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Marsabit: Viable County or Rolling Calamity?

6 min read.

The obstacles that the county faces may sound daunting and impossible, but they can be fixed with a new crop of accountable and compassionate leaders and managers who put people first.



Marsabit: Viable County or Rolling Calamity?

The pastoralist rangelands of northern Kenya, including Marsabit, have historically been associated with marginalization and structural inequality, inter-communal conflict, and adverse human development indicators.

Some of the typical stress factors have been studied and documented, and 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 competing uses of land for private conservancies and wildlife conservation.

With a surface area of 70,000 sq. km, Marsabit County is almost half the size of the entire US State of North Carolina (pop. 10.5 million), but with only roughly the same population as Raleigh, the state capital. But that is where this comparison ends. Marsabit faces a myriad of worsening human development and ecological challenges. It remains one of the poorest counties in the nation, characterized by unsatisfactory education and health indicators, limited infrastructure and a substantial portion of the population categorized as either food-poor or chronically hungry. The town of Marsabit, the county headquarters, has few streetlights and paved roads and no running water or basic sanitation system.

In Marsabit, devolution has become a moniker for conflict, death, and despair. Over the last few years, these conflicts have become increasingly insidious and sporadic violent incidents involving the three major ethnic groups have steadily moved away from traditional resource-based tiffs to more sinister criminal acts fuelled by efforts to sustain long-term economic and political gain.

Sadly, the onset of devolution has also been accompanied by politically charged erosion of trust and intolerance amongst these groups. The attacks and counterattacks have been both vicious and wanton. Armed, ragtag militias maim and kill indiscriminately and disappear. The injured are hospitalized, the dead are buried, politicians issue the same platitudinous statements and the police promise investigations. No arrests, and if any, no successful prosecutions. Too many grieving families are left traumatized and permanently scarred, with no closure. And the cycle continues.

The question on most observers’ lips is, what is fuelling this tragedy and what can be done to stop it?

First, we need to frame the challenge and articulate it clearly and truthfully, as factual analysis is not partisan. What is happening in Marsabit is the direct result of a catastrophic failure of leadership and self-governance since 2013. Visionless politics of ethnic supremacy, politics around land and development projects, coupled with weak land tenure rights and the chronic failures of policing and justice, have generated a perfect storm of militia activities under the guise of inter-communal violence. Politicians and their elite capture acolytes have perfected the cruel art of weaponizing ethnicity, amplifying mendacity, and parroting emptiness, instead of policy options, as an effective platform for political mobilization, and violence as the means to that end.

In Marsabit, devolution has become a moniker for conflict, death, and despair.

The obstacles that the county faces may sound daunting and impossible, but they can be fixed. All you need is an accountable and compassionate crop of new county leaders and managers who put people first and implement a long-term, evidence-based County Development Plan. For example, improving health indicators for mothers and children or even cleaning up Marsabit town requires not just targeting financial resources at the right priorities like life-saving maternal and child health interventions and improvements in public sanitation. It also calls for a new generation of leaders who believe that transparency is the principal ingredient of public accountability. But it would help if you also had enlightened citizens who hold public officials to account, demand essential services and stop accepting sub-human living conditions. All these governance dynamics, incentive structures and human behaviour need to be carefully aligned to get out of the current morass that only serves the small corrupt elite while everybody else continues to lose out.

How do we do that? The first step is for the county government to acknowledge the complexity of its operating environment. There is a real danger of failure when any governing structure ignores the complexity and operates as if all challenges are amenable to catchy slogans and naïve prescriptions often aimed at building and sustaining ethnic coalitions, buying loyalty, or placating different interest groups. This is a significant challenge in our local political economy that needs to be addressed as it perpetuates a culture of governance impunity. At the heart of this challenge lies the nexus of ethnicity, identity, and governance – often a volatile cocktail. Just to cast this in some historical perspective, Daniel Arap Moi, the late President of Kenya, once described ethnicity as a “cancer that threatens to eat out the very fabric of our nation”. Ironically, ethnicity and corruption epitomized more than two decades of his rule – and the state was often the only visible route to wealth, fame, and glory. Fighting over access to state resources along tribal lines was considered an entirely rational and legitimate pursuit.

