Horn of Africa Impact Stories: Voices From The Frontlines of El-Nino and Climate Change

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For the past few decades Kenyans have been longing for change, change in government practices, change in development strategies, change in national issues such as corruption and poverty. And as our country learns to adopt sustainable development, speaks out against tribalism, strives to alleviate poverty and better our economy, Kenyans are experiencing a different kind of change in the near horizon, drastic unexpected change, change we were not looking for. Climate Change.

Today, I and many in Kenya have become familiar with newspaper headlines that read; ‘Starvation Claims 14 lives in Turkana’ and ‘Death Toll in Marsabit Rises Due to Looming Drought’, while statistics up north show that Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, and Baringo County are worst hit by famine after the consistency of failed rains, with the Governor of Samburu declaring a state of emergency as 60% of locals are facing food insecurity. Appeals to the national government to help address the situation have been made, but his exact words were; ‘We will not survive this drought’. Farmers are reaping losses while pastoralists watch their cattle die.

For the first time in history, Voi River located further south, in Voi County, has dried up. Locals have been unable to water their gardens claiming that even the hope of a meal is now non-existent. And as I turn the pages of my newspaper, images of women, children and men in the majority of Kenya’s communities affirm that we are all suffering from the effects of this long drought that seems to be never ending. The expressions on their faces shows shock and confusion while their eyes are filled with questions. We thirst for answers.

I grew up in Kisii County, the western part of Kenya. A region that contributes largely to Kenya’s fruit basket, but we too have noticed the absence of rainfall. In the 1970’s my family built a dam within the land my grandfather owned though he has departed that dam has always been there from since I can remember, but in the last two years, weather patterns across the country have demanded that our family not take this reservoir for granted. As we experience the second round of drying up, the future remains uncertain. Will the dam refill with rain water as we approach the New Year? Our neighbourhood glares at the skies as if to question where the clouds went. All we can do is hope as we wait for the effects of El Nino to pass. But the hopes of most Kenyans are already drying up as fast as our rivers and dams, with no sign of upheaval rainfall in the near distance.

Kenya has been forced to redefine water as a scarce commodity rather than a basic need. What scares me most, together with other fellow citizens is our incapability to solve the situation, to a large extent the power to mitigate climate change does not lie in our hands.


Community-leader-and-elders-in-Ajawa-discusion-water-issues.-Photo-Credit-Dima-CARE-1024x768[Community leader and elders in Ajawa discusion water issues. Photo: Dima CARE]


The entire population of Ajawa in northern Kenya spends most of their day worrying about water supplies rather than focusing on developmental issues. Nothing else seems to matters except that very “basic need” we call water. For hours and kilometres on end, members of the community walk to the nearest bore-hole then descend 30 meters into a cave like well to fetch water for their cattle before the break of dawn. The well appears to be the only source of survival. Others prefer to keep away from the well having been attacked by wild animal while cases have been heard of women having miscarriages because of the long distances they are forced to walk in order fetch water. Our county governments, especially in Wajir have heard the cry of pastoralists and have funded veterinary officers to manage the lives of hundreds of thousands of live stock in order to minimise the drought related livestock deaths. These measures, though helpful, seem to be too little and too late in the day as the sun continues to scorch a large per cent of Kenya.

The Kenyan economy loses 14billion Kenyan Shillings to drought every year, the country has lost 3% of its GDP in 2015 alone, 10 million and more are suffering from the effects of famine while the situation is set to worsen, thousands of lives have been lost and still, no solutions have been found. Millions from the Horn of Africa have been migrating south, headed to our country in order to flee severe famine yet we too are experiencing the same conditions they seek to avoid.

As the reality of climate change dawns on us, we looked to the ongoing 21st Conference of Parties in Paris hoping that the negotiations will be fruitful. Past meetings have availed very little even to the point where we have begun to speak about Adaptation, Climate Justice, Climate Finance and Compensation rather than Mitigation and Reduced Emissions. The questions that linger in my mind are; will there be a positive outcome as heads of states convene in Paris to discuss Climate Change, or is this just another good photo opportunity for global presidents as they sit in fancy conference rooms with a cup of tea and bottled water by their side while we in the Horn of Africa journey in search of a stream of water and look to the skies for long awaited rains?

The Africa We Want; Youth Voices

Hearing What the Youth in Africa Are Doing

Elephants Walking Through Grass 18inW


Photo: http://nickbrandtphotography.blogspot.co.ke/ ]

To stand on the vast plains of Samburu or any gazetted park across Africa and enjoy the view of migrating elephants, is an amazing experience. But finding the elephants is a whole different story. If you try to locate a herd of elephants by listening for the noises they make, more often than not, your efforts will be in vain. This is simply because elephants often choose to communicate in an infrasound, which simply means that they make low-frequency sound waves that are inaudible to the human ear.

