Like DRC, Kenya and its moribund disaster units learn nothing

Thursday August 19 2021
The parched landscape at Lerata, Samburu

The parched landscape at Lerata, Samburu, one of the counties in Kenya experiencing drought. PHOTO | FILE


Several counties in Kenya are once again faced with severe drought. Communities in these counties, most of whom are pastoralists, are losing their livestock and now face the danger of total loss of their only source of livelihood.

Such an eventuality would leave thousands destitute, needing food aid and other assistance. Loss of livelihood, as in so many times in the past, also leads to famine. The next thing we might see is images of emaciated bodies of children and the elderly being broadcast on local and international TV stations.

A few months ago, this column debated matters arising from the eruption of Mount Nyarigongo in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The catastrophe claimed tens of lives and sent thousands of impoverished residents fleeing across the border into Rwanda.

In that column, I argued that, whereas we cannot stop volcanoes from erupting, we can, by learning lessons, minimise, if not eliminate, the humanitarian crises that follow eruptions. I pointed out that the reasons why the eruption was so catastrophic was because of under governance and corruption.

Under governance means inadequate policing, hospitals, disaster management capacity, and a negligent attitude towards public duty. At the time of the 2021 eruption, the Goma Volcano Observatory could not pay for internet connection to remote monitoring stations or transport staff to those remote sites due to naked thievery.

In 2002, Mount Nyarigongo had erupted with similarly devastating effects. The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had learned no lessons from the first eruption, and given the mis-governance and thievery that continues, the next explosion of Nyarigongo will be followed by a similar if not worse crisis.


Back to the drought situation in Kenya. We cannot stop droughts. But must drought always bring about massive loss of livelihoods and lives? We have had drought cycles since independence with similar results every time. In fact, in many instances, meteorologists have been able to predict drought conditions.

And yet despite this cyclical experience and the predictive abilities of our scientists, the devastation is always the same each time, if not worse. Like the DRC, Kenya and its moribund disaster management units learn nothing. The wages of not learning are death and suffering.

Why do we not see images of emaciated bodies of pastoralist nomads in the desert countries of the Middle East or even in drought-prone Israel? It is not because they have been able to banish drought. It is because they have, over the years, learned lessons that enabled them to develop mitigating measures.

The Kenya government must now call to account its bureaucrats in the relevant ministries who inundate TV talk shows, quoting this and that policy. But laxity is a national culture. Houses collapse every year. Power blackouts at every drizzle. Nairobi streets and residential areas being flooded every year. Bandits causing havoc every time. Accidents at the same spots every month. Violence at every election, etc.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator