Tracking down the recurrent Turkana drought and the way forward

I was born in 1980 from parents who hailed from Lokitaung – Turkana County. The folklore has it that there was such a bad drought that two thirds of the entire animal population perished and that’s the genesis of so many of the current professionals in their late thirties to mid thirties joining school. They were attracted by school feeding program that was freely provided in the few schools by then. As I grew up, I confirmed the veracity and severity of this information. In deed it was the worst famine that ever affected our people competing for space with the infamous year of scattering (1922) where the British sent a full battalion of 5,000 men to break down the resistance of Turkana’s to the British rule by killing any Turkana on site and confiscating all their herds in the name of the Queens throne (Reference: Scatterjng times by John Lamphear).
Allow me the indulgence to delve in to a bit of history.
Turkana has been experiencing bad and catastrophic droughts after every 10 years since time immemorial. My reading and memory can only cobble and make citations to the following:
  • In 1950, there was a drought called Lotira (Loosely translated as hunger that simply can’t go away) and in 1951, Lokulit (Loosely translated as hunger that whips you like a baby)followed. The British government moved in to relieve the people and the natural coping mechanism of wild fruits and splitting livestock helped a little bit.
  • In 1960, we had a bad drought and it was locally named Kimududu (Loosely translated burning everything to ashes). The British for the  first time as we were still under the colonial period,  transported Turkanas to Lake Turkana and taught them how to fish. Before then it was an anathema to eat “water snakes.” The large settlements in Kalokol, Kataboi and Lowarengak traces their origin to this emigration of yore. Other Turkana families were transported by a peculiar boat “Atubwa Nangorok”  and settled along River Turkwell – one of the two permanent rivers running across Turkana and draining to Lake Turkana and originating from Mount Elgon. The people were settled in Katilu, Kaputir, Kapelboke etc and taught farming.
  • Third recorded drought was in 1970. The locals call it The year of Kibekbek (The year when everything was turned upside down). So severe was the drought that inter ethnic conflict increased and many Turkanas migrated to neighboring countries to look for water and pasture. That year gave in to The year of Achaka Ekipul (The year when God threw away the padlock that locks rain in heaven). It reported that it rained so much for days until major floods ensued and our animals were washed away.
  • In 1980, when I was born, they call it the year of Lopiar, Loosely  translated as the year of wiping everything clean). So bad was the drought that the residence ate skins of their animals and close to two thirds of livestock perished. This made many Turkanas destitutes and our pride as a people was broken. Rural to urban migration began and many children came to school as a coping mechanism to get free meals and not necessarily to look for education. Many people are reported to have died because of this terrible hunger.
  • In 1989, there was another drought and we called it the year of Lokwakoyo. (The year of white animal bones) our animals died  in droves and there were white carcasses of animal bones strewn alloover the landscape.
  • After 1990, something untoward happened. The frequency of drought started reducing. From 10 years to slightly 2-3 years.
Intelligent people call it effects of climate change or advent of global warming. That some people are emitting some toxic gases in the air and puncturing the protective layer exposing us to harmful direct radiating from our sun and universe.
Now to the crux of the issue. The missionaries have existed since 1960’s in Turkana as the “Alternate Government”. They provided schools, health facilities, bore holes and even responding to emergencies. These were quickly followed by NGO’s. In fact no prominent people exists in Turkana currently that are not a product of missionaries or some NGO help.
It’s a fact drought and famine is a product of Mother Nature’s wrath and vagaries of weather. However, hunger is caused by absence of money that something can be done about.
It’s true that huge fundraising have been done by the church and some NGO’s. Y slashing and displaying disturbing and grotesque pictures of cachexic and emaciated suffering populace to raise alms for their projects that end up 80% of the time is lost in administrative cost or corruption. These exploitative scenarios that bent in chicanery exist because of the vacuum that was created by the National Government of the  day by not giving ASAL countries a priority in allocation of development funds and hence making them suffer gross neglect triggered by the ripple effects of African Socialism Paper of 1965 by Tom Mboya that dictated that Government resources should be allocated to areas that are considered to be positively contributing to the economy. So the whole of Northern belt was rendered useless economically. Dead economy. Yet constitutionally they have a right to receive recognition and a morsel of national cake.
