage, sacrificed during bereavement and offered during prayers. Due to these tight man-animal relations, it is difficult to separate out the special health care for people as one that is completely different from that of the livestock. This situation manifests itself clearly when we look at the factors which affect the pattern of diseases among pastoralists. Although the main cause of morbidity and mortality among pastoralists in Marsabit district are malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory tract infection, measles and tuberculosis, there are also particular disease problems resulting from their animal keeping life (Swift, 1988). For example, because of their proximity to animals, they suffer from diseases such as anthrax and brucellosis. Another consequence of their keeping livestock is that their diet is limited with milk and meat as a main ingredient. The nutritional value of this diet is mainly protein, causing problems of malnutrion.

I gleaned the above from this overview of concrete conditions in Marsabit. You can also find out more from this PDF document.

Unless and until the development challenges of northern Kenya are confronted and grappled with in an integrated, self-sustaining manner that places the local people directly in the driver's seat, at the centre of these initiatives, there is simply no way to prevent future outbreaks of violent terror that will contiue to be beamed to the outside world as merely the latest manifestation of African internecine and atavistic strife.

Incidentally, this is a NOT a plea for a TECHNOCRATIC invasion by battalions of pampered NGO do-gooder troops armed with proposals for this or that micro-credit project; this or that water-drilling project; this or that literacy campaign; this or that HIV/AIDS prevention scheme; this or that goat milking or camel butchering enterprise...

Northern Kenyan people no doubt need revenue generating, health, educational, gender sensitive, HIV thwarting and environmentally sustainable ventures and interventions.

But these are activities that often become an end in themselves.

No, the main thing that the northern Kenyan people need is local POLITICAL POWER, REGIONAL AUTONOMY, control over their LOCAL ECONOMY; a say in the lucrative TOURIST industry that exploits their backwardness and similar compoments of REAL PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY.

But we do know that northern Kenya is part of the Republic of Kenya- therefore this local political power, this regional autonomy, this control over the local economy, this say in the lucrative tourist industry and other components of real participatory democracy for northern Kenyan people MUST BE EXERCISED WITHIN AN OVERALL CONTEXT of a KENYAN NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC STATE.

So, guess what?

It is still the Katiba, Stupid, to paraphrase a popular political quip.

We all know that delegates from the Turkana, Samburu, Gabra, Borana,Garri, Sakuye, Rendille, Somali and other Kenyan peoples in the northern reaches of our country made valuable,detailed, well-researached contributions about how Kenyans in Marsabit, Maralal, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Ijara, Moyale etc would like to govern themselves. Together with Kenyans from Central Province, the Coast, other parts of Eastern province, Nyanza, the Rift Valley and Western, as Bomas delegates they spoke loud and clear about the Kenya they wanted.

Check out Chapter 14 on Devolution; Chapter 7 on Land and Property; chapter 8 on the Environment and Natural Resources and Chapter 17 on National Security.

Therefore, the continued STALLING on the passage of a democratic constitution for Kenya constitutes A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY and an accomplice to GENOCIDE as we can see from the outbreaks of violence, not just in Marsabit but throughout Kenya over land, water and other natural resources that has punctuated the sordid reign of error by Kibaki and his sidekicks.

You notice that I say hardly anything about beefing up the military or recruiting more police and paramilitary forces for North Horr and other so called "trouble spots" in northern Kenya.


This is NOT a "security" issue in

that narrow military and police sense.

It is not a "law and order" issue in that restricted DC, DO,chief and sub-chief sense.

But it is a NATIONAL SECURITY issue in the political sense.

The biggest source of insecurity in Kenya is poverty and lack of political democracy.

Let us attack the problem from the mizizi.

Feel free to shoot me for saying this.

Onyango Oloo


Kenya Democracy Project said...


i hear your anguish and sense of deep frustration.

however, i think the answer is very simple. the people of northern kenya have already articulated what they want-and i think it is a sense of taking ownership of their own destiny. as i am sure you know, one of the most intelligent politicians in kenya is dr bonaya godana, our former foreign minister who actually happens to be the mp for north horr, if i am not mistaken. i am pretty sure that there are a lot of similar brains all over northern kenya- as in other parts of the country.

one good place for all of us to start is to LISTEN, and listen intently to what the people of northern kenyan people are saying.

additionally, it is in the collective interests of kenya to ensure there is peace, stability and social development in ethiopia, sudan, somalia etc because as we know, many of the conflicts in the neighbouring countries spill over quite often to our country...

Onyango Oloo

Mzalendo said...

You are objective, and highly intelligent
I admire the passion you bring in analysis of Kenya's politics and socio economic issues.

You are in a very small my other friend Philip Ochieng

Keep Justice alive
God bless you