The new highway has just been put into operation in Nairobi: a prestigious project for traffic in the capital. At the same time, little has changed in living conditions in rural areas in the north for years. There are also cell phone networks there, because it’s logistically simple, but otherwise people live there like 50 or 100 years ago. Berlin photographer Roland Brockmann visited the shepherds in the north of the country at the invitation of the aid organization miseror. Although the people there live so isolated, they suffer the most from the world situation. In crises caused by others, they bear the consequences. They suffer from drought and climate change and hardly contribute to climate-damaging emissions themselves. Very few have probably ever heard of Ukraine, and yet the effects of the war in far Eastern Europe affect their lives. Basic food and fuel are becoming unaffordable – also for international aid organizations.
Mobile Phones in the Middle Ages
People use cell phones but live in traditional huts without electricity or water. They cook over three-stone fireplaces, as they have done since time immemorial. Most are shepherds, who cannot read or write. The animals are central to your life, not just as capital. Cattle or goats determine the status of a family, but especially of daily life. Without the livestock, all life here loses its meaning. It is now the third drought in Kenya that the Berlin photographer has recorded in about ten years. He says: “The people I meet along the way impress me. I wouldn’t be able to survive like this myself. As a photographer, it’s like looking into another world that has fallen out of modernity.” A world that is becoming more and more vulnerable.
Without animals there is no meaningful life
Life is anything but idyllic. The next drama awaits behind the hunger, the lack of prospects. Without animals there is nothing for the pastoral people to do. The drought has climatic, ie global, reasons. This time there is also the recent plague of locusts, Corona and the increased food prices due to the war in Ukraine. Because nothing can be grown in the north because of the semi-arid soil, the nomads have to buy flour to at least eat maize porridge. However, during the pandemic, the markets were closed, causing all day laborers’ jobs to be lost. No one could earn more.
Donations don’t solve all problems
The population of 17 rural districts in Kenya now lives in acute distress. 3.5 million people need humanitarian aid. Laikipia, where the Misereor partner organization IMPACT (Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation) operates, is particularly affected. Roland Brockmann believes that help through donations is urgently needed. It is not fair to expect donations to solve all of the country’s problems. “Donations are not an instrument for change, but a sign of solidarity. A way to help others who are less fortunate.” The necessary structural change and future concepts for Kenya cannot be imported from outside. “Kenya as a country has to do that itself. The West can hardly intervene like a gardener.” He cannot confirm the prejudice that the support is failing. “My clear impression is that the relief supplies that are distributed go to the right people. But it is emergency aid that primarily helps to fill the stomach.” In addition to acute emergency aid, Misereor also supports long-term projects to adapt to changing climatic conditions.
A country divided
The situation in the country is complicated. In no European country is there such a contrast between the modern capital and the nomads of the north. Not only in the living conditions, but also in the mentality. The people in the capital see themselves mainly as Kenyans. In the north, tribal structures still play a major role. Distribution struggles are conducted along ethnic lines. With the brutal methods of the day before yesterday: villages are burned down or cattle stolen again and again. The country is divided. Just 100 kilometers south of the drylands, Kenya’s green highlands begin – with fertile clay soil. “They just harvested well. But the nomads in the north can’t afford the vegetables there without money.” Kenya is a relatively stable African country and, contrary to many fears, the transition of power after the presidential election in the summer has so far been peaceful. Last but not least, a guarantee of peace and unity is the country’s growing middle class, which has a lot to lose in the event of unrest. But the north is currently increasingly being left behind. In the long run, long-term concepts are needed, but today the greatest need has to be alleviated.
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Keywords: famine in Africa