The Africana Guest House, Lodwar, Turkana County, Kenya
August 11th, 2018
~As told to me by a sub-county vet during lunch one day~
Emerons are wise men, seers. Some people call them witch doctors. In the Turkana culture, and among other groups in the Karamoja cluster, they’re powerful, the leaders. Because they can see the future, they dictate when the migration of people and animals happens. And some say they can stop an animal in its tracks just by looking at it. I’ve seen the power of Emurons in person, in two instances. Once, I saw an Emeron sitting near the kraal, eating some meat. All of a sudden, a large eagle flew down and picked up a piece of meat. It started to fly straight up, very high until you could barely see it. The Emeron started talking to the eagle. He said, “that’s my meat. You must bring it down because I was eating it.” All of a sudden, the dark speck in the sky started to grow. The eagle was falling straight down to the ground, dead. It hit the ground in a burst of feathers and dust. The Emeron walked over to the eagle, retrieved his meat, wiped it off on his sleeve and continued to eat.
Another time, we were in a remote part of the sub-county, near the border. The Emeron had stated that no goats or sheep were to leave the area past a certain hill. After completing our vaccinations one of the pastoralists gave us a goat to thank us. He said we did a very good job. I thought about the Emeron’s decree, but their power is waining with modern times. It didn’t seem very important. We put this goat in the back of our truck and started to head back. To leave the area, we had to cross a dry riverbed. Someone had dug a hole in the riverbed to get water and our truck go stuck because of that hole. All of a sudden, without warming, water started rushing down the riverbed – a flash flood. We had to leave the truck there, with the goat tied in the back. We spent the night in the village and the next morning walked downstream to where the truck was after being swept away by the waters. The goat was nowhere to be seen. We never found it.
The Turkana and the Pokot
Another veterinarian and I were also discussing raiding between the Turkana and Pokot, which is a major problem. It goes like this (according to him): There is the Turkana tribe to the north (lowlands) and the Pokot tribe to the south (highlands). They speak different languages and although their lifestyle is similar, mobile and focused on livestock, they consider each other traditional enemies. For hundreds of years they’ve been crossing into each other’s land and stealing cattle. Moonlight raids, silent lines of creeping young men in the Turkana sands, surrounded by flat-topped acacia and esekon trees, the silhouette of cattle, shining horns and the soft shuffle of hooves. He thinks a lot of the recent violence has to do with bride price, or the monetary value of livestock that is required to get married. According to a recent report in the local newspaper, the bride price for the Pokot in 2018 was $1.4 million KES in cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys. And where do you get those animals? From the Turkana of course, traditional enemies and closest neighbors makes it hard to resist. A similar story exists for the Turkana, who have the second highest bride price at $800,000 KES among the tribes in the region. Interestingly, the Pokot don’t accept installment plans for buying brides like other communities, which may force more drastic action. So, a cultural tradition that has existed for millennium continues, but now instead of spears raiders have AK-47s, and that has made a once relatively harmless practice that was mediate by elders, extremely dangerous. As he put it, young Turkana and Pokot men are told they are nothing without animals, that they have to marry well to move ahead in life, and thus, they raid.
Because I was interested in this topic, I looked more into it. It turns out, like most issues, there’s not just one factor that is at the root cause of the violence. In his thesis titled “The Silent War: Pokot and Turkana Conflict,” Stephan Muntet describes a variety of factors that play a role. These include:
1. Environmental scarcity, which encourages competition between groups for resources
2. Availability of illegal firearms – the majority of which are provided by the Kenyan police to protect against raiding by Ugandan and Sudan communities (note the irony here, as those guns are then used for violence against others)
3. Poor governance (lack of disarmament, no education, bad infrastructure, etc)
4. Extreme poverty (see Table 1)
5. Tribal politics – exacerbated by environmental scarcity
6. Beings surrounded by “enemies” – the region is bordered by Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopia, resulting in insecurity and lack of peaceful collaboration and problem solving
7. Climate change – more severe and frequent droughts, which results in the death of many animals and the need to restock herds through raiding
8. Lack of elders – disintegration of social structure resulting in unsupervised raids by young men. Furthermore, peaceful conflict resolution depends on community leaders coming together, without those leaders peaceful resolution isn’t possible.
“The inability of the Kenyan government to provide security for its people plus the easy access for semi-automatic guns by young men of both ethnic groups, have contributed to the crumbling of these communities social structures. Droughts and other calamities that shrink resources such as grazing land and water, just contribute to this conflict but not the root cause of the problem. A combination of the above scenarios, have therefore transformed the traditional age-sets systems into gang-like groups. These sets have derailed from the original approach of organizing relations and order within a tribe into mini-militaries who have unlimited power, freedom and discretion.”