A hangover from that period is still with us. It seems to be shaping the emergence of tribal coalitions that illustrate the role of ethnicity rather than purity, expertise, and integrity in determining where power lies during every election cycle. And its results can be frightening, especially in multi-ethnic counties like Marsabit, where lack of trust and tensions have always been lurking under the surface. That is why any coalition whose key win theme is to lockout a substantial portion of the county’s ethnic population is not only patently absurd but also dangerously stupid.

What is happening in Marsabit is the direct result of a catastrophic failure of leadership and self-governance since 2013.

There are many questions and thorny issues that need to be tackled. In this short article, I do not attempt to answer these questions in detail. Instead, my goal is to give some directional advice and illustrate what it looks like in practice. There are at least four foundational dilemmas that must be continuously addressed for Marsabit to morph into a viable county that nurtures peace, growth, and prosperity for all and avoids degenerating into a rolling calamity: The accountability dilemma, the policy dilemma, the capacity development dilemma, and the diversity dilemma.

In my work with various ministries of health and education in Africa over the last two decades, I have learned that nothing wastes precious and scarce public resources more than bad management, poor leadership, and unaccountable governance arrangements.

The key to understanding accountability is to realize that no system of public governance primarily shaped by greed, mediocrity, or ad hoc simplistic targets can deliver any valuable common goods. Therefore, the county needs to be led and staffed by thoughtful policymakers and human development practitioners who can design, monitor, and improve systems that ensure built-in accountability in all its operations. For example, an electronic, web-based dashboard with revenue and expenditure information that is regularly updated and publicly available would be a suitable standard operating procedure of public accountability. The idea is to achieve forms of accountability based on both internal commitments to the users of the system and fidelity to the public they serve – this is non-negotiable. Also, effective accountability is a function of good data-driven policies that inform strategies and activities for improvement and widespread transparency about results and about what is working and what is not working. Human development cannot be advanced without data and evidence.

Nothing wastes precious and scarce public resources more than bad management, poor leadership, and unaccountable governance arrangements.

The centrepiece of any successful system of human progress is capacity development—the development of an individual, team, and institutional effectiveness in terms of new skills, resources, motivation, and results. In other words, the county government should not underestimate the need for developing the capacity of teams and institutions or try to address it in weak, individualistic ways. The core county development plan and all departmental plans must focus on thorough and widespread capacity development, especially the collective capacity of county teams and groups to deliver results.

Marsabit is more variegated and diverse than most other counties in the country. Despite the many differences in the beautiful tapestry of languages, traditions, and cultures of the communities, the regular wananchi have the same basic needs concerning their health, their children’s education, their security and safety, fairness and justice, and access to basic services. Additionally, we all benefit when we work together and take advantage of our diversity. In other words, diversity is a virtue to be celebrated and promoted, not a fault-line to be exploited or weaponized to feed the outsized egos or short-term agenda of the political class.

Finally, no good can come from ignoring the challenges looming so ominously over Marsabit County. These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary leadership and declaration of conscience. A system that serves everyone is easy to build – but it requires not only implementable ideas that are based on sound evidence and practice, but above all, competent, purpose-driven leaders with a clear heart – a heart that loves and treats all people equally and fairly, all the time. But if the voters of Marsabit County do not collectively reject politicians who do not value human life, lie to them repeatedly, and waste or abuse their resources with impunity, then they deserve their fate, and they will continue to embrace their self-inflicted trauma and humiliation.

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Umuro Sora Adano a US-based international development consultant.


Shambolic Migration to New Kenyan E-Passport

The introduction of the biometric e-passport has been beset by delays that have seen the government push forward its own deadlines several times.



Shambolic Migration to New Kenyan E-Passport

For the third time, Kenya has postponed the deadline for phasing out the old generation passport and the introduction of the biometric e-passport.

Kenya, together with its East African Community (EAC) partners, is doing away with the “analogue” passport and replacing it with an electronic document. The new document has a chip that, according Immigration officials, stores the passport holder’s information and travel history, thus conforming to international passport security standards that require passports to contain a tamper-proof electronic chip.

The rollout, however, has been shambolic, with various deadlines extended since 2018. Immigration Director General said that the latest extension is a result of the East African Community having changed the deadline for all member states to November 2022.

On 4 February 2021, Interior and Government Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, under whom the Immigration Department falls, announced a 10-month extension of the deadline for the voiding of the old generation travel documents. CS Matiang’i said the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the Immigration Department to scale down operations. The new deadline was set as at December 31, 2021.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this is the last extension and Kenyans are advised to make the necessary arrangements and acquire the electronic passports at the earliest opportunity possible to avoid travelling inconveniences,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

“For the avoidance of doubt, starting January 1, 2022, the old dark blue passport will be null and void and no Kenyan will be able to travel internationally without a valid East African Community biometric e-passport,” he added.

The e-passport journey

The decision to phase out the old generation passport was first made public in April 2015 and the electronic passport was to be launched in December 2016. However, then Immigration Director Major (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa later announced that the e-passport launch would be pushed to April 2017. This date was moved to September of that year due to “unforeseen circumstances”.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, the launch will now not happen as stated,” Kihalangwa said in a statement at the time, noting however that he was confident that the new deadline would be met.

It was said in some quarters that the postponement was to allow other EAC member states to be ready for a simultaneous rollout as spelt out in a directive of the Heads of State Summit in March 2016.

Deals within EAC

The 17th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State had directed the partner states to commence issuance of the e-passport by 1 January 2017 and to phase out the current machine-readable East African and national passports from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2018.

When this failed, the 35th EAC Council of Ministers meeting directed member states to commence issuance of the e-passport by 31 January 2018. This, the EAC said in a statement, was in consideration of the different levels of preparedness of the member states.

During the Council of Ministers Summit, Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda said they were ready to start rolling out the document, but Tanzania and Uganda asked for more time to finalise preparations.

Tanzania said it was upgrading its systems and was sourcing for a contractor to install the additional infrastructure, while Uganda said it was planning a public-private mode of financing for the production of the booklets.

“Burundi reported that through Public Private Partnership arrangement, it had completed the process of procuring the EA e-passport booklets and was ready to commence issuance by 3rd April 2017. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda reported to commence issuance of the new international EA e-passport not later than April 2017, while the United Republic of Tanzania would be ready to commence the issuance of the e–Passport by 1st January 2018,” the EAC brief on 7 April 2017 said.

According to the EAC, the e-passport is expected to boost the free movement of people across the region and it will be in line with the implementation of the Common Market Protocol, which guarantees the right to move freely between EAC member countries.

Article 9 of the protocol on travel documents provides, “A citizen of a Partner State who wishes to travel to another Partner State shall use a valid common standard travel document. 2. The Partner States which have agreed to use machine‐readable and electronic national identity cards as travel documents may do so. 3. The Partner States which have agreed to use machine‐readable and electronic national identity cards shall work out modalities for the implementation of paragraph 2.”

Among the challenges member states are facing in the rollout is the cost and controversies surrounding the tendering process.

For instance, the EastAfrican has reported that the installation of new technology to print the e-passport and the phasing out of the old generation passports will cost the Kenyan government about US$5 million.

Among the challenges member states are facing in the rollout is the cost and controversies surrounding the tendering process.

“The technology installed by the Pakistani government will print a maximum of 2,000 passports per day, up from the current 800,” the Kenyan daily covering regional affairs said in a September 2017 report.

E-passport tender

However, as early as 2015, there were reports of tender concerns in connection with the e-passport. The Daily Nation of 9 May 2015 reported concerns “over a Sh1.5 billion e-passport tender after officials directly engaged British firm De La Rue and Pakistani government agency Nadra to do the work”.