Equally, by 1976, there was a poster outside Lodwar that was erected by the colonialists that indicated that Lodwar and Turkana by large is a closed district and you need permission from the Government to visit it. There was also a law to that effect. First tarmac came to Lodwar in 1984. First bank was also in 1984 and largely people started attending school actively in 1970’s.
These are evidences of the large economic, social, and development chiasma that  existed between Turkana and the rest of Kenya.
So the stain that is called Nothern Kenya and Turkana by example has been an eye sore in Kenyan conscience ever since. Everybody knew something must be done about it to alleviate it from the poverty abyss but no one did it except Kibaki who formed Ministry of Northern Kenya in 2007 which incidentally concentrated to North Eastern Province. Even Uganda incidentally recognizing the uniqueness of arid lands “, has a whole Ministry for Karamoja affairs.
Fast forward to Devolution era.
With the money sent in, we found so many problems that it was difficult to map out what’s a priority and what’s not.
We prioritized food security, livestock production, education, water, health, security and infrastructure as Turkana County.
We built 169 dispensaries, employed 900 more medics, built ECD’s sank in boreholes, built roads, started encouraging people to diversify and plant along riverine ecology, built ECD’s set funds for emergencies, provided bursaries etc. using resources provided, we strayed facing age long problems with the resources provided and sheer determination.
The effect of that was positive change. Change that is felt across the whole of Turkana. But the drought has rightfully marked as wrong in this a feat that we shall correct as a county.
The idea that the current drought is an avenue for some people to cash is ill informed at we have 13 counties affected as a result of failed rains.
What the County Government of Turkana has done so far:
1. It has bought food worth 350 million and distributed the first cycle to affected families. Other families are yet to be reached because of distances and our nomadic way of life
2. Water trucking and repair of boreholes a toss the entire county to ensure people get water for themselves and genie livestock
3. Buying feeds for animals to encourage pastoralist to feed their animals and save Glenn from starvation and prevent them from migrating to neighboring countries and counties which usually aggravates  inter ethnic conflicts.
4. Collaboration with National Government to beef up food distribution and fortification of water points.
5. Enhanced Screening of children under 5, elderly, pregnant and lactating mothers and giving germ food supplements.
Now we have the mid term and long term measures that are hinged in food security, livestock production, water availability and accessibility and preparation of the coming  floods.
I know Kenyans are annoyed with the current deaths emanating from a preventable cause but isn’t it prudent we save lives first and do a post Morterm of the issue later and see where the rain started beating us as we lay mid and long term plans that are funded.


1. Map out all affected households with laser precision including the ones that why are the edge of starvation and let’s provide food and water to them as an emergency.
2. Let’s ensure that animals have been provided with feeds, water has been made accessible to the  people and programmes like Cash Transfer programmes have been activated as a question of urgency.
3. Screening of the most vulnerable (Under 5’s, elderly, pregnant and lactating women, widows, orphans and disabled. )
4. Let’s prepare for the floods that are coming soon by moving people and animals to higher grounds, investing so much in early warning system as we spearhead evidence based interventions.
5. Invest in education of the peoole. Education is the greatest equalizer and makes people have open minds, transforms them to disciples of theory of change and emancipates them from poverty.
6. Investing in food security that is technologically driven with Israel as  case in point where they transformed a desert into a good power house.
7. Ensuring that strategic grain reserves, and emergency funds are set aside for lean moments like this one and avoid us from falling into this cyclical drought trap.
8. Coming up with a mid term and long term investment on projects that will stop us from reaching where we have reached and this becomes our watershed moment where we should never ever return.
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