As I begin to draw similarities between elephants and the youth of Africa, I would like to begin by admitting that the youth of today strikingly resemble all elephant species across her continent. Living in the wake of post-colonialism, a liberated Africa, an era of sustainable development and a time when everyone both within and without the confines of Africa’s borders echo that the 21st Century is Africa’s century, as quoted in the Agenda 2063 of the African Union development plan, I believe that it is time for the youth to make a difference. If there ever was a time for the young people in Africa to rise up to the occasion, it is now more than ever. They need to voice their opinions and let their communities, their towns, their countries, their continent and the world know what they want for Africa!

Though at face value it may seem that the youth are silent, whispers can be heard; whispers from young people who deep down long for a different Africa, a better Africa. The youth are discussing the disappointments they have about their country; they are complaining about poor governance, corruption, poverty and food insecurity, they murmur against current developments and the lack thereof, but we seldom hear the solutions to the problems they speak about. Perhaps it is because they have chosen to let their actions speak louder than their words.

You see, it takes an ordinary person to identify a problem, but it takes an extraordinary person to invent a solution. Africa thirsts for solutions, solutions for today and tomorrow and if we claim that a countries future lies in the hands of its youth, then the youth of today must not only come up with solutions but be the solution. During colonialism, the men and women who chose to break the bonds of slavery by fighting for independence when all odds seemed against them are the greatest example we have; Africans who chose to be the solution when Africa needed one. In a span of only 58 years, Africa was able to gain liberty from all foreign colonials, a task that seemed impossible. Now how long will it take the current African citizens, and youth especially, to step up and replicate what our forefathers did as we seek for a day where transformative leadership and development will be evident? The decision largely lies in their hands. They stand on the brink of creating a revolution, one that will bring resourcefulness, change and above all sustainable development.

It is evident that youth, in general, possess a treasure house of talents that harbour innovation and creativity. These ideas, when utilized, will play a role in driving development and positive change and we will therefore succeed in securing not only today’s, but tomorrow’s aspirations as well. If their talents are harnessed as the Africa Union development plan seeks to do by 2063 under the 6th Aspiration, then we begin to expand the limits of progress. By harbouring and implementing their unique development strategies, breakthroughs will be made.

Over the past decade, young people have begun emerging from their cocoons. Year after year we hear of new innovations, the majority of which originate from the youth. Innovations such as M-Pesa and M-Kopa which have made a difference in people’s lives, countries’ economies and have gained global recognition. Creativity thrives as university students in Kenya invent mobile phone applications such as M-Calc which has helped farmers to optimize production and reduce losses thereby enhance food security. Other recent innovations that have mushroomed across the continent are some like the e-learning platform called Slatecube, created by Chris Kwekowe, a 22-year-old Nigerian tech entrepreneur and app developer. He was able to create a space where students can study at their convenience via both free and paid-for online courses while connecting with opportunities. While in Morocco, yet another university student has founded a mobile phone application which offers a range of road transportation services such as bus schedules and online ticket reservations. The first online bus transport portal in his country.

In 2015; Anzisha Awards, in their premier year, attracted many youth across the continent who had extra ordinary business ideas. Five of Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs who have brought change to their country were awarded. Interesting to note, all winning categories had ideas based on innovation and creativity, ideas aimed at bringing sustainable change in Africa. There were other projects focused on promoting African Renaissances such as one from Lonwabo Ncanda, a 17-year-old matric student from Soweto, South Africa who co-founded an online youth entertainment platform called UltraShare which showcases and celebrates local artists and brands on social media. Another was from Rwandan Ysolde Shimwe, a 22-year-old who is advertising Africa’s fashion at an international level. Ysolde co-founded her fashion line; Uzuri while still in university.

With these any many other ideas that the youth are yet to come up with, it is evident that there is potential and that the young generation can be the driving force that will modify and develop Africa.

