Cablegate: Tapping Water in Kenya's Arid North Eastern

DE RUEHNR #1851/01 2121144
P 301144Z JUL 08






E.O.12958: N /A

SUBJECT: Tapping Water in Kenya's Arid North Eastern
Province, Part One

Reference: Nairobi 1041


1. In Kenya's arid North Eastern Province, livelihoods have
centered on pastoralism (the practice of herding livestock)
for hundreds of years. The traditionally lucrative and
relatively stable pastoralist lifestyle which relies on a
nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle came under severe
threat at the time of Kenya's independence, however, and
the area's more recent history has brought overpopulation,
overgrazing, refugee flows from Somalia, and the
mushrooming of permanent settlements in grazing areas, all
of which have increased the fragility of the land. Kenya's
Grand Coalition Government has created a new ministry to
oversee the development of Northern Kenya and other arid
lands, which presents an opportunity to galvanize interest
and develop a consensus in approach for addressing the
long-term development needs of this long-neglected region.
But those who wish to bring development will have to make
some difficult choices if the North Eastern Province and
other areas of Northern Kenya are to achieve sustainable
economic growth. Unless the new ministry is able to
interpret its mandate in a way to constructively influence
the development initiatives of other ministries, the donor
community, and politicians seeking to secure their
electoral futures, the future for Kenya's pastoralists and
the economy they support is at risk. This is particularly
a priority in terms of water development projects.

2. This is the first of two cables describing the
challenges of development in Kenya's North Eastern
Province, particularly in terms of water development, in
which the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is
providing assistance. End Summary.

Pastoralism: A Lifestyle Under Siege

3. In Kenya's largely arid North Eastern Province, the
population of mostly ethnic Somalis has relied on grazing
livestock to make a living for hundreds of years.
Perennial grasses helped livestock survive dry seasons and
droughts, and herders frequently crossed clan lines to
water and graze livestock because of well-understood
reciprocal agreements. During the dry season, herders
concentrate their animals around fixed water points. When
the rains begin, herds spread out to wet grazing areas.

4. While pastoralism has provided a viable livelihood in a
region that can ecologically support little else, a number
of factors have contributed to its gradual decline. Some
have been unintentional, others have not, but all have
built on one another to accelerate sedentarization (a shift
from nomadism to permanent settlement). At the time of
Kenya's independence, pastoralism suffered a heavy blow.
One of the tactics used by Kenyan security forces to
control movement and defeat an uprising of irredentist
Somali nationalists during the Shifta War (1963-67) was to
force large numbers of people into controlled villages and
kill their livestock, which effectively sedentarized them.

5. The emergence of multiparty democracy in Kenya has also
contributed to the sedentarization process. As politics in
the area are driven solely by clan identity, politicians
competing for votes encourage the creation of permanent
settlements by their clans to create voting blocs.
Government officials often create new administrative
districts to mollify clan leaders competing for political

NAIROBI 00001851 002 OF 003

6. The good intentions of the donor community have also
driven sedentarization. Food distribution sites set up to
respond to droughts often create permanent (and dependent)
settlements. Boreholes, pans (i.e., stockponds), and dams
built to extend the range of traditional grazing areas have
the same effect. To give an idea of the scale of these
development efforts, a study by the Food and Agriculture
Organization found that in Wajir District there were four
fixed water points in the 1940s. By 1996, there were 75.

Unintended Consequences and
Other Problems Intensify Fragility

7. Development efforts have created conditions allowing for
more livestock (and people) to live off the land, but the
sedentarization process has created a number of serious
challenges to the carrying capacity of the North Eastern
Province's fragile landscape. The disruption of
traditional grazing patterns has led to overgrazing (and
the disappearance of critical perennial grasses) and an
increase in the number of settled populations on
traditional grazing areas. This in turn has led to
increased competition between rival clans over land and
water resources, which frequently has resulted in violence.
Kenya's porous borders with its less-stable neighbors such
as Somalia and Sudan make it easy to obtain small arms and
light weapons, which make the violence even worse.

8. In this sense, the proliferation of permanent water
sources has had a counterintuitive effect: it has increased
vulnerability by encouraging overforaging. During the last
serious drought (2005/6), large livestock die-offs were due
to lack of forage, not lack of water.

9. Outside forces bring additional pressure to bear on the
population of the North Eastern Province. One of these is
the influx of refugees from regional conflicts. Refugees
have flocked to camps around the town of Dadaab for the
last 17 years. There is now an estimated population of
200,000 refugees in the area, most of whom fled the
longstanding conflict in Somalia. Severe deforestation
driven by refugees' need for firewood and complaints by
host communities that refugee water consumption has lowered
the underground water table are just two examples of their
negative impact.

Will New Ministry Use Its Mandate
To Drive Sustainable Development?

10. Although the proliferation of ministerial posts in the
new Grand Coalition Government was based on purely
political calculations (reftel), the creation of the new
Ministry of State for the Development of Northern Kenya and
Other Arid Lands in April 2008 was a signal of government
understanding that Kenya's arid and semi-arid areas (which
together comprise 80 percent of Kenya's land mass) need
serious attention. Kenya's arid and semi-arid areas
consistently lead the country in poverty rates and lag
behind in development indicators.

11. The new ministry has assumed oversight of the World
Bank-funded Arid Lands Resource Management Project, whose
staff understand well the limits of developing arid areas.
It is not clear from the new ministry's mandate, however,
that the government officials who created it understand the
extent to which an improvement in living standards is
linked with respect for the carrying capacity of the land.

12. According to the new government circular announcing the
responsibilities of Kenya's ministries, priorities for the

NAIROBI 00001851 003 OF 003

new ministry include infrastructure development,
encouraging the development of townships along roads,
livestock development, water supply, and irrigation
development. The top funding priority in the Ministry's
2008 budget submