Kenyans eating wild animals as drought worsens

Wild animals in Kenya face extinction by ending up on dinner tables as the worst drought in a generation takes its toll on a people impoverished by years of poor governance, corruption and political sterility.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

People have always poached wild animals for meat. It is a carry over from the old days, long before colonialism, when wildlife roamed the land in huge herds. However, our forefathers resorted to eating wild game only in extreme situations. Some tribes, such as the Maasai and the Somali, looked down on people who ate wild game, viewing such persons as too poor to own livestock.

With colonialism and eventual independence, hunting of wild animals for food or, indeed any other purpose, was criminalized. This pushed the trade to the periphery of economic and social activity. Until recently, only a few places along the Nairobi – Mombasa highway and in parts of the Coast and Rift Valley provinces recorded incidences of bush meat trading. In any case, these were places that were in close proximity to wildlife sanctuaries such as the Nairobi, Tsavo, Amboseli, Nakuru and Mt Longonot National Parks.

Today, the situation is different. The country is experiencing a severe drought that has resulted in shortages of maize, wheat, sugar, milk, water, electricity, fruits and other essential commodities. As a result, prices have spiraled upwards in the past two years and made life harder for the majority poor. This explains the desperate situation that is forcing people to resort to bush meat.

Unlike the previous situation when bush meat was relegated to outlaws at the periphery of society, today’s bush meat industry is very much a mainstream affair. Unemployed youths in communities living close to national parks have formed underground syndicates where they sneak into parks to hunt wild animals then sell the meat in villages and towns.

The most popular animals for game meat are buffalo, antelope, impala, dik diks and duikers. These type of animals are popular because they resemble domestic animals both in size and flesh. The buffalo has almost similar characteristics as a cow, while antelopes, gazelles and dik dik look and feel like goats. The guinea fowl resembles the domestic chicken while warthog meat reminds one of pork. Other animals being hunted for food include zebra and giraffes.

Drought and poverty have become so bad that people are eating wild animals that were previously banned in traditional culture. Baboons, monkeys, squirrels, rats, hawks and eagles have become part of the people’s diet in recent days. This is negatively affecting their numbers. In certain parts of Kenya, monkeys that used to run around freely because nobody would disturb them have retreated in fear deep into the bush. A few weeks ago, a television programme highlighted the plight of villagers who admitted to slaughtering baboons for food.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has tried its best to cope with the phenomenon but it is difficult to fight a hungry, unemployed and desperate population. Despite the dangers of arrest and prison sentences, more and more people are getting into the bush meat trade for lack of alternatives. The current drought has worsened the situation as many farmers have exhausted their food supplies. Cattle, goats and sheep have died in large numbers and even where they still survive, the production of milk is insufficient for the family’s nutritional and financial needs.

People are also lashing out at wildlife, some of which has ventured into human settlements in search for food. Elephants are rampaging through farmland stripping bare any available piece of greenery. In Pokot and Mbeere Districts, homes have been invaded by snakes that are unable to find anything to eat in the bush. This has resulted in an increase in snake bites.

While monkeys and baboons are cowering in fear in certain parts of Kenya, they are very destructive elsewhere. Reports have been made of gangs of primates roaming the landscape in search of food. Nothing can stand in their way as dogs are pounded into mince meat.

Kenya government response to the drought was late and disjointed. Many of the top personalities in government are partly responsible for the current food mess. Post election violence following the disputed 2007 elections severely disrupted farming activity. By the time peace was restored in April 2008, the planting season was all but gone. The maize scandals of late 2008 pointed at a ruling elite greedy enough to make billions of shillings from hungry people. Food prices sky rocketed because cabinet ministers and legislators were buying out government food stocks for export to Southern Sudan where prices were almost three times what they would get in Kenya.

Kenyan leaders continue to engage in a financial orgy of spending. Most of the money is going towards pay hikes, luxury mansions, limousines and extra body guards. The biggest debate in Kenya today is not on how to provide food to the starving masses but on who benefits from political appointments geared towards the next general elections in 2012.


Cattle invade Nairobi National Park

A KWS warden has admitted that the numbers of cattle in the Nairobi National Park has reached record levels. Many die in the park due to walking hundreds of kilometres in search of grazing.

Cattle in the Nairobi National Park.

Cattle in the Nairobi National Park.

In a meeting this weekend with the warden of Nairobi National Park Mr. Michael Wanjau, other government officials as well as residents of the area, it was revealed that tens of thousands of cattle are grazing in the Nairobi National Park as a result of the ongoing devastating drought.

Some dead and dying cattle are being butchered on the roadsides which poses a horrific public health situation.

Click here to get details of this story and view more photos >>


Picture from the Wild About Africa blog


Negative growth for Kenya’s economy in 2010

Thanks to political instability, water shortages, impending power rationing and now Swine Flu, Kenya’s economy will experience negative growth for the first time in almost a decade.

Apart from the ravages of drought, Kenyan dams suffer from massive siltation as seen in this picture of the waters behind Kiambere Dam.

Apart from the ravages of drought, Kenyan dams suffer from massive siltation as seen in this picture of waters behind Kiambere Dam.

A collapsing economy will further add to the woes of a shaky coalition government in a country where the redistribution of national resources has become a catchy slogan.

The closure of the Masinga Hydro Electric Dam last week highlighted the effects of a two-year drought on electricity production. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) has said that it will close a second dam by September if rains don’t fall soon. Unfortunately, the next rainy season in that particular part of Kenya is expected in October, meaning that more dams might close.

Kenya’s industrial and domestic electricity users, face two unpalatable choices: either continue paying for electricity at current rates but experience rationing, or: pay higher prices for oil-fired generators in order to have a steady electricity supply. Neither choice appeals to an economy still suffering the effects of post election violence.

Kengen and the Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC) have been criticized for poor planning in national electricity production. The current drought was predicted months ago and both companies should have taken contingency measures. Instead, Kenya will be forced to rely on so-called “emergency generators,” some of which have been in “emergency use” for the past 10 years! Needless to say, there is lots of money to be made by oil suppliers at the expense of impoverished Kenyans.

Kengen and KPLC do not have a monopoly in poor planning, though. The country’s water providers have literally been caught napping by the ongoing drought. The city of Nairobi is likely to experience a disease outbreak as water supplies become scarcer. The main dam at Ndakaini will dry up in the next few months unless a miracle brings forth torrential rains. The city’s second dam at Sasumua collapsed in 2002 and is only now getting repaired.

Water supplies in other cities are in a sorry state. Kisumu, which lies on Lake Victoria, has not had a fresh water supply for decades and cholera outbreaks are common. The water crisis in Kisumu is so bad that most industries left the lakeside city long ago. Mombasa still relies on the colonial-era Mzima Springs project for much of its supply. Meanwhile, deforestation and land degradation have squeezed the life out of the country’s rivers, with most reduced to seasonal streams.

And just when the tourism industry thought that it had weathered the effects of post election violence, along comes SWINE FLU! Truly, the job of marketing Kenya to overseas tourists must be a terribly frustrating experience! The post election violence of 2008 brought the tourism industry to its knees, as travellers fled a near civil war. Today, tourist numbers are nowhere close to pre-2007 levels and the Swine Flu outbreak will further discourage visitors.

Back in the year 2000, massive power rationing and water shortages resulted in two consecutive years of negative economic growth. Industries closed and the ensuing retrenchments reduced overall consumer spending. The shrinking economy of the closing years of Daniel arap Moi’s presidency contributed a lot to the loss of KANU in the 2002 General Elections. Incidentally, the tourism industry was also depressed in the year 2000 due to political violence surrounding the 1997 elections. (Do you see a recurring trend here …?)

This time, the economic situation will be worsened by the highest government expenditure in Kenya’s history. President Mwai Kibaki has created hundreds of districts for political reasons, each requiring administrators, offices and staff. The gigantic cabinet of 42 is straining the economy, what with astronomic salaries, bodyguards and fuel guzzling SUVs.

As political temperatures rise towards the 2012 elections, Kibaki will be under pressure to embark on massive development spending to boost economic growth. Nobody knows where the money will come from. The only source of funds currently open to the government is taxation but any increases in taxes will alienate industrialists and the professional classes.

A shrinking economy will cause greater hardships for the average Kenyan. It will spark political instability as elements of the ruling elite fight it out for diminishing national resources needed to buy support. Industries will relocate from Kenya or close all-together. Job losses are inevitable, and the stability of the country will be tested once more.

Parents scramble for school lunch as famine bites in Pokot

By Kephas Ayiecha (Weekly Citizen)

Trapped between life and death, parents in famine-stricken West Pokot District have invaded local schools scavenging for food.


Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

The situation has triggered tension in most schools as the parents scramble for food with pupils.

In Chepkobe Boarding Primary School, the effects of hunger are evident as pupils search for wild leaves and fruits to supplement food from the World Food Programme. The school with a population of 400 children suspended lessons to allow pupils trek long distances to fetch water.

The school head teacher Dominic Riangoreng said parents flocked into the institution and forcibly shared lunch and supper with the pupils. “We have tried to chase them away but they are stubborn and distressed by hunger,” Riangoreng told reporters at the school adding that the little food stock had been exhausted following the invasion by the parents and he is contemplating closing the school.