Ongoing projects such as Carolina for Kibera, founded by a volunteer group, has aimed to work with communities to alleviate poverty. They recently stated that; “It is ambitious young people who possess resounding hope and remarkable creativity. They have the talent and initiative to create real, sustainable change. Oftentimes all they need are the resources and some support network to help their ideas thrive.” These, and many other programs such as Innovate which has been moving through countries in Africa in order to identify, award and support local innovative solutions to issues within the fields of Health, Energy, Education, Agriculture, Transportation, Telecommunications, Civic Media, and Engineering in African countries are making a difference. By encouraging the youth to get involved and solve problems they experience in their communities, they create a platform where youth can express the change they want to see. There is potential in investing in the youth. If we, as the youth, work toward implementing Agenda 2063 then more opportunities are bound to open up for the younger generation. Then and only then will we see more 13 year old Maasai boys like Richard Turere making CNN headlines after finding an innovative solution to protect his family cattle from lions by inventing ‘Lion Lights’ using his Father’s car battery and Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone, a self-taught engineer who made an FM radio station and a generator at the age of 13 using scrap metal that he found.

Give the youth a platform, and they will take centre stage. The actions they have been doing in terms of inventing solutions can no doubt be seen, and now they want to be heard.

As environmentalists and governments in Africa work toward protecting the elephants in Africa’s wildlife parks, let leaders and decision makers likewise; conserve the talents the youth have by promoting Agenda 2063. Though elephants faced being labeled a critically endangered species in the early years of the 21st century, conservationist say that there is hope as their population has been increasing steadily over the years as a result of the protective measures that have been adopted. If the youth are motivated toward a path that encourages them to be responsible for tomorrow, they will voice the change they want and the population of a generation booming with solutions will increase. And the number of youth willing to be leaders, technologists, developers and much more will be overwhelming. They will voice change and their vision for Africa will then become a reality.

Ask a Samburu natives whether they are able to hear the infrasonic noises that elephants make while they communicate in the still of the night, and though they will admit that the sounds they make are difficult to hear, they will also tell you that vibrations can be heard, vibrations that inform you that the elephants are speaking and likewise, the youth are speaking, their infrasonic voices can still, somehow, be heard. And let us also never forget that elephants are capable of making sounds as loud as 16000 Hz, 78 times louder than the average human. It has been said that elephants use infrasonic sound waves to communicate amongst themselves when they are far away from each other, but when they draw closer, the sounds they make can be heard by all around. So while Africa unifies in the march toward Agenda 2063, I believe that as Africa’s youth come together, their voice will be heard loud and clear.

The youth have been trying to make their voices heard through their actions and while they migrate as elephants do, in search of a better tomorrow, this is only the beginning as they stand and trumpet the change they want for their continent. By promoting the Agenda, the whispers they share will develop into voices, voices that resound across the continent, voices that harmonise as Africa seeks to unite her people in this era of sustainable development.  And as I endeavour to play the role that I am required to play as a youth by voicing the Africa I want through writing, I long for the day when we will all sit and tell inspiring stories to our children well after 2063 when the Africa Union development plan will have been successful. Stories about how Africa made it, not because she waited for change, but because her youth rose to the occasion and made sure that their voices were heard by letting the continent know, the Africa they wanted.

2015 Mazingira Challenge Winning Essay: Harnessing Youth Innovation and Creativity

A Lesson from Nature: Standing Beside Kenzo


[ Photo: http://www.sciencefocus.com ]

In a bid to encourage innovation and creativity in the youth of a developing country and continent, I believe the sky and beyond, is the limit. The youth of both Kenya and Africa stand on the brink of creating a revolution, one that will bring resourcefulness, change and above all development, hence the importance of harnessing their talents.  This is why I would like to share; Kenzo’s story.

One of the most profound lessons we learn from nature – among the many we so often encounter – is that the butterfly, in all its beauty and splendor, was never born a butterfly. At some point in time it was a caterpillar and I’m sure you agree with me as I testify that caterpillars, on the other hand, are not the most attractive animals, but nevertheless, nature uses this fact to teach us a lesson; like the caterpillar who at the early stages of its life was not beautiful to look at, the youth – especially those in Africa – who have not yet as fully expressed their innovative and creative talents, still have the potential of being beautiful like the butterfly, though all odds may seem against them.

The transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly is a process, which again comes to show that nothing ever really comes easy. It takes hard work, commitment and someone who is willing to go that extra mile, to step out of their comfort zone in order for a new development strategy to be successful. The cocooning process similarly is not an easy nor is it an attractive process, the caterpillar, for a period of time, is subjected to changes from the norm so that it can one day express its beauty in the form of a butterfly, and here is yet another lesson that youth and many others who aspire to be successful must learn.

Africa longs and thirsts for a generation full of youth who are creative and innovative in everything they do. If we choose to develop in the best way possible, then we need to invest in our youth. It has been said that; “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would forever be repeating the same patterns… innovation consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we don’t know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.”

But my question is: how? How can we break the shells that seem to have plagued the minds of today’s younger generations so that this treasure house of creativity can be tapped for the good of Africa’s present and future?

