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The Silent Undertones of Unending Conflict in Marsabit

8 min read.

Historically, drivers of conflict in Marsabit County have been competition for land and water resources but the violence increasingly appears to be politically instigated.

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The Silent Undertones of Unending Conflict in Marsabit

Northern Kenya has long been associated with marginalization, inter-communal conflict and underdevelopment. The region shares a vast porous border with Ethiopia and Somalia, making it a suitable corridor for the unimpeded flow of illegal immigrants, illicit arms and drugs originating from neighbouring conflict zones.

Marsabit County, which borders Ethiopia to the north, is home to some 14 ethnic communities: Borana, Gabbra, Rendille, Garreh, Burji, Daasanach, Somali, Sakuye, Turkana, Ameru, Samburu, Konso, Watta and Elmolo. The Rendille, Gabbra and Borana are the dominant communities in terms of population and areas settled. These three communities together influence and drive the social, political and economic agendas. The contemporary political importance of the ethnic group is primarily a function of its size. However, the Burji – a relatively wealthy community concentrated around Mount Marsabit – arguably punch above their weight and have joined the powerful Borana, Gabbra and Rendille to become the fourth most influential force in the county’s ethnic politics.

Marsabit County continues to feature in the news constantly for the wrong reasons: insecurity and killings. It is a matter of grave concern that security in the county is going from bad to worse. Political leaders, faith-based groups and non-state actors have repeatedly sought protection from the government and the security agencies without success.

In January 2014, war broke out between the Borana and Gabbra communities in Moyale, leading to Deputy President William Ruto threatening to suspend the county government unless then Governor Ukur Yatani took responsibility for the insecurity in his area. But Raila Odinga accused Ruto and the Jubilee party of targeting Yatani, now National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, for being an Orange Democratic Movement governor.

The November 23 2018 issue of the Indian Ocean newsletter reported that Governor Mohamud Mohamed Ali had appealed to Nairobi over Yatani’s role in the escalating conflict between the Borana and Gabbra and communities. The paper claimed that Yatani had influenced the government to stop issuing national identity cards to members of the Borana community.

Borana and Gabbra rivalry

The rivalry between the Borana and the Gabbra dates back to the late 1990s and escalated in July 2005 with the Turbi Massacre in which more than 60 people, the majority of them schoolchildren, were killed. Ever since then, peace in Marsabit has remained elusive. On 10 April 2006, a plane carrying four area representatives and security officials from Nairobi to Marsabit on a peace and security mission crashed, killing everyone on board. For a short period, the deaths brought a hiatus to the fighting as the warring communities retreated into introspection; that incident left many wondering if the Borana-Gabbra conflict is stoked by competition for water and pasture or is fuelled by politics.

Traditional drivers of conflict

The historical stress factors leading to conflict have been studied and documented. They include climate change and environmental degradation; drought, famine and other natural catastrophes; resource and land-related conflicts (some relating to administrative and electoral boundaries); the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; and human-wildlife conflicts aggravated by the competing use of land for wildlife conservation in private conservancies.

Traditional security measures — disarmament and emergency deployments of security forces — only serve as a temporary measure. This is because the communities feel that the national government has been ambiguous in its response to the conflict, with some believing that the national authorities have failed to act decisively and impartially to negotiate a lasting solution to the crisis. Communities in remote areas have suffered the worst consequences of the insecurity because of the inhibiting context — a permissive environment and ungovernable spaces where these vulnerable communities live.

For years now, the planned killings of livestock herders, the calculated raids on rural settlements, the brutal murders of innocent women and poor quarry workers and the indiscriminate massacre of Boda Boda riders and commuters, including children on their way to school, have continued unabated, especially in Saku and Moyale constituencies. Attacks and killings in settlements and at water points occur two to three times a week. In the last two months, there have been clashes and killings in Funan Qumbi, Funan Idha, Elle-Borr and Elle-Dimtu. With the historical injustices not addressed and the “our man” syndrome taking root, the mistrust between the two communities is growing by the day.