He also said that water shortage has forced pupils to hunt for Cactus plants because they are rich in water and help in preventing dehydration.

A similar scenario was seen in Nasukuta Primary School where parents queued for lunch of boiled maize alongside their children. The parents threatened to cause mayhem if barred from getting the food. “We are starving. We don’t have food at our homes. We are going to die if we are denied food here,” said Grace Longole.

Kapenguria Member of Parliament, Julius Murgor, says the food crisis has affected about 200,000 people in the large West Pokot District. The legislator said two people have died of starvation in his constituency and hundreds are in dire need of food relief.

Speaking to the Weekly Citizen after a tour of the constituency, Murgor explained that food sources have collapsed leaving the locals to rely on wild fruits and leaves for survival. Cattle, the main source of livelihood for majority of the locals, are emaciated due to lack of pasture and water. Murgor said people have migrated to Moroto and Nakapirpirit Districts of eastern Uganda in search of food, pasture and water.

The famine is largely attributable to poor rains in the past year which resulted in below average harvests. Violence that erupted following disputed elections in December 2007 disrupted agricultural activities. Many farmers lost crops and livestock and even land due to ethnic clashes. The affected farmers are still too afraid to return to their farms.

Surprise rains hit Nairobi amidst growing hunger

A heavy downpour today surprised the city of Nairobi as the Kenyan government launched an international appeal for food aid to save millions of Kenyans.

Nairobi city seen at dawn. Picture by Tobias Buckell

Nairobi city seen at dawn. Picture by Wikipedia

The rains were welcomed by a populace grappling with water rationing and rising food prices following months of dry weather. Rains were reported in Mombasa as well.

In spite of this reprieve from a harsh summer, the rains come too late to save food crops. Most of the maize has withered in farms across the country, especially east of the Great Rift Valley.

With at least 10 million people in danger of starvation, President Mwai Kibaki today led an international appeal for food aid. Currently, the Government and World Food Programme are feeding 1.4 million people under the emergency operation programme. Another 1 million people are also fed through direct Government interventions.

The government needs 37 billion Kenya Shillings (US$468 million) for emergency food requirements, support to schools and for agricultural and livestock interventions.

Meteorologists warn that this off-season rain is temporary since January and February are normally dry months. Incidentally, it was just a few day ago that meteorologists told Kenyans not to expect rains any time soon.

Kenya is suffering the vagaries of climate change. Weather patterns have become erratic, moving from extremes of drought and flooding. Destruction of the country’s forests has worsened the situation. Forests help attract rain clouds, protect soil from erosion and contribute to the flow of rivers.

Currently, forest cover in Kenya has declined to less than 1.5% of the country’s land mass compared to the minimum 10% recommended by the United Nations.

New Year clouded by famine fears

Kenyans welcomed 2009 with joyous celebrations across the country amidst worries over drought and famine.

Concerns for the country’s political stability took a back bench as fireworks, shouts and song filled the atmosphere. For many, this was the first New Year feast in two years.

Last year began with political and ethnic clashes following disputed electoral results. The violence was to last till March 2008 when a peace agreement was signed between President Mwai Kibaki and his rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Amidst the ups and downs of coalition building, little attention was paid to the failure of seasonal rains. Most parts of Kenya, especially east of the Rift Valley, had very little rain in the second half of 2008. This is expected to worsen food shortages that have widely eroded the ratings of the Giant Coalition of Kibaki and Raila.

Just a few weeks ago, rumblings of discontent forced the government to take the unprecedented step of creating to different types of maize flour: one for the well-to-do and the other for the poor. By offering low-priced maize for the poor, Kenya was effectively getting into the food subsidy business which is currently the preserve of wealthier countries.

With clear signs of drought and the famine that goes with it, the government’s food subsidy bill is bound to rise astronomically. Already, the Treasury has ordered government ministries to shelve construction projects.

In their New Year speeches, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga vowed to tackle high food prices. It remains to be seen how this will be accomplished without either running a gigantic debt or squeezing the earnings of farmers. The second option – lowering farm gate prices – is already running into problems.

While launching its subsidized brand of maize, the government banned millers from buying directly from farmers. Instead, farmers were to sell maize to the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) at a fixed price. Maize farmers oppose the directive while wheat growers accuse the government of favouring maize farmers.

2008 food production was hurt by political violence. When the peace deal was signed in March, it was too late for the 2008 crop. Fertilizer stores had been looted and fresh supplies became extremely expensive. Those farmers not affected by violence could not afford fertilizer either, resulting in poor yields.