Muntet focuses on the degradation of power among elders in the Turkana and Pokot tribes as a main cause of the violence, although I wasn’t completely convinced by his argument. For example, he mentions that elders are in-fact giving their implicit support for raids and gaining animals from them. His suggestions for how to resolve the conflict include:
1. Adding police stations to Northwest Kenya to deter raids
3. Improve literacy rates
4. Provide veterinary services and improve infrastructure – Just a note on this one: Veterinary services are being provided! But I can attest to the need for better infrastructure (e.g. roads).
5. Peace mediation between the Turkana and Pokot
Some researchers have focused more on environmental factors, like drought, as motivation for raiding. However, although a lot of research has examined the link between climate change and violence, not just in Turkana but around the world, no definitive link has been found between warming and armed conflict to date. The way I think about it, there are so many different factors that influence conflict that quantifying the role of climate is challenging. In addition, how do you define conflict? It could be between non-state or state actors. Does it include raids AND the threat of raids? Or is it just mortality events? The research in this area is diverse, with different definitions being applied to various scenarios, adding another challenge to quantifying the effect of factors on conflict between pastoralist, and other, communities. Violence between pastoralists communities is a topic that has arisen during the course of several interviews, and one that Dr. Ronoh and I are investigating currently. It’s possible that a small aspect of my study this summer may contribute to solutions in this area. I’m excited to further explore this topic, of which I know very little about.
This week was extremely busy. I conducted interviews with the following people/groups (hyperlinks go to organization’s websites):
1. Sub-county veterinary officer (SCVO) Turkana West
2. Chief livestock health technician Turkana South
3. Turkana Pastoralists Development Organization (TOPADO) – Livestock team
4. Senior public health officer (PHO) Turkana Central
5. Afya Timiza (USAID) – Kimormor officer
6. Nadapa community – Loima sub-county
7. Sub-county Public Health Officer (SCPHO) – Loima
8. TURKWEL community – Loima sub-county
9. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Animal Health Assistant – Kakuma (Turkana West)
10. PHO/deputy public health officer (DPHO) – Turkana West
11. Lotus Kenya Action for Development Organization (LOKADO) – Kakuma
12. Kakuma community – Turkana West
I’ve talked with basically all of the sub-county veterinarians now. Next week will be more focused on the human side of things, in terms of PHOs and NGOs that deal with human health (e.g. IRC and UNICEF). A few observations: Kakuma, the headquarters/capital of Turkana West, is impressive. It’s over 250 km away from Lodwar, and after 2.5 hours of traveling along a crumbling road (mostly dirt with patches of broken concrete, I wasn’t expecting such a population hub.
The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) was very active in Turkana County in the 80s and 90s and built the road to Kakuma. I found out NORAD was kicked out of Turkana by President Moi in the 90s, they were given 72 hours to leave the country, because they worked too closely with the opposition. As Dr. Ronoh explained, they were empowering the local population that didn’t support President Moi, so they had to go. They had a lot of irrigation project in Lodwar that are abandoned now; politics can be so destructive.
Dr. Ronoh said there are 400,000 people in Kakuma, although the refugee camps make up a large part of that with 181,000 refugees there alone. I learned more about the refugee camps when visiting the project coordinator at LWF. It wasn’t a formal interview, more like a courtesy call. In Kakuma, LWF are the biggest implementing partners of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and primarily support the refugee camp with programs that include: Education, Child Protection Services, Sustainable Livelihoods, Community Peace and Person with Specific Needs. In Turkana West they work not only in Kakuma but also at the Kalobeyei settlement, Nadapal Transit Centre at the South Sudanese border, and in the greater sub-county as a whole. The project coordinator told us LWF initially came to Kakuma in 1992 when the refugee camp was established following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” Interestingly, one of the better known long-distance runners in the U.S., Lopez Lomong, was a “lost boy” who arrived as a 16 year old. I read he ran, with 3 other boys, for 4 days to reach the refugee camp in Kakuma from South Sudan. What an inspiration. Also, I was reading about the second Sudan civil war that resulted in the refugee crisis and was wondering, what about the lost girls of Sudan? It turns out that fewer escaped initially because while the boys were in the fields herding the animals the girls were home and were killed during attacks in the village. For those that did escape, they were given to foster families in the Kakuma refugee camps and surrounding areas. Those families that often took advantage of them (e.g. used as domestic servants and prevented from attending school, or sold them for bride-price). Furthermore, only 87 of the of the 3,700 Sudanese refuges settled in the U.S. in 2001 were girls. A lot of attention has been given to the boys, deservedly, but more needs to be done for the girls fleeing the region.
Recently, the current President in South Sudan, Salva Kiir, gave the rebel leader Risk Machar and all rebel groups amnesty as part of the peace process. Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar both signed a cease fire and power-sharing agreement on August 5th. However, both led opposite sides of the civil war that started in 2013 and has resulted in the death of thousands. I hope the deal brings about peace.