Political supremacy

The violence involving the Borana and Gabbra has steadily moved away from traditional resource-based conflicts to more sinister criminal acts fuelled by efforts to sustain economic and political gains.

Ukur Yatani’s efforts to rebrand the Watta community were seen as politically motivated to reduce the numerical strength of the Borana to which his political nemesis Governor Ali belongs. The Watta had decided to shed off their name — which they said was disparaging and meant to portray them as wanderers or beggars — to become the Wayyu. It is reported that Yatani had stood with them in their efforts to seek their own identity as a distinct ethnic group while he was governor. Critics accuse Yatani of using state resources to build his support base and engage in sowing discord.

Historically, the conflict between the two pastoralist communities has been over water and pasture but more than a decade and a half of countless peace meetings have borne no fruit. However, the dynamics have now shifted to the control of a KSh7 billion annual fund which points to a fight for political supremacy.

With the historical injustices not addressed, and the “our man” syndrome taking root, the mistrust between the two communities is growing by the day.

Security pundits have repeatedly claimed that the clashes and conflicts in Marsabit are also schemed by political forces who are determined to keep the county destabilised and to derail the development agenda of the elected leaders. Even though the responsibility of the attackers cannot be ignored, it is also becoming increasingly clear that there are conflict entrepreneurs and activists in the county who are involved in fomenting inter-ethnic conflicts and planning violent attacks. Communities that have co-existed peacefully for years and have a history of voting together are being turned against each other in order to cause political disunity.

Ethnic conflicts and killings cannot be planned or sanctioned by the entire community. It is often groups of individuals — working for themselves and advancing interests that are against the wellbeing of the community — who plan and cause bloodshed in the name of their community. No community should be branded as criminal. Appeals have been made to the security organs to cease placing the blame on all the elected leaders and elders of the warring communities because that approach has been counterproductive in the past; they should instead focus on apprehending the real planners and perpetrators of the violence.

The County Action Plan for integrating the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the National Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism (NSCVE) has not been implemented for more than two years now. The project partners include CIFA (Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance), MWADO (Marsabit Women and Development Organisation), and SND (Strategies for Northern Development). The Saku Accountability Forum (SAF) is also involved in the project with funding from UN Women (Kenya).

The dawn of devolution 

Historically, drivers of conflict in Marsabit County were competition for grazing lands and watering points. But not anymore. Today’s conflict is a result of scheming by groups intent on exploiting ethnic vulnerabilities and fears for political and economic gain.

Devolved politics is one factor exacerbating the conflict as it defines the economic and social realities of communities in unforeseen ways. The question of who makes executive decisions regarding the allocation of resources for development programmes that have the potential to change the lives of these previously marginalised people is the elephant in the room.

Devolution is the contextual background behind a ruthless competition for power and economic dominance that has spawned a new “tenderpreneur” class that is wreaking havoc in the region.  Devolution has brought with it erosion of trust and intolerance amongst these groups. Visionless politics of ethnic supremacy, the politics around land and development projects, coupled with weak land tenure rights and the chronic failures of policing and justice, form the bedrock of militia activities under the guise of inter-communal violence.

There are conflict entrepreneurs and activists in the county who are involved in fomenting inter-ethnic conflicts and planning violent attacks.

The link between the conflict and elections was clear during the last two polls held in 2013 and 2017 under the devolved system of government. During these elections, the Gabbra community was pitted against the dominant Borana, and both formed alliances with minority ethnic groups. Simultaneously, the sophisticated weapons used by community members rendered local security forces helpless, and the Kenya Defence Forces had to use air power to stop the fighting.

Every electioneering period is followed by a cycle of ethnic violence in Marsabit. Yet many, including the media, continue to attribute the reason for the conflicts to fighting over resources.

