March 14th 2011- the 3rd year I am involved in the Day of Action against Dams, for River, Water and Life; a cry that is echoed around the world, by scientists, environmentalists, communities affected both directly and indirectly. Despite these cries, and successes that have come out of the cries and struggles, we still face serious challenges. The hydropower industry is planning to release a new protocol that could green wash hydropower and undermine the rights of dam-affected communities to participate in development decisions. Southern financiers, like Brazil and China, are increasingly funding dams that threaten some of the world’s most amazing rivers, which have supported communities for generations.
In Turkana, the struggle continues, and even when our bodies are fatigued and our eyes shutting; the pain of mothers when they speak out, the cry of grandmothers during public barazas, and the strain and the fatigue in the eyes of old men as they narrate their continued struggle for resources, the depletion of these resources and the associated conflict gives me a stronger resolve to march on. Three years on and we still can’t understand why our own government is party to aproject that further increases the poverty levels and marginalizes a people by destroying their livelihoods, and exacerbating conflict. While the climatic changes risks making them climate refugees, our own government whose role is to protect its people instead plays the role of creating internally displaced persons (IDPs).
For many in the world, water simply flows from a faucet, and there is little about it beyond this point of contact. Man has lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports. While water is one of the most basic of all needs which we cannot live for more than a few days without it, most people take water for granted. We waste water needlessly and don't realize that clean water is a very limited resource. More than 1 billion people around the world have no access to safe, clean drinking water, and over 2.5 billion do not have adequate sanitation service. Over 2 million people die each year because of unsafe water and most of them are children! Yet more than one-half of the world's major rivers are being dammed and seriously depleted and polluted, degrading and poisoning the surrounding ecosystems, thus threatening the health and livelihood of people who depend upon them.
So we stand in Solidarity with the dam affected communities, we urge you to join thousands of dam-affected people and their allies around the world under a unifying message of "Our Rivers, Our Rights." We stand in solidarity with water justice activists around the world mobilizing to assert the right to water and sanitation for people and communities, to preserve water as part of an ecological trust and to ensure that water is democratically controlled by the people in the public interest.
As we joined the rest of the world on 22nd March celebrating the 18th World Water Day, with the theme; Water for Cities; we call out for a global acknowledgement we have the ability to provide clean water for every man, woman and child on the Earth. What has been lacking is the collective will to accomplish this. What are we waiting for? The quality of water and the quality of life in all its infinite forms are critical parts of the overall, ongoing health of this planet of ours. The hardest part of any big project is to begin. We have begun. We are underway. We have a passion. We want to make a difference. This is the commitment we all need to make to the world now and together our voices are stronger
Sandy beach at Lake Turkana. Photo © Aaron Lehmann
After planning but get delayed to travel across the lake to the eastern shores, I set off by boat from Kalokol on Wednesday at 1900hours, quite late that even the boat owner had cancelled the day’s plans assuming that because of the delay I would not be traveling. Filled with the desire to be part of the festivities and having missed friends and colleagues across the lake, I decided to set off as far as we could go without disturbance by the strong winds and the dark night. We docked at Iyoro land, where we got some rest and had something to eat with a plan to set off at 3am. At a location with no possible network connection, the coxswain has a phone model techno that somehow had some network connection, allowing me to make a call to inform Makambo that we will not make it tonight so that he does not get worried due to the dangerous waves of Lake Turkana.
We set off at 5am and fought the strong winds till Nakwakolea where yet again the winds got too strong that we had to dock. As we were getting off the boat the fishermen we found there were explaining to me about a car that was behind the rocks and I assumed it was just another car driving from Moite, and I am surprised by Bishar who was considerate enough to come pick us up. I was excited to see him because I would otherwise have to sit there for another 2-3 hours waiting for the winds to go down before going on with the trip. We loaded our luggage into the car, fixed a puncture and set off for Loiyangalani.
First stop Abdi's home, where his mother Mama Zainab had prepared for us a huge meal, as always I joke that she is on a fattening exercise. We eat and freshen up and now it is time to hit the town where there is a buzz of activity as residents prepared for the cultural festival, and visitors started streaming in to the attend the festival that has become an annual attraction in the lake side town on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana.
Young residents 'embedded' in the action. Photo © Aaron Lehmann
For the last three years, the cultural festival was known as the Loiyangalani Cultural Festival, this year to recognize the entire lake basin, the beauty, culture and ecosystem, the festival was named the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival. With the arrival of the German Ambassador along with the embassy staff and visitors, the festive mood was evident, song and dance in various corners of the town, women lined up selling jewelry, and you cannot leave out the busy bodies of the town, posing as tour guides and never lacking some curio, fish bone necklace or even a story to sell, commonly called cess collectors of the town and usually very charming young men.
Friday morning and the visitors start with a tour of the Elmolo village and visit to the shrines, and the planes carrying the Members of Parliament is expected to land at noon but typical of politicians they make a detour to Laisamis, a meet the people tour and they arrive at 2pm, donkeys grazing around the airstrip stroll on the runway hindering the plane from landing. Nakeno, an active member of the Loiyangalani community quickly jumps onto a motor bike and goes to chase off the donkeys, clearing the runway for the plane to land. The MPs are met by jubilant traditional dancers, of course singing songs of praise in the various languages; elmolo, Rendille, Samburu and Turkana, with the Turkana dancers stealing the attention by carrying the politicians. The song and dance continue as the MPs get on to the tour truck and are driven off to Oasis for some food and refreshments, all the while I thought how interesting it would be to cut the government expenditure by bundling MPs in one bus or truck as has been shown during their last trip to the Hague.