According to the Nation, the projected budget to buy the e-passport booklets and production software was likely to shoot up from KSh1.5 billion in the first year to KSh5 billion in the third year.

There were concerns as to whether Kenyans would get value for their money.

In the arrangement, De La Rue, which also prints Kenyan currency, was to manufacture the 145,000 booklets, while the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) was to develop the software.

On its website, Nadra confirms it undertook the job, enabling Kenya to issue machine-readable passports.

“The implemented technology and business logic has enabled Kenya with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant data acquisition software for passports. Passport data is synchronized with their identity system,” it says.

There were concerns as to whether Kenyans would get value for their money.

Nadra further says that a total of 775,000 machine-readable passports have been issued to Kenyans, and that it provides technical support and software upgrades when required.

The company does not indicate the timeframe within which the passports were issued but in May 2019, Kihalangwa, then Immigration Principal Secretary, told Parliament that the department had issued 800,000 passports ahead of the then August 31 deadline.

Kihalangwa said the department was serving an average of 4,000 passport applicants daily, with Nyayo House centre in Nairobi handling 2,000 applicants a day, while the Kisumu and Mombasa centres were processing 1,000 each.

“So far, we have issued almost 800,000 passports and we expect a very good number will have been done by 31st August,” he told the National Assembly Committee on Administration and National Security. In June of that year, Matiang’i said one million Kenyans had transitioned to the electronic passport but 1.5 million Kenyans were still holding the old generation document.

Kenyan diaspora

Kenyans in the diaspora, however, have  complained of the limited number of centres at which they can renew their passports. This is despite President Uhuru Kenyatta directing in March 2019 that Kenyans living abroad be issued with the e-passport in their countries of residence.

It is estimated that 3 million Kenyan nationals live and work abroad.

Speaking during his state visit to Namibia, President Kenyatta said he saw no reason why Kenyans living outside the country should incur huge financial costs to travel back home to Nairobi to acquire the new passports.

“Why should these people be made to pay money to fly to Kenya just to get a passport and go back to work? Form a team that will go from country to country to register Kenyans in the diaspora,” President Kenyatta said in Windhoek, responding to complaints from Kenyans living there.

Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu were the only centres issuing the document at the time but in June 2019, the government opened other centres in Nakuru, Eldoret, Embu and Kisii to complement those in the three cities.

Abroad, Kenya launched centres in Pretoria, Washington DC, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Beijing and the United Arab Emirates.

Operations in London, however, delayed, as the systems and infrastructure had not been set up.

“We are aware of the complaints [from Kenyans in the UK]. The Immigration Department has said infrastructure will be in place by August 10 so we expect to be at full steam around August 15,” Kenya’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Manoah Esipisu said at the time.

However, the deadline to migrate to the e-passport was again pushed by six months to 1 March 2020.

Agnes Gitau, Managing Partner at GBS Africa in London, said that while extending the deadline gave Kenyans living abroad time to apply for the e-passport, it was imperative to communicate the new dates and the process with clarity to the over 3 million Kenyans living abroad.

“Communication has to be targeted to Kenyans through their local communities, churches, universities as there are thousands of Kenyans studying abroad and the easiest way to reach them is via their institutions.

“The Kenyan students abroad is at least one source of data governments through their embassies have. Posting on embassies website or twitter is not enough. They have to do more to reach as many Kenyans as possible,” Gitau, who also works with the Kenyan diaspora in the UK, said.

Gitau also attributed the extension to the pressure from the Kenyan diaspora.

“Though the process is still bureaucratic and unnecessarily lengthy, by extending the dates, [. . .] for once the department for Migration has responded positively.  I am aware the process is so cumbersome that some Kenyans opt to travel to Kenya to apply for the e-passport there rather than at embassies,” she added.

To process more Kenyans, Gitau proposes mobile registration/renewal booths during events whenever there is a large gathering of Kenyans as it would be a logistical nightmare to establish centres in all the cities where Kenyans live.