2009 food production will be affected by lack of rain and continued insecurity in the highly productive farmlands of the Rift Valley where ethnic clashes continue intermittently. Many farmers have not returned to their farms for fear of future attacks. All it takes is fallout between the president and prime minister before full scale violence resumes.

Meanwhile, the continued destruction of Kenya’s forest cover is negatively impacting food production. Once mighty rivers have become seasonal, many have dried altogether. Rainfall in former forest areas has declined dramatically and when it does rain, massive soil erosion is a consequence due to the lack of protective vegetative cover.

With clear evidence of food shortages, the government must import food but like everything else in Kenya, the importation process is mired in corruption and political intrigues.

It’s far from being a fair, transparent process.

Price controls, subsidies to worsen food supply (previous article)

Nairobi water shortages to get worse

We were standing on top of a new flat in Pipeline estate, about 15km south east of Nairobi’s city centre and within view of the Jomo Kenyatta International airport. “Twenty years ago, this place was a grassland,” says Mr Anthony Mbugua, the owner of the flat.”

Today, Pipeline estate resembles the inner city projects of the United States. Row upon row of soaring flats, each with dozens of tiny cubicles housing workers from nearby industries and from the airport. Flats extend in every direction as far as the eye can see, merging with the Industrial Area to the north, Doonholm to the north east and Embakasi to the east. To the west, the Pipeline conurbation has touched Mombasa Road. It is the rapid growth of these residential areas has put a strain on Nairobi’s water supply.

The city of Nairobi is experiencing severe water rationing as rains at the water catchment areas failed in recent months. However, observers say that the city’s water supply has simply been overtaken by demand. If anything, Nairobi is getting less water today than it was getting 10 years ago, as colonial era supply systems broke down from neglect. The rapid expansion of residential areas such as Pipeline means the situation will be getting worse.

The growth in population of Pipeline Estate is replicated is such areas as Mathare North, Dandora, Kayole, Ongata Rongai, Kitengela, Zimmerman and Uthiru. Yet, city authorities have no immediate plans to expand water supply. The last major addition to Nairobi’s water supplies was in 1995. At the time, most of the places mentioned above had only a fraction of their current populations.

Mr Mbugua and his fellow landlords have had to hire trucks in order to keep tenants happy. “If I don’t do this, nobody will want to rent my flats,” he explains. But tenants are wary of the quality of the water as the sources are unknown. “The landlords say the water comes from Karen boreholes but it could actually be from anywhere,” says a tenant, “we only use the water for washing and flushing toilets. For health reasons, I prefer to drink bottled water.”

Nairobi’s water supply comes from Ndakaini Dam in Thika, Sasumua in Kinangop, Kikuyu springs and Karen boreholes. There’s also an additional supply from the Ruiru River. Of these, Ndakaini is the newest and largest of all, having been constructed with European Union funds in the early 1990s.

Sasumua Dam was built by British colonialists but is now out of service after it was destroyed by floods in 2002. It hasn’t been repaired since. Therefore, most of Nairobi’s water is coming from Ndakaini but deforestation in the Aberdare mountains has reduced inflows into the dam. Currently, Ndakaini is operating at less than 50% capacity. Ruiru Dam and Kikuyu springs are relatively small sources of supply.

Karen boreholes are being pumped dry as hundreds of homes and businesses in the area tap into the same aquifer. The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company says that it has been forced to drill deeper into the earth’s crust to strike water.

As the city’s water supply diminishes, demand extends far beyond Nairobi. The Athi River Export Processing Zone and nearby flower farms are all getting water from Ndakaini. The growing town of Mlolongo and the surrounding residences on Mombasa Road and Syokimau are adding to pressure on Nairobi’s water. Further to the east, construction in Ruai and Kamulu means that very soon, there won’t be enough water for anybody in Nairobi.

The government plans to stop Nairobi water from flowing to Athi River and Kitengela, arguing that the water authorities in those areas should develop alternative supplies. But this may only be postponing the problem. The Kilimanjaro water supply, conceived in the 1980s for these areas was diverted to horticulture farms belonging to allies of ex-President Daniel arap Moi. Whatever little remains is used to wash trucks on Mombasa Road.

Clearly, the solution lies in rehabilitating to full capacity all the sources of Nairobi’s water supply. There is need to restore the forests of the Aberdares in order to attract rain and help store water through natural means. It will be necessary to disconnect fresh water supply to flower farms, whose produce anyway does not benefit the ordinary people. The Nairobi Water Company should become more efficient by stopping illegal connections that deny the city of revenues needed in maintaining the water system.

More importantly, a culture of pro-active planning should be nurtured in Kenya.