The answer to the above question, is one that many have long waited for because the answer undoubtedly will solve a lot of global problems faced in the 21st Century, issues such as corruption, sustainable development, food insecurity, climate change and global warming, waste management, natural resource management, poverty and many others which puzzle Africa’s leader today.

Albert Einstein once said that; “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So what I want to suggest is a probable answer to the question posed, and here is where little Kenzo comes in. Let us go back to nature and learn from our caterpillar theory, and I suggest we call her – the caterpillar – Kenzo. As we all know, Kenzo is born a caterpillar and not a butterfly, youth today who are often referred to as the future of a nation, strikingly resemble Kenzo. Though this may be true, I believe that we need not worry because Africa like Kenzo is still youthful, she, unlike many other continents, have the potential to be great considering all the natural resources Africa has. Here is where the youth today stand; between the caterpillar stage and the stage that leads to the blossoming of a butterfly, they stand in a cocoon, one that determines whether our transitioning process will lead to new heights.

Caterpillar going into the chrysalis

    [Metamorphosis stages of a Butterfly. Photo: www3.canisius.edu]

The good news is; there have been strategies geared toward empowering the youth while the bad news is that efforts that have been put forward for solving this issue have largely been unsuccessful. I have attended and sat through lectures and talks in halls where the speaker focuses extensively on how tomorrow’s future lies in the hands of youth today and, don’t get me wrong because the talks have been eye-opening and deeply inspiring but sadly, when the halls are cleared and everyone is gone a loud silence rings in the ears of that youth who, a few moments ago had felt the passion stand and do that which has never been done. Having two-hour talks and week-long seminars on youth innovation and creativity may help the immediate problems that the youth of Africa currently face, but it definitely will not solve the future challenges. Here, is where I see a loophole. Unlike the cocoon which serves to hold on to youthful Kenzo for a period of time as she shifts from a caterpillar to a butterfly, I believe that current and subsequent generation have and will fail to harness and embrace the ideas present in the minds of today’s youth while the talents of yesterday’s youth might have already been buried six feet under.

If we work toward encouraging the younger generations, stressing how relevant they are then we have only begun scratching the surface on how far they are able to go. If we hold their hands as the cocoon holds on to the butterfly while it grows and matures, we begin solving the problem. We must no longer speak in forums about a path that exists, a path that allows youth to be creative but instead, we should push them toward that path and guide them as they seek to find and walk therein. Then and only then will we see more 13 year old Maasai boys like Richard Turere making CNN headlines after finding an innovative solution to protect his family cattle from lions by inventing ‘Lion Lights’ using his Father’s car battery and Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone, a self-taught engineer who made an FM radio station and a generator at the age of 13 using scrap metal that he found. Ideas such as M-Pesa and M-Kopa Solar which make a difference in people’s lives and gain global recognition will bring change while university students in Kenya invent mobile phone applications such as M-Calc which assist farmers to optimize production and reduce losses in a bid to enhance food security.

If we become the cocoon that works to harness the developing caterpillar as she matures and grows, the fear that has made innovation appear like a struggle will be destroyed and those who wish to be creative will be encouraged to express their ideas. The ‘system’ that we have so long tolerated has oppressed innovation and has failed to embraced creativity. Even as youth aspire for white collar jobs, let them be motivated to break free from their shells and go in search of their own endeavors, let them be taught how to express themselves rather than what is expected of them. Long term projects and strategies that aim at holding Kenzo’s hand, I believe is the strongest and most effective way to achieve originality in youth today. Programs such as Innovate Kenya which empower and encourage youth to solve problems in their community and Incubation Hubs which develop ideas, if enhanced will bring positive results.

Once we learn from the simple lessons that nature offers, that the role a cocoon plays contributes immensely to the maturity, growth and blossoming stage of a butterfly then we begin to break the barriers that restrain us and find better ways to harness talent. If we place Kenzo in a cocoon and be by her side while she matures, in our case; learns to be innovative and creative, then we have the solution for development.

Every individual is born with their own unique genetic makeup and while it is estimated that there are 200 million youth in Africa today aged between 15 and 24, most people might look and say: ‘200 million youth; 200 million dreams,’ but I look and say; ‘200 million youth, 200 million ideas’ ideas that if harnessed, will result in innovation, creativity, and development for Africa. So as the numerous and various butterfly species fly in the vast rainforests of Africa, let us take this lesson from nature itself that we may collectively work toward harnessing the ideas of innovative and creative youth who can create a sustainable and beautiful tomorrow.


[ Rainforest Butterflies. Photo: http://www.wilmingtonparent.com/events/butterfly-release/ ]