Kenya’s remote Marsabit County, in the far north near the border with Ethiopia, is the land of pastoralists. But as East Africa faces a debilitating succession of droughts, the worst in 40 years, the region’s resilient communities are being pushed to their limits.
A couple of decades ago it seemed like a different place: There were wild animals abound, abundant wild fruits for foraging, plenty of space for everyone’s animals; things were peaceful.
“Everyone had plenty of animals then,” Benjamin Galwaha remembers. “We ate meat all the time. But life has gotten much tougher now.” He says, “We’ve had to switch back to the wage economy, from a self-sustaining lifestyle that we’re proud of where cattle signal wealth and determine integral social relations.”
The traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic Rendille, Samburu, Borana and Turkana people native to the region are proud of their cultural identity as livestock herders. as many as 90 percent of Marsabit inhabitants do not live in permanent homes and instead move with their animals based on seasonal forage and available water sources.
It is also a region of intense poverty: 92 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; it has some of the nation’s lowest literacy rates at around 27 percent; and its remoteness contributes to its marginalisation and lack of integration with greater Kenyan society.
Their animals have been dying off and becoming increasingly ill since the rains have failed.