Violent conflicts have also occurred between the Gabbra and Daasanach in the lower part of Marsabit County. Knee-jerk decisions by the national government such as disarming local police reservists have done little to calm the situation. Now the violence threatens to spiral out of control in an environment marred by mutual mistrust and suspicion.

Politicians and those who finance the conflicts use ethnicity and identity to mobilise and engage young illiterate people in violence to achieve their ego-fuelled personal political and economic goals. Every human life is sacred and special, but losing the young to this kind of evil violence is particularly heart-rending, and such cases are becoming far too frequent and almost normal. The injured are hospitalised, the dead are buried, politicians issue the same hollow, platitudinous statements and the police promise investigations, and that is where it all ends.

Laxity of security agencies

No arrests are made and when they are, no successful prosecutions follow. Too many grieving families are left traumatised and permanently scarred, with no real closure. And the cycle continues.

But while the incidents of violence could be politically motivated, no high-level national government official has visited the area; it would appear that the warring communities have been left to their own devices to make war or broker peace. There had been hope that the government’s June 26 statement would quell the violence but it has continued unabated.

Devolution is the contextual background behind a ruthless competition for power and economic dominance that has spawned a new “tenderpreneur” class that is wreaking havoc in the region.

Although local politicians have been arrested for political incitement, and meetings have been held between local leaders, interfaith groups and Kenyan and Ethiopian government officials, peace remains elusive. However, a cross-border peace initiative launched on 1 July 2019 with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) does signal hope and the decision to set up a community-based peace committee is encouraging although it will need full government support to work.

Peace and security are two sides of the same coin – they always walk together. It is the responsibility of the national government to guarantee the safety and security of all citizens, as enshrined in the constitution. However, all the available anecdotal evidence points to severe gaps in the capacity and willingness of the government’s various security and administrative branches to play this role effectively and fairly. The bottom line is that any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern.

The unspoken reality

The conflict appears increasingly driven by politically instigated ethnic territorial expansion (illegal settlements) and competition to increase voter numbers for the 2022 elections. The county’s last two polls stand out for the enmity and ethnic hatred that were manifested and which have grown to untenable levels.

This is the unspoken reality but when peace meetings are called, all speakers use code words, phrases and innuendos to spin and sidestep the truth, declare a fake ceasefire, pray for rain and peace, and disperse. This charade of duplicitous interactions followed by inaction must stop. First, we need to frame the challenge and articulate it clearly and truthfully. If our moral compass is pointing in the right direction, we must speak up; we cannot and should no longer remain silent.

Any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern.

A practical solution to the Marsabit conflict is to find the strategies needed to eliminate the reasons that fuel divisive politics among the resident communities. A long-term solution for sustainable peace in Marsabit requires a means of reconstitution and a process of empowerment, of an inclusive and equitable political system; the kind of peace that will make life in that the  county worth living, the type that enables parents, families and communities to hope and build a better life for their children.

If Marsabit voters do not collectively reject those politicians who do not seem to value human life, who lie to them repeatedly and disastrously, who waste or misuse their resources with impunity, then they deserve their fate.

The fact of the matter is that conflict in Marsabit is local and manufactured. Therefore, the solution can only come from the communities themselves, and it is not beyond them. Accepting death, suffering, and pain is not an option anymore.

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Salad Malicha is a communication policy expert based in Isiolo.

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Words Are Politically Cheap, Actions Are Expensive: The Empty Rhetoric of Scholar Activism

The radical politics of the professional middle classes—too often found full of rhetoric, but short on action—are explored in Leo Zeilig’s new novel, The World Turned Upside Down.

