World · August 2, 2022

Kenya: drought and rising grain prices, fuel insecurity

The Covid plague is still in the air suffocated by dust, the ground is cooked by drought. Murder and misery would seem biblical if they weren’t so modern.

Indeed, the Sahel and the Maghreb have experienced growing desertification and, with it, frenetic humanitarian crises and growing violence, especially by Islamic extremists.

In Kenya, the killings in the north do not (yet) have a neo-religious thrust. But growing insecurity, in a country that has traditionally been seen as the stable hub of diplomacy and humanitarianism in the war-torn Horn of Africa, is fueled by many of the same factors that inflamed the Sahel.

The murder of dozens of people over the past two years, including two chiefs in Marsabit, 160 miles north of the city of Isiolo, and eight others in an attack last May not far from the regional capital, has resulted in fierce repression by of the Kenyan police and other forces.
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After a search in Marsabit County in June, police captured 200 machine guns, automatic rifles and other weapons as well as around 3,000 bullets.

Just like in West Africa, Kenya’s problems are compounded by climate change.

Kenya is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, according to the government and the United Nations. More than four million people are “food insecure” and 3.3 million cannot get enough water to drink.

Across the Horn of Africa, that figure jumps to 11.6 million.

Ileret, on the northern shore of Lake Turkana, is notoriously arid. But local nomadic herders have managed to exist, even thrive, in difficult conditions for centuries. Their herds of goats and camels are periodically fattened from fresh pastures that emerge from the savannah when it occasionally rains.

For more than two years this is no longer the case. Local officials from the Ileret district told CNN that about 85 percent of the cattle here died. The surviving herds are brought south in search of pasture.

In any case, those who are left behind have almost nothing to live on.

Akuagok is a widow living in a very flat (collection of nomadic huts) about half an hour north of Ileret. He keeps some of the desert wind but little dust from the lungs of his six children.

He survives on a meal every three days, which is dependent on being able to sell coal to Ileret to buy unground grain that his older children grind by hand with a stone and then mix with water in chapattis

“I eat when I can. Mostly I don’t eat every day. Sometimes when I sell coal I can eat maybe once or twice in three days,” he says.

His youngest, Arbolo, is two years old. He complains when he is lying down for a height measurement on an awareness mission from Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), but is listless when the measurement of the circumference of his upper arm appears red on the MSF tape which measures the extent of the malnutrition. Red means he is severely malnourished, what most people would say is “starving”.

A malnourished child measured in Ileret, northern Kenya.

Members of Akuagok’s tribe, the Daasanach, crowded around her shouting their own stories of loss: the loss of friends due to illnesses possibly caused by hunger, the loss of animals, and how now, even when they earn very little money, they don’t. it’s never enough to get by

Here, in Ileret, the cost of food has tripled since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year. Ukraine produced 11.5% of the world corn for export and 17% of the world corn export market. Cornmeal, known as ugali, is Kenya’s staple food. Across Kenya, Ugali’s price has at least doubled for most people.
Even if it rains in Ileret, Akuagok’s life won’t get much better. She no longer has pets and food prices are unlikely to drop much. The United Nations World Food Program, which could intervene, usually gets 40% of its grain from Ukraine. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is asking for $ 172 million in aid for the Horn of Africa to avoid the catastrophe. But as the war in Ukraine continues, that figure is sure to rise.
A mother breastfeeds her malnourished baby in Ileret, northern Kenya.

Kenya has already experienced illegal attacks and land invasions. But for many, even people accustomed to seeing their ethnic group violently graze or raid cattle, there has been a change for the worse in Kenya.

Lemarti Lemar, a leader of the Samburu community and well-known musician, says he has lost “at least 30” head of cattle to the drought.

“People are simply losing everything they own. If a boy loses 50 head of cattle, that’s a loss of $ 25,000 or more. But more dangerous is that young people. morano (the warriors) have no more cattle to look after. They get hold of illegal weapons, they have nothing to do. They stopped listening to the elderly and some became gangsters, “he told CNN.

“We are losing control,” he added.

Kenya will face general elections in the middle of next month. The process often raises fears of instability in the country and, if the results are contested, the potential for political violence could increase.

In the marginalized communities of the northern counties, urban politicians have paid homage to the horrors unfolding. The government stopped and quickly restored fuel subsidies in July. But as Kenya’s population is largely concentrated in the center and south of the country, northern insecurity was not a major election issue.

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But this could be imposed on the central government after the elections, as shepherds looking for pasture now bring camels to graze the hedges in Isiolo.

In search of pastures, they invaded natural parks and sanctuaries, bringing them closer and closer to the tourist attractions that are one of Kenya’s major export sources.

No effort has been made to chase them away, but the heavy toll of their cattle on the landscape means they will struggle to recover in the coming rains, if they ever come.

Past experience across Africa has shown that drought combined with overgrazing means that when the rains fall, it washes away the topsoil in large quantities. Once that happens, there is nothing left but desert, after a few years.

“Whenever you find people hungry and with no other options, you have a security situation. (In) northern Kenya we are bordered by South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, which are still in the grip of conflict spewing small arms in this ecosystem, so you have a lot of weapons up here and a growing hunger, so yeah, I’d say it’s a growing security problem, “said Frank Pope, CEO of Save the Elephants charity, based in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. .

Pope’s organization also works with elephants in Mali, West Africa, most of which, he warns now, were savannah not long ago, but now only support “elephants, goats and rebels.”

The combination of drought, rising food and fuel prices due to a distant war, a growing population and civil wars on Kenya’s gates is an incendiary mix.

And this could be bad news for humanitarian operations in neighboring Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, which depend on Kenyan ports, and relative calm as a base of operations and an essential location for logistics.

And as the effects of climate change take hold in Kenya, as children cope with malnutrition and their mothers perish, exacerbated by the desperate battle for the survival of nomads and shepherds, this once stable region is showing little sign that it can make it on its own. .