“The only sensible place would be perhaps in Scotland and Ireland, again depending on the numbers of Kenyans there,” she adds.

Confusion in foreign missions

In December 2018, Deputy President William Ruto had issued a statement that exposed the confusion and the government’s disjointed approach.

Speaking to Kenyans living in Italy on 2 December 2018, Deputy President Ruto announced a new deadline of 2020, noting that the initial deadline of 31 August 2019 was impractical.

“The deadline is soon approaching and only a small fraction has managed to upgrade their passports to the new e-passport. The backlog at the immigration will not allow us to achieve this,” Ruto said.

This caused confusion in the consular offices of foreign embassies in Nairobi, with some maintaining that the initial deadline stood.

For instance, the Embassy of Belgium tweeted on May 2019: “#ConsularAffairs – Please note that according to the announcement of the Kenyan Government, the old Kenyan passports will expire on 01.09.2019. The Embassy of Belgium in Nairobi will ONLY accept the new East African Community biometric e-Passports for Schengen visa applications”. The US embassy had made a similar announcement on 30 April 2019, which was however retracted on 1 May 2019.

In the initial communication, the US Embassy said, “All travelers to the United States from Kenya must have a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry. Therefore, U.S. Embassy Nairobi can no longer place U.S. visas in the previously issued non-digital passport expiring August 31, 2019.”

It then sent another statement saying, “Visa applicants may apply for a US visa with a non-digital Kenyan passport. We will place a US visa in a non-digital passport until further notice. Holders of current US visas do not need to take any action.”

That the US — one of the countries that have very strict immigration rules and requirements — flip-flopped on the issue in such a short time shows the level of confusion among the foreign missions.

This caused confusion in the consular offices of foreign embassies in Nairobi.

Officials of various embassies who did not want to go on record said at the time that they were yet to receive any communication concerning the extension. Some said they would continue issuing visas on the old passports.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau downplayed the issue at the time, saying only, “It’s not a worry. We shall cross that bridge in August [2019]”.

Two years later, another deadline has been issued.

Speaking with nationals of other EAC countries (Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi) it is clear that although their governments have started rolling out the e-passport, they have not set deadlines within which the exercise should be completed.

In Kenya, even as the government rolls out the e-passport, it is also upgrading the driving licence to a digital one as well as implementing the National Integrated identity Management System, popularly known as Huduma Namba, which was declared illegal by the courts in October last year for contravening the Data Protection Act. The digital driving licence rollout was to start in 2017 after a failed attempt in 2008.

It remains to be seen whether the November 2022 e-passport deadline will be met this time round and the measures the government will put in place to ensure that the rollout is completed.

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All We Want for Christmas: The 2022 Manifesto Shopping List

The ethno-cronyism that has dominated past elections is giving way to issue-based electoral competition and the only way for presidential candidates to signal their competence to govern is through the quality of their manifesto.



All We Want for Christmas: The 2022 Manifesto Shopping List

The campaign season is once again upon us and the political class is charged with a renewed sense of purpose during this unusual time of COVID-19 uncertainty.  As we are inundated with campaign headline after campaign headline, Kenyans are once more captivated by the “telenovela” quality of the shifting political alliances and sensational back-stabbings. We love it. Not only is scheduled gladiatorial combat a welcome reprieve from the tedium of life post-COVID, we will also not begrudge ourselves the pleasure of watching the political elite fight to the reputational death for their (allegedly) ill-gotten gains.

With government spending estimated at a quarter of total Gross Domestic Product in Kenya, the politician’s interest in the presidency is clear. These heavily invested candidates jostling to direct the state’s monopoly power, however, are forced to contend with a new normal in the rhythm and flow of this campaign election cycle. While previous cycles were characterized by mobilization around ethnic cleavages, there is a national fatigue, a marked reluctance to demonize the “other” tribe. Moreover, the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty caused by emerging variants has catalysed the calcification of the economy as the core electoral concern.