After the Sundowner at the Museum, the activity moves to the cultural village where we had been preparing for a play which was the outcome of a Resource Use Assessment funded by the German and French Embassies and supported by the Zeitz Foundation. Young men and ladies had come together to use theatre as a communication tool for social transformation focusing on environmental justice, resource rights and community participation. This led to a "fish bowl" discussion that engaged her highness the Ambassador and the political elite in a community setting, of course the discussions were best judged by the locals who had found the play intriguing by how well the actors had taken day to day issues and put it so well theatrically. And as the town goes to sleep I am saddened by the lack of any late night dances, except for some little singing in the village where some community members spent the night.
With a quiet morning, except for rehearsals here and there, and arrival of the Gabbra and Daasanach, it is a day to show case culture, through the different manyattas, song and dance and the Gabbra steal a part of the show through showcasing the slaughter and preparation of goat meat, and as the dances go on, and sensing from the show stopper of the first day, the Turkana's dance is the last dance and they carry on as a side event capturing the media attention. The events go on, ending with catwalk of the different ethnic groups.
Heat of the moment: Dancing in Turkana can be a 'hot' affair. Photo © Aaron Lehmann
The night was wrapped up by the same team of actors showcasing their various talents as journalists and actors, singers and dancers and the dancing brought the house down, with both young and old joining in and on this day even we who typically spend days and nights working for justice and rights within the lake basin, took time, got on top of the car and watched as we celebrated our culture, our land, our identity.
Early next morning, we bid Loiyangalani farewell, touched deeply by the generosity of my colleagues and friends who over time have grown to be my Loiyangalani family. As we thank all the supporters of the Lake Turkana Festival, and especially the German Embassy, we need to keep on creating our own celebrations, to appreciate ourselves, our hard work, integrity and the social fabric that gives us our identity as the Lake Turkana communities.
On May 2, 2011, a raid took place leading to the death of over 50 Turkana’s and 4 Dasaanach, and whilst the accusations and counter accusations went on, many of us could not ideally pin point what the cause was, while some termed loss of lives as cultural practices. The stories were narrated and narrations changed as the media highlighted this to the rest of the nation and the world, this was just but one of the massacres that have become part of the daily narrations within Turkana. With the various demonstrations taking place, discussions hit the corridors of power and there were parliamentary sessions to discuss the massacre in Todonyang, we had some security personnel brought over who pitched camp at Ng’itira, the border of Kenya and Ethiopia.
In the last few days I have taken myself back to the Todonyang incident and the noise that came out of that massacre, it was enough noise to get Right Hon the Prime Minister to fly up to the area with a high powered security team, it got top level ministers a meeting in Ethiopia. But were the issues of contention discussed?
The illegal encroachment of the Ethiopian Daasanach within Kenyan territory and causing mayhem to Kenyan citizens is first an issue of concern among the local residents. Some among them had once believed they could stay within our borders because we are pastoralists and have even inter married, and trade among each other but now the dynamics have changed. After the attacks, a team of security personnel, elected and administrative leaders toured the area and found the beacons have been brought down……mmmmmmhhhhh. This raises a lot of questions, because I would not see a reason why a nomadic pastoralist would want to bring down a beacon that he has no idea what it is and why it is there.
It is viewed that there is a positive development with the fact that the leaders of the two countries have recently been holding talks aimed at making their borders more secure, with the management of the transboundary resources; Omo-Turkana basin being a key part of these discussions, yet a very important piece of information regarding the large sugarcane plantations along the Omo River by the Ethiopian Government seem to have been ignored. From research, sugar cane plantations use lots of fertilizer and with such huge tracts it means all the phosphorus flows down to Lake Turkana leading to an irreversible catastrophe and exacerbated conflict.
So when I think about it, with a receding lake – water conflict, an increased delta which lies within the Kenyan border; a breeding ground for fish which is an area of conflict with the Dasaanach claiming ownership, current incitement by traders who provide a market for the Ethiopian Dasaanach, we now ask is Todonyang a land of contention thus the bringing down of the beacons?, leading to discussions of experts coming to clarify border lines (and we all remember the same discussions with Migingo). And with the security personnel moving away from the border and to the AP’s camp located behind the community residence within the Church compound, I am caught up in this quagmire wondering with all these conflict, and continued tensions, Todonyang residents still displaced by fear and living in Loarengak, a belief that our government has an obligation to us as Citizens of the Republic of Kenya, and an available intelligence unit, the Todonyang residents constantly crying “Inyo esaki nang’olenyang nayok na lo Kenya aniyok” ( what does our government really want from us), "Anipekesakete akiyok ngoni kimiek kiyoko ng'ipakae lukec" (If they don't want to protect us, at least let them protect their borders) and I ask Who is fooling who on the dealings along the greater Lake Turkana Basin?