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Words Are Politically Cheap, Actions Are Expensive: The Empty Rhetoric of Scholar Activism

In writer and activist Leo Zeilig’s latest offering, The World Turned Upside Down, the richest one percent are wreaking havoc on both people and planet. Meanwhile, a social movement is out to stop them—one grizzly murder at a time. As the movement grows, it eventually engulfs the life of the story’s protagonist Bianca Ndour, a lesbian Senegalese professor raised in Nigeria and working in London. A thunderously irrepressible, unapologetic, and radical thinker, Bianca uses her public platform to speak out against the injustices inflicted on the many by the powerful few.

The result is a provocative and pulsating call to arms against capitalism’s grotesque excesses and inequalities, one centered around a violent revolutionary movement: the One Percent Murders.

Who is behind the murders? Can they be stopped? Should they be stopped? Bianca thinks not, and in her refusal to condemn the One Percent Murders, and her brazen, polemical style, her character drips with the spirit of political radical Frantz Fanon. When asked during a live television interview if she condones the murders, she fires back: “Do I approve of the violence? What violence? Whose? The violence that you have—both of you—spent wealthy years celebrating, writing nauseating books salivating over imperial tryanny and the never-ending murder spree of the rich … in their wars. How many died in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

As Fanon wrote in his most celebrated work, The Wretched of the Earth, “Decolonization reeks of red hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists.” Bianca, too, sniffs the revolutionary potential behind the unfolding violence. “‘Rarely in history can you say this,’ she tells a small crowd, ‘but we are living through a moment of extraordinary reckoning. The rats, forced out of their lair, are panicking—watch where they run, get read for what they unleash on us’.”

Like Fanon, Bianca bursts with energy, ideology, and anger. “I had always believed in anger,” she tells us at one point. “Is this not the time for anger? It was the opposite of inertia, of academic pontificating—anger worked up action, and only through anger and action could justice ever come.” The emphasis on the centrality of action to revolutionary change and upheaval is a major motif of Zeilig’s work. His first novel centered around two generations of activists and the anti-war movement in the United Kingdom. His last novel, meanwhile, took its title—An Ounce of Practicefrom a Freidrich Engels quote that “an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.”

Yet there is an intriguing sense that for all her anger-fueled political sermons, Bianca fails to enter the decisive arena of action herself.

There is a hint of activism in her youth, when we are told she attended a demonstration against South African apartheid as a teenager having just arrived in London from Zimbabwe. Her life as a university professor, however, is in many ways highly insular, absorbed by personal relationships, exercise, and the demands of her work. As she shuttles between international flights and university campuses, there is little to suggest that her actions extend beyond preaching at her pulpit and promoting her books at events. The only direct action we see her engage in throughout the entire novel is a cleaners’ strike on her London campus. Even here, she stumbles across the strike by chance and gives an impromptu speech calling for “the total expropriation of the capitalist class,” entirely abstracted from the specific demands and lived realities of the cleaners’ struggle.

There is a sense in all this that Bianca never really manages to escape her upbringing: she was raised in a wealthy, middle-class family on a Shell Oil compound in Nigeria. Her father was full of radical rhetoric but lived in comfort, ensconcing himself and his family from the harsher realities of Nigerian life that lay beyond the compound’s walls. While Bianca found some temporary escape from those walls during childhood—leaving them behind completely in adulthood—the stifling bureaucracy and demands of a professional career in the modern university appear to have walled her off from society once more, this time in a compound of her own making.

Here, Zeilig appears to be interrogating the class contradictions of scholar activism, and, more broadly, the hypocrisy of the professional middle classes. Even the most ideologically committed among them, like Bianca, are too often found full of rhetoric, but short on action.

It is likely that in passing this commentary, Zeilig is drawing at least in part on his own experiences, having lived in Senegal and South Africa, been active in a range of social movements and struggles, and written extensively on working-class struggle, the development of revolutionary movements, and some of Africa’s most important political thinkers and activists, including Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, and Frantz Fanon.

And again, there are echoes of Fanon here, in his argument that many of Africa’s early postcolonial intellectual leaders betrayed the aspirations of the working classes and popular masses, whose interests they claimed to represent and whose backs they had climbed upon in their ascent to power.

In one passage, we see Bianca run to work, shower at the office, and look out over the city of London, in perfect mimicry of the daily ritual of a wealthy city banker callously murdered in the novel’s opening pages at the hands of an unknown assailant. By drawing this parallel, Zeilig pushes us to ask whether, through her seeming inaction, Bianca—and the class she represents—is in fact complicit in the system she believes she is fighting against, no better than the wealthy one percent she so despises.

And yet all might not be as it seems. Those around her, including her students, protect her ferociously when required, and wherever Bianca travels, another murder is never far behind. It is a mark of the depth and complexity of The World Turned Upside Down that there are no clear or easy answers, only unsettling questions combined with a relentless exposé of capitalism’s ills and injustices. All of these questions are designed to jolt us out of complacency and comfort and into the one state that we all must occupy if a better world beyond capitalism is to be won: action. When, in the real world, even an establishment figure such as the current UK government’s chief scientific adviser is publicly pronouncing that “nothing short of transforming society will avert catastrophe,” we had better take notice.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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Misery and Magic Fuel Mayhem in Cafunfo

A new book from celebrated Angolan journalist and activist Rafael Marques reveals why a supposedly “peaceful protest” in a diamond-rich but dirt-poor north-eastern town, erupted into bloody violence and shocked the nation.

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Angola: Myths and Realities About the Quality of Education

Amid public outrage, there were claims that the security forces had used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators – but the truth lay elsewhere. “Within a day of the news of terrible bloodshed during a protest march in the diamond-mining town of Cafunfo, some people had already drawn conclusions”, says Rafael Marques.  “It took me months of investigation to get to the truth.”

The undisputable facts were these:  when participants in a banned march clashed with security forces in Cafunfo on 30 January 30 2021, at least a dozen people were killed and many more were injured.  Two members of the security forces were lucky to survive a gruesome assault by multiple protestors wielding scythes and machetes.

Over nine months of meticulous inquiry, award-winning journalist and activist Rafael Marques gathered the evidence into a new book that reveals how traditional belief in magic was a major factor in mobilizing a vulnerable and illiterate group of people and inciting them to commit violence.

The author of several books and reports on this remote and troubled area, Marques made repeated visits and spent a total of 40 days on the ground collecting testimony from over 100 witnesses, including demonstrators and security force members, to determine what really happened.

The result of those months of painstaking inquiry is his new book Misery and Magic fuel Mayhem in Cafunfo.  It is a comprehensive account of what led to the unsanctioned demonstration and how the tragedy unfolded.

Sifting alternative versions of the ‘truth’

With meticulous attention to detail, Rafael Marques lays out the context behind the march. How decades of neglect and underdevelopment have led to hunger, poverty and desperation. How cynical local figures distorted regional history to make a flawed case for autonomy. How leaders of this banned separatist movement manipulated locals into believing the world was watching as they paraded their anguish. And how these same leaders organized two days of fasting with shamans conducting “magic” rituals to convince those on the march that they were immune from harm and could fly away.

Locals said more than 20 people were shot and killed – the authorities say it was six. Rafael Marques’s investigation found that at least 13 people were confirmed to have died while at least 16 were injured and six people remain unaccounted for.  However, he cautions that this is not a “definitive number” given the “highly confused situation” on the ground.

The contrasting accounts of eyewitnesses – both those who took part in the protest and members of the security forces – speak for themselves. Marques impartially and faithfully records their version of events as well as that of the authorities who claimed they came under unprovoked attack.

Diamonds and despair

Marques’s book was officially launched on 18 October in Cafunfo itself.  This place is an anomaly in Angola; not officially a town or municipality, the population has grown around the extensive (and often privately owned) diamond mining operations. Little or nothing of the wealth generated has gone into providing essential services such as electricity, paved roads, piped water or into establishing a local political administration.