There is a shift in Kenya’s political taste-palette from the half-hearted ethno-cronyism that has dominated past elections to issue-based electoral competition. The 2022 elections provide the clearest opportunity yet to place the presidential candidate’s competence in governance at the centre of all political discourse. This intangible shift may seem like an inconsequential wave against the tsunami of 60 years of “tupatie mtu wetu” (ethno-cronystic) momentum, but the choices we make during these elections will have incalculable ramifications.

Disrupting the mechanics of mediocrity 

As a wide-eyed, enthusiastic attaché in a heavily wood panelled, dusty government office, I had the pleasure to meet a newly employed crop of “Job Group J” civil servants (the J group). I was captivated by their energy and drawn into their excitement of being part of the select few. They represented what I wanted to become after graduation – they had big dreams, high energy and noble intent. I am still haunted by what I witnessed, but could not articulate, during my time with the J group. In hindsight, I now understand that as I watched, they became conditioned by a pervasive and insidious system with Pavlovian efficiency. With helpless horror, I observed as those who left their integrity at home, questioned nothing, signed where they were told, and did what they were asked, were rewarded with the opportunity to supplement their income, travel and move up the ranks. This is the unacknowledged reason why all civil servants you have engaged with have the same characteristics.

The 2022 election provides the clearest opportunity yet to place the presidential candidate’s competence in governance at the centre of all political discourse.

The exceptional, the visionaries, the agitators and change makers who could not successfully graduate from the behaviour modification programme were pushed out or left behind. I have seen this sequence of system self-selection and reinforcement replicated with soul-crushing consistency. This system of mediocre, sycophantic governance is what has been propagated, protected and encouraged when the product of each electoral cycle is a charismatic figurehead of the “right” ethnicity who still takes instruction on where to append his signature.

As the incentives we create at the ballot are what invariably play out across all configurations of government, changing the distorted incentives that create poor governance outcomes means being intentional about what we reward and what we punish.  If economic outcomes form the bulk of our policy concerns, then the candidate that demonstrates an ability to secure positive socio-economic outcomes is the “right” candidate.

Manifesto shopping list essentials 

At the ballot, the only way for presidential candidates to signal their technical competence, commitment to the public interest and understanding of the complexity of governance is the quality of their manifesto. Below are some of the bare-minimum indicators of manifesto quality to help you make sense of the relentless campaign rhetoric:

  1. Documented manifesto — The lack of a documented and widely available manifesto is a red flag. It signals a candidate who will promise anything and not be held to account. You know this person; he likely owes you money, should you vote for him/her?
  2. Points of accountability — Beware of candidates who are unwilling to burden Wanjiku with the details of their plans. To clarify, each campaign promise should be accompanied by the policies, policy instruments (laws and regulations) and indicators of progress. The thing to look for here is manifesto structural integrity.
  3. Scapegoat-free rhetoric — Learn to recognise the use of loaded language. A candidate that uses the passive voice to shift responsibility from themselves to a mysterious outside force is only out for their own best interests. If he/she has a singular person, group or circumstance to blame for the current state of affairs he/she is stoking emotions because they have no technical competence.
  4. No meaningless platitudes — Reject loose pronouncements of desirable outcomes such as “Increase youth employment” or “eradicate corruption”. These are the descriptive equivalent of “niko kwa jam nakam” (a Kenyan idiom that wastes your time and means nothing).
  5. Straightforward approach to corruption — Look out for avoidance or minimalization of the core electoral concern, corruption. Reframing discussions around corruption as “integrity” or “transparency” issues or challenges is a clear indication of a “corrupt status quo” beneficiary.
  6. No divide-and-rule rhetoric — The application of the “vote for me and I will give you, my voters, x” is a hangover from the colonial tactics of division. It is an indicator that the candidate is unwilling or unable to engage in the policy process. He/she is signalling their inability to produce an integrated development strategy for the whole country and must resort to taking the divisive shortcut of “in-group” favouritism.
  7. Coherence checks—Curate your consumption of candidates’ claims by subscribing to analysts who conduct a thorough issue-based investigation. Shun the rickety sensationalism of pundits, for clear evaluations of the effectiveness, efficiency and efficacy of policy and its instruments. Here, at The Elephant, we are committed to providing timely, informative and objective analysis and we will continue to do so during this campaign period.

