It’s been 3 years of struggle for environmental justice, resource rights and community rights on the Lake Turkana basin, and it’s been a journey of struggle and triumph, harsh reality and pure hope. Car breakdowns, fatigue that surpassed hunger, threats and abuses, appreciation and recognition, all these and more have been part of this journey. Along this journey I met lots of people both within and outside this country, those who opened up their homes to me, those who joined me in this struggle, those who shared their experiences, mentored me through the journey and those who shared their meals. The child who oblivious to what was going on came and tagged on my hand, giving me a sense that I was home, friends whose interaction on the social network no longer remained just virtual friends and I put a face to the name and later a persona to the name; Persons who become a very important part not only of my work but my life too, bearing the burdens and sharing the joys
It’s been a journey of burning the midnight oil, being bitten by insects, walking by the snakes, dancing and celebrating and appreciating the famous Lake Turkana fish; Nile perch or Tilapia, always making a great meal. Meetings with opponents that eventually saw people who sat across the room, cross over and offer support, friends who started in this struggle with me, move on and pick up struggles closer to home. It’s been a journey of local, national and international struggle, and it has equally been one of local, national and international celebration. And even if they were small celebrations, those are the ones that have given us the strength to face tomorrows challenge.
And with all this, there comes a time, when one realizes that one's accomplishments and unique journey through life have been made richer by the presence of those who have touched not only one's body, but also one's mind and one's spirit.
This lens is dedicated to the many gifted and gracious people who have left an incredible if not indelible impression upon me for which I shall be eternally grateful. To those who brought me into being, to those who have inspired me along my path, to those who have seen me angry and understood in silence, for those who I have ranted at and they excused me, to those who have seen me cry and allowed me to break down, to those who offered comfort and those that have joined me in the laughter, to those who have shared a meal, and shared the last drops of water. To those who have shown moral support, and in their own ways celebrated our victories or aired our concerns; To those who were there for me and taught me valuable lessons about what truly matters, to the loved ones who offered support, comfort, wisdom and motivation and most of all the love to make it all worthwhile.
I want to thank you all so much for being part of my journey and making this continued journey for social justice all so worthwhile.
There has been some welcome news on the Campaign front to Save and protect Lake Turkana, the basin and its ecosystem in recent days. First The UN’s World Heritage Committee recently called on the Ethiopian government and Chinese financiers to suspend the Gibe III Hydropower project to fulfill their obligation for the protection of Lake Turkana’s world Heritage Sites.
Additionally, on Wednesday last week, Kenyan Parliament unanimously passed a resolution that Government of Kenya should demand that Government of Ethiopia halt construction of Gibe 3 dam on River Omo; a transboudary river until a Comprehensive, Independent Environmental Social Impact Assessment be undertaken. News of the construction of Gibe 3 led to local, national and international campaigns, demonstrations and online petitions and meetings across the globe that led to withdrawal of funding by potential donors who were considering financing the dam.
For three years, we have been lobbying, and negotiating for our government to come out clearly on the concerns we had raised on the Gibe 3 dam construction on River Omo and its impacts on Lake Turkana’s ecosystem, its people’s livelihood and persistent security concerns. After years of raising issues and tirelessly sending information packets to Members of Parliament, across the political divide, a private members motion was brought to the House by Dr Wibur Otichillo and supported by MPs from the region and beyond.
These two events are very significant because pressure is not only coming from the community and international activists but also from the UN and our own policy makers through the parliament. As a dear friend always refers to this campaign as a Walk of a Thousand Miles; yes this is a walk of a Thousand miles and we are still far from the finish line. And while we see various instances of our government whose obligation is to protect its citizens, air them out as collateral damage and short changing them; In one sense it may seem like things are getting worse yet instances of hope and revolution are all around us; locally and nationally, where lake residents together with fellow Kenyans have taken to the streets demanding for government to recognize and protect their rights.
Despite these small victories, there is still much to be done. We need to put pressure on the government to understand our concerns are valid and founded on studies undertaken and the longer they play diplomatic games and bilateral agreements, they are playing Russian roulette with the lives of their citizens.
Sometimes our struggle seems endless, but little by little we are building a movement to defend our rights and search for environmental justice. Reflecting back on my first demonstration, lobby meeting, international presentation; I learned something new about myself and the world: “I am an individual, but also I am part of a community that pays more than its fair share to society. The struggle gives me a new meaning in life.
We are touched by the Kenyans for Kenyans initiative; a very commendable effort by fellow Kenyans. And while these efforts continue around the country, government and aid agencies need to appreciate why failed rains are triggering such recurrent crises, and they need to have both long-term and as short-term solutions in mind.
The malnutrition rates may be alarming, but they are not unique to 2011. Nor are the crowds of hungry, tired people that patiently gather each day around government buildings and distribution points. The adaptive strategies that had made life possible within the Turkana basin for so long have been gradually eroding for decades. The pastoralists of the greater Turkana basin had one strategy above all others for surviving drought; Mobility. As local water points dried up, they would move into Uganda, South Sudan or deeper into Kenya, to find water and grazing for their livestock. With livestock, pastoralists had food security. They could boost their diet with wild fruits and replenish lost livestock by raiding neighbouring tribes, and this way, survive the cycles of drought.
Today, with climate change, environmental degradation, water and pasture is being depleted many, many times faster than nature can replenish it, sharp increase in human population, proliferation of arms among all the neighboring communities coupled with change in lifestyle and limited mobility.
We cannot deny, Turkana certainly still needs development aid and still needs support. However, do we need aid and support for our development so that tomorrow we need even more, or so that tomorrow we need less? We need aid and support but we don’t want to need it forever; We want to have it so that We are enabled to stand on our own feet. I am not saying anything new. We want to be supported so that we can finally stand on our own.
The point is aid should not be one that creates dependence but one that ultimately leads to independence. Aid also has the disadvantage of eroding the dignity of the recipients; when you depend on somebody that person will dictate to you and will decide for you. Therefore, Turkana’s and the citizens of the greater Northern Kenya are no less human beings and deserve no less dignity than others have. Therefore they must struggle to reach a point where they are able to be masters and deciders of their own destiny and we wouldn’t achieve that by being dependent on aid and those who donate it. I am not talking about the date or the point at which aid should stop, but are more interested in the process and the understanding that we should be moving the direction of partnering with people to give us support in the path to getting out of that situation.
We would like to source for and increase opportunities for investments. Investments, because they unlock the energies, creativity, and innovation of people because they feel empowered and in control of their destiny. With investments there are no dictates like the ones we find in the relationship between the recipient and the donor agencies or political heavy weights, which erodes heavily on dignity. Moreover, nobody is locked out of the benefits; even an ordinary herdsman in a rural setting with increasing levels of investments can get good incomes from their animal products; that is why we prefer investment to aid.
And the situation will only start to change when our government shows the political will to seek for lasting solutions for the region. Dealing with the constant insecurity, and building infrastructure that will allow the region to open up and allow the region to grow. Ultimately, enabling interventions that reinforce social networks, support conflict resolution, strengthen advocacy work, encourage education and promote viable urban and rural livelihoods.