Nine out of every 10 residents in Cafunfo live below the poverty line, barely able to muster a single meal per day.  The absence of any state presence other than security allowed third parties to radicalise these desperate locals who were induced to believe that they were legally allowed to stage a march to publicise their situation.

In fact, the demonstration was unauthorized and in contravention of emergency laws introduced to limit public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Little or nothing of the wealth generated has gone into providing essential services such as electricity, paved roads, piped water or into establishing a local political administration.

Previous encounters with police and military led some participants to arm themselves with agricultural tools “for self-defence”. Scythes and machetes were used in a gruesome attack on poorly armed security forces in different locations, leaving two men hacked to within an inch of their lives.

At a third location, security reinforcements faced with a front line of protestors maddened by hunger and the rituals that made them feel invincible, finally opened fire in what they said was self-defence.

As the evidence is laid out page by page, it becomes clear that a few politically ambitious, unscrupulous individuals took advantage of an illiterate populace with traditional animist beliefs in supernatural powers to mobilize and control large numbers of people into a cult-like membership of an illicit organization and incite them to violence.

After sifting through the disparate accounts, Marques was able to establish both a chronology of events and the astonishing role played by shamans and the use of botanical, or herbal, concoctions to create the conditions for a violent confrontation.

“The magic rituals were instrumental in mobilizing the masses, most of them uneducated peasants or field workers, into a tactical command group targeted against the constitutional and political authorities.”

“Some of those who took part felt they had extraordinary powers that enabled them to use violence to confront the security and defence forces [who were mobilized to prevent the unauthorised demonstration from taking place]”.

Marques’s conclusion was that “the demonstration was not a peaceful one, and the participants’ faith in their magic powers created the condition for violence.”

Over several days, a select group of men were forced to fast, consume and apply herbal preparations they were told would make them immune to harm, and after a sleepless night of dance, prayer, incantation and in some cases the consumption of alcohol, they were sent out, before sun-up, armed with long knives and wooden staves to confront a mainly unarmed group of police and border guards charged with preventing an illegal gathering.

“Many of them were fired up, believing they were untouchable. Many were famished, had not been allowed to sleep and were in a sort of religious fervour when they set out. They were repeatedly told there would be no retreat and they had to press on.  Imagine their mental state when they encountered impromptu and makeshift attempts to bar their advance. Even in the face of warning shots fired over their heads.”

The first casualty was a police inspector, brutally hacked about the head and body. The second was a demonstrator, allegedly struck by a bullet (or alternatively hit in the head by a companion’s machete). With little or no ammunition, the police and border guards kept retreating and the marchers kept pressing on towards the main police station and security forces’ residences.  An army colonel unarmed and with his hands up, pleading for them to stop, was attacked in a flurry of flashing machetes, and left for dead.

By the time the “frontline command” reached a third roadblock, this time manned by soldiers reinforcing the hapless police and border guard detachments which had already suffered two casualties, the scene was set for all-out combat. Some survivors still claim they only got away because magic allowed them to fly over the melee into safety.

In his book Marques enumerates all the factors that led to this tragedy.  “Ignorance, misery, negligence and political incompetence created a fertile ground for radicalization in Cafunfo, and in the face of government intransigence, other political forces seized the advantage.”

Rafael Marques has organized a round-table conference of all interested parties in the region to open channels of communication and has also made recommendations for government, mining interests and local communities to improve conditions on the ground and pave the way for self-sustaining economic development to lift this neglected community out of misery and prevent any future tragedies of this kind.

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Bees in Crisis: Toxic Insecticides a Threat to Food Security

As Kenya joins the rest of the world in marking World Food Day under the theme “Our actions are our future – Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” there is a need for a paradigm shift in dealing with the pesticide menace.

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Bees in Crisis: Toxic Insecticides a Threat to Food Security
Photo: 冬城 on Unsplash

Bees play a critical role in food and nutrition security in Kenya through cross-pollination. They are also a source of income for farmers, through products such as honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly. However, bee colonies are under threat from an overuse of synthetic insecticides in Kenya. These insecticides are often fronted to farmers as a viable solution towards the control of pests affecting their crops. Statistics show that between 2016 and 2019,Kenya imported 12.9 million kgs of  insecticides, worth Ksh15. 8 Billion.

Insecticides as defined by National Pesticide Information Centre are a class of pesticides that are formulated to kill, harm, repel or mitigate one or more species of insects. They act on the pests by either disrupting the nervous system or their exoskeletons.

Oblivious of their impacts on the bees and environment, farmers are increasingly using these chemical compounds on their farms to control aphids, whiteflies, thrips, locusts, bollworms and cotton stainers. A closer look at the Pest Control Products Board Website shows insecticides such as Imidacloprid (78 products) and Deltamethrin (20 products) that are scientifically known to increase the mortality of bees are registered and used in Kenya.

Aside from farmers, the government of Kenya through the Ministry of Agriculture also employed the use of Deltamethrin in the control of desert locusts in  Menengai Nakuru region between March and April 2021. This was revealed by an environmental assessment done by Greenpeace Africa.

Of critical concern is that these insecticides have been scientifically proven to negatively impact honey bees (Apis mellifera). Earlier this year, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organization (KALRO) attributed the mass death of bees in Baringo to the excessive use of chemicals to control the fall armyworm. Similar to this was a 2015 study conducted in Transmara west sub county, that showed an increase in honey bee mortality and a decrease in honey yield in areas sprayed by pesticides.

Aside from the massive death of bees, Kenyan honey has also been reported to contain residues of toxic pesticides. Between September 2013 and August 2015, pesticide residues were detected in pollen and honey from honey bee hives across several regions in Kenya.

Those dealing with these dire ecological consequences of the widespread and continuous use of synthetic insecticides are smallholder beekeepers. For instance, following an aerial and ground spraying of synthetic insecticides in Samburu County in 2020, an intervention aimed at managing the swarms of desert locusts that invaded farms, there were complaints especially among beekeepers that their beekeeping enterprises were disrupted as bees fled their hives and others died from poisoning by the chemicals used. Lolmoti Ltkaruan, a beekeeper in Angata Nanyekie village, Samburu East was one of the farmers whose bee hives were affected by the aerial spraying.

Lolmoti, who is also a livestock keeper, had five hives from which he harvested honey worth KSh 4,000 from each hive, earning him KSh 20,000 per season. However, when the locusts hit, the Samburu county government in an effort to salvage crops and vegetation from the ravaging insects, used drones to conduct mass spraying of insecticides, which not only landed on the locusts but also the vegetation and the hives along with the bees inhabiting them. “Days after the spraying I noticed that four of my hives were deserted, all bees had fled; only one hive still had bees, and their numbers had significantly decreased,” says Lolmoti.

The father of seven had planned to use the money from his beekeeping enterprise to take his son who was clearing his primary education to secondary school. After the loss of his honey business, he still hadn’t figured out another source of income. This loss of livelihoods is coupled with the sad reality of Kenyan farmers being forced to pollinate their crops by hand as a result of the loss of bees.

Farmers need to be saved from this agony, by the Kenyan government and the relevant agencies such as Pest Control Products Board which are responsible for the registration and authorisation of these synthetic  insecticides.  As Kenya joins the rest of the world in marking World Food Day under the theme “Our actions are our future – Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” there is a need for a paradigm shift in dealing with the pesticide menace.

It is critical for the Kenyan government to engage institutions of research such as, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and other companies that are working to make available biofriendly pest control products and practices that will safeguard bees. Safe options such as biopesticides (insecticides and fungicides), push and pull technique, traps and protein baits will help protect bee populations, reduce pest infestation and increase food production.

For more information on bio friendly pest control inputs: https://saferinputs.koan.co.ke.

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