Happy bargain hunting!!!

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Cyclical Drought in Northern Kenya Takes Toll on Women and Girls

Climate change is endangering the lives of millions of Kenyans in the northern counties and rendering them destitute. But indigenous and pastoralist women are the most marginalized and the most vulnerable to the climate crisis.



Cyclical Drought in Northern Kenya Takes Toll on Women and Girls

Even though Kenya accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, pastoralist communities in the country have borne the brunt of the effects of climate change, facing increasingly frequent droughts every two years.

Drought disproportionately affects women and girls in northern Kenya. They spend much of their time looking for water, walking long distances to reach boreholes where they queue at water kiosks, competing for the precious commodity with large numbers of livestock. Mama Amina Mohamed, a 30-year-old who lives in Hadado, says, “My tedious routine is fetching water for household use for the 10 weak goats at home. I come here four times during the day.”

Asha Ali is 32 years old and a new mother. She lives with her family in Abaq Mathobe in Wajir West, 30 kilometres away from Wajir County headquarters. Asha gave birth on the 1st of November this year at home in her village which is not accessible by road, leaving her and her community without access to an ambulance service or emergency health services.

With the ongoing drought, there was no water available and so after giving birth, Asha Ali and her newborn baby were cleaned with coarse sand. Like thousands of other pregnant and lactating mothers in the northern counties that have been affected by the recent drought, Asha Ali was also severely malnourished. Due to existing gender disparities caused by illiteracy, poverty and traditional customs and beliefs, pastoralist women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition in the northern counties.

As the drought ravaged the region, the task of moving the household and the weak livestock in search of pasture and water fell to the women. Thirty-five-year old Mama Fatuma Abey moved with her 12 children and her livestock from Welgaras, a conflict-prone area on the border between Wajir West sub-county and Isiolo, to Arbajahan. She and her children walked over 15 kilometres, spending two days on the road with no water and no food, fearful of being attacked by bandits along the way. The two donkeys that she had been using to carry her children died on the journey.

The family arrived in Arbajahan extenuated by hunger and fatigue and community elders helped to mobilise resources to come to their assistance. But Arbajahan is no better than Welgaras; women and girls are afraid to fetch firewood in the bush for fear of being raped and are forced to buy firewood for cooking.

Pastoralist women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition in the northern counties.

Pastoralist women find that with drought their family responsibilities increase. The job of fetching weak livestock left behind in the old homestead falls to them; they must go back and forth, ferrying the weakened livestock on donkey carts, and must somehow find the means to feed the animals. Without pasture, the same grain that feeds their families is also used to feed the weak animals, further straining the household budget. To cope, the women skip meals, making do with a meal a day and sometimes none at all.

Drought also forces girls out of school. To help ease the burden at home, they forfeit their education for work as house-helps in urban areas such as Wajir town, sending their monthly earnings back home to support the mothers they have left behind.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification for Acute Malnutrition (IPC-AMN) and Acute Food Insecurity analyses for August to November 2021 projected that “an estimated 652,960 children aged between 6 and 59 months and 96,480 pregnant and lactating mothers [would] required treatment for acute malnutrition”. The nutrition situation was found to be critical (IPC-AMN Phase 4) in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana, North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties.

Wajir West was the county’s worst affected region and the children were the most affected. The proportion of children below the age of five years that were at risk of severe malnutrition had surpassed the emergency 15 per cent threshold (very high). In Wajir east, west  and south, the number of children under five years that were at risk of acute malnutrition had increased to 50 per cent in November 2021 due to reduced milk consumption. Milk production at the household level was affected by lack of pasture, distance to water sources, and the deteriorating condition of the livestock.

