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Kenya: drought and soaring grain prices fuel insecurity

The Covid plague is still in the air choked with dust, the ground is baked with drought. Murder and misery would seem biblical – if they weren’t so modern.

Indeed, the Sahel and the Maghreb have experienced increasing desertification and, at the same time, unbridled humanitarian crises and increasing violence, especially from Islamist extremists.

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

The killing of dozens of people over the past two years, including two chiefs in Marsabit, 160 miles north of the town of Isiolo, and eight others in an attack last May not far from the regional capital, has provoked fierce repression by the Kenyan police and other forces.

After a sweep in Marsabit County in June, police captured 200 machine guns, automatic rifles and other weapons along with around 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

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

Kenya is suffering its worst drought in 40 years, according to the government and the UN. More than four million people are “food insecure” and 3.3 million do not have enough water to drink.

In the Horn of Africa, that number jumps to 11.6 million.

Ileret, on the northern shore of Lake Turkana, is renowned for its drought. But local nomadic pastoralists have managed to exist, even thrive, under harsh conditions for centuries. Their herds of goats and camels are periodically fattened by the cool pastures that emerge from the savannah when it rains occasionally.

For more than two years, this is simply not the case. Local officials in Ileret district told CNN that around 85% of the cattle here had perished. Surviving herds are driven south in search of pasture.

Be that as it may, those who remain have almost nothing to live on.

Akuagok is a widow who lives in a lotatta (collection of nomadic huts) about half an hour north of Ileret. He keeps some of the desert wind but little dust out of the lungs of his six children.

She survives on one meal every three days, which depends on whether she is able to sell charcoal in Ileret to buy unmilled wheat which her older children grind by hand with a stone and then mix with water in chapattis.

“I eat when I can. Most of the time, I don’t eat every day. Sometimes when I sell charcoal, I can eat maybe once or twice in three days,” she says.

Her youngest, Arbolo, is two years old. He groans as he lies down for a height measurement during a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) outreach mission – but is listless when his upper arm circumference measurement appears in red on the MSF tape that measures height. extent of malnutrition. Red means he is severely acutely malnourished – what most people would say is “starving”.

Kenya: drought and soaring grain prices fuel insecurity

Members of Akuagok’s tribe, the Daasanach, gathered around her, shouting their own stories of loss – loss of friends to disease possibly caused by hunger, loss of animals , and how now, even when they make very little money, it’s never enough to get by.

Here in Ileret, the price of food has tripled since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year. Ukraine produced 11.5% of the world’s wheat for export and 17% of the world corn export market. Maize flour, known as ugali, is Kenya’s staple food. In Kenya, the price of Ugali has at least doubled for most people.
Even if it rains in Ileret, Akuagok’s life will not improve much. She no longer has animals and food prices are unlikely to drop much. The United Nations World Food Programme, which could intervene, generally gets 40% of its wheat from Ukraine. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is appealing for $172 million in aid to the Horn of Africa to avert disaster. But as the war in Ukraine continues, this figure will surely increase.
Kenya: drought and soaring grain prices fuel insecurity

Kenya has already experienced episodes of anarchy and land invasions. But for many, even people used to seeing their own ethnic group violently take over the pasture or raid livestock, there has been a change for the worse in Kenya.

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

“People lose everything they own. If a guy loses 50 cattle, that’s a loss of $25,000 or more. But the most dangerous thing is that the young moran (the warriors) have no more livestock to care for. They get their hands on illegal weapons, they have nothing to do. They stopped listening to the elders and some became gangsters,” he told CNN.

“We are losing control,” he added.

Kenya faces general elections in the middle of next month. The process often raises fears of instability in the country and, if the results are disputed, the potential for political violence could escalate.

In marginalized communities in northern counties, urban politicians have paid lip service to the unfolding horrors. The government ended and quickly reinstated fuel subsidies in July. But as Kenya’s population is largely concentrated in the center and south of the country, insecurity in the north has not been a major electoral issue.

Kenya: drought and soaring grain prices fuel insecurity

But this could be imposed on the central government after the elections, as pastoralists in search of pasture are now bringing camels to graze the hedgerows in Isiolo.

In search of pasture, they have invaded game parks and sanctuaries, bringing them ever closer to the tourist attractions that are one of Kenya’s main export sources.

No effort has been made to drive them away, but the heavy toll their cattle take on the landscape means they will struggle to recover when the next rains come, if they ever come.

Past experience across Africa has shown that drought combined with overgrazing means that when the rains fall, they wash away the topsoil in large quantities. Once that happens, there’s not much left but desert, after only a few years.

“Whenever you come across people who are hungry and you have no other options, you have a security situation. (In) northern Kenya, we are bordered by South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, all of which are still in the throes of conflict that’s sprouting small arms into this ecosystem, so you’ve got a lot of weapons here and hunger is increasing so, yes, I would say that’s a growing security issue” said Frank Pope, CEO of Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants Samburu National Reserve.

Pope’s organization also works with elephants in Mali, West Africa, much of which he now warns was savannah not too long ago, but now only supports ” elephants, goats and insurgents”.

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

And that may be bad news for humanitarian operations in neighboring Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan that depend on Kenya’s ports, and relative calm, as a base of operations and key location for logistics.

And as the effects of climate change take hold in Kenya, children face malnutrition and their mothers wither away, compounded by the desperate struggle of nomads and pastoralists to survive, this once-stable region shows few signs that she can cope alone.


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