Kenya: Drought and rising grain prices undermine security

Mor Covid is still in the dusty air, the earth is baked from the drought. Murder and poverty would seem biblical if they weren’t so modern.

Indeed, the Sahel and the Maghreb are facing increasing desertification and, along with it, insane humanitarian crises and growing violence, especially from Islamic extremists.

In Kenya, killings in the north are not (yet) non-religious. But growing instability in the country, traditionally seen as a stable diplomatic and humanitarian hub in the war-torn Horn of Africa, is fueled by many of the same factors that set the Sahel on fire.

The killing of dozens over the past two years, including two chiefs in Marsabit, 160 miles north of the city of Isiolo, and eight others in a single attack in May last year near the regional capital, prompted brutal repression Kenya Police and other forces.
Export of grain from Ukraine will resume.  For the world's starving population, this can't happen soon enough.

After one sweep of Marsabit County in June, police seized 200 machine guns, automatic rifles and other weapons, as well as about 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

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

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

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

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

It’s been gone for over two years now. Local officials in the Ileret region told CNN that about 85% of livestock died there. The surviving herds are driven south in search of pasture.

In any case, those who remain have almost nothing to live on.

Akuagok is a widow who lives in Manyatta (a cluster of nomadic huts) about half an hour north of Ileret. He doesn’t let a little desert wind in, but a little dust into the lungs of her six children.

She survives on food every three days, which depends on whether she can sell charcoal in Ileret to buy unground wheat, which her older children grind by hand with a stone and then mix with water in chapatis.

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

Her youngest, Arbolo, is two years old. He cries when he lies down for a height measurement in a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) community outreach mission, but becomes lethargic when the circumference of his shoulder turns red on an MSF tape measuring malnutrition. The red color means he is very malnourished – what most people would call “starving”.

Measuring a malnourished child in Ileret, northern Kenya.

Members of the Akuagoka tribe, the Daasanach, crowded around her, shouting their own stories of loss—losing friends to illness, possibly caused by hunger, losing animals, and how now, even when they were making very little money, that would never happen. happens to be enough to join.

God, in Ileret, the cost of groceries has tripled since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year. Ukraine is used to produce 11.5% of the world’s export wheat and 17% of the world’s corn export market. Cornmeal, known as ugali, is a staple food in Kenya. In Kenya, the price of charcoal has at least doubled for most people.
Even if it rains in Ilereth, life for Akuagok won’t improve much. She has no animals left, and food prices are unlikely to drop much. The United Nations World Food Programme, which can intervene, usually receives 40% wheat from Ukraine. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is asking for $172 million in aid for the Horn of Africa to avert disaster. But as the war in Ukraine continues, this figure will undoubtedly grow.
A mother feeds her malnourished child in Ileret, northern Kenya.

Kenya has experienced bouts of lawlessness and land grabbing before. But for many, even those accustomed to seeing their own ethnic group forcibly take over pastures or steal livestock, Kenya has taken a turn for the worse.

Lemarty Lemar, Samburu community leader and renowned musician, says he lost “at least 30” cattle due to the drought.

“People just lose everything they have. If a guy loses 50 cattle, that’s a loss of $25,000 or more. But even more dangerous is that the young Moran (warriors) had no cattle left to take care of. They got hold of 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 a general election in the middle of next month. This process often raises fears of instability in the country, and if the results are contested, the likelihood of political violence could increase.

In marginalized communities in the northern counties, city politicians pay lip service to the unfolding horrors. In July, the government canceled and quickly reinstated fuel subsidies. But since Kenya’s population is largely concentrated in the center and south of the country, insecurity in the north was not a major issue in the elections.

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But it could be forced on the central government after the elections, as pastoralists now bring camels to graze on the hedgerows at Isiolo.

In search of grazing land, they have invaded parks and wildlife sanctuaries, bringing them closer to tourist attractions that are one of Kenya’s biggest export earnings.

No effort has been made to drive them out, but the heavy toll their livestock are taking on the landscape means they will have a hard time recovering during the next rains, if they ever come.

Past experience in Africa has shown that drought combined with overgrazing means that when rains come they wash away the topsoil in fixed amounts. Once that happens, in a few years there will be little left but the desert.

“Every time people come to you who are starving and have no other options, you have a security situation. (In) Northern Kenya we border South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, all of which are still in the grip of a conflict that is spewing small arms into this ecosystem, so you have a lot of guns here and increased hunger, so, yes, I I would say it’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, most of which, he now warns, were once savannas and now contain only “elephants, goats and rebels.”

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

And that 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 important logistics hub.

And as the effects of climate change play out in Kenya, with children facing malnutrition and their mothers languishing, exacerbated by the desperate struggle of nomads and pastoralists to survive, this once stable region shows little sign that it can cope on its own. .