The climate crisis has led to dwindling resources and this is having an impact on the security situation in the northern counties. It has triggered conflicts between the communities of Hadado and Merti sub-counties leading to the deaths of more than 20 people in the last two years alone. Women and girls in these conflict-prone areas face more violence and insecurity and as the drought deteriorated, more women and girls were at risk of being killed, assaulted, and violated. Women and girls have also been displaced by climate change-induced conflicts and threats.

At the peak of the drought in October 2021, Abdullahi Mohamed, a community leader in Hadado, expressed the fears of the community. “If the rains fail in November and December, we are facing death as a result of no food and water. We are already too weak, I don’t know how many children and women can make it till it rains especially outside the inaccessible rural areas. We fear for our lives.”

Incidences of human-wildlife conflict due to severe drought also increased, especially in Wajir North, Balambala, and Ijara, where warthogs and monkeys were walking into people’s houses looking for food and water.

In July 2021, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative Carla Mucavi signed a Drought Action and Response Plan that requires KSh9.4 billion for drought mitigation for pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the arid and semi-arid counties (ASALs).

Without pasture, the same grain that feeds their families is also used to feed the weak animals.

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster on 8 September 2021 and instructed the National Treasury and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government to spearhead government efforts to assist the effected communities including with water and relief food distribution as well as livestock uptake. The central government subsequently allocated KSh2 billion for drought mitigation measures in 10 northern counties including Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Turkana.

On 4 November 2021, the national government launched a food aid programme with the government spokesman, Col. (Rtd.) Cyrus Oguna, flagging off food relief for drought mitigation that included 6,000 bags of rice and 12 000 bags beans to 10 locations in Wajir East. Each location received 50 and 17 bags of rice and beans. The Wajir County Government’s allocation of KSh180 million to special programmes was used to purchase emergency livestock feeds and food aid to save lives and livelihoods at the sub-county level. This was not nearly enough according to humanitarian organizations operating in Wajir, because the county has more than 781,000 people and more than half of the population were facing acute food Insecurity and acute severe malnutrition.

The primary water sources for human and livestock use across the county are boreholes, shallow wells, and water trucking. And even though it is unsustainable and very expensive, as the drought conditions persisted, there was a significant upsurge in the number of centres and institutions depending on water trucking as their primary source of water.

All the water pans had entirely dried up, putting a strain on the twelve strategic boreholes in the sub-counties and leading to increasingly frequent breakdowns due to high concentrations of people and livestock. The 2021 budget allocation of KSh837 million for the water department was spent entirely on rehabilitating boreholes.

As the drought conditions persisted, there was a significant upsurge in the number of centres and institutions depending on water trucking as their primary source of water.

The county governments in northern Kenya are being forced to reallocate development resources to address climate-induced emergencies, even though they are poorly equipped to respond effectively to droughts and to build the pastoralist communities’ resilience and ability to bounce back better. The pastoralist communities have lost billions in the recent drought, and they must start rebuilding again from scratch since this is the only way of life they know and understand.

But indigenous and pastoralist women are the most marginalized and most vulnerable to the climate crisis. They are poorly represented at the decision-making levels in the counties and with little power and influence, they are not involved in contributing to climate change policies and decisions even though they rely mainly on natural resources for their livelihoods.

According to a government report sent to the UN Framework Convention on Climate change, Kenya currently needs over US$62 billion to adapt to the crisis in the ASAL regions over the next 10 years. With the pastoralist way of life now threatened by severe cyclic droughts, there is an urgent need to strengthen the role of indigenous pastoralist women as change agents in climate change adaptation and mitigation since they are the most affected by cyclical droughts.

The long awaited rains finally came in early December 2021. The water pans have filled up, the grass has grown back and with the availability of water and pasture, the condition of the surviving livestock has improved. But until when will the water and pasture last?

The short-term drought mitigation strategies applied during every period of drought are not effective. There is need to develop a long-term strategy to strengthen the capacities of the northern counties to respond to the increasingly frequent droughts. The northern counties should invest in livelihood diversification, rangeland management, lengthening water availability and sustainable peace for the areas susceptible to resource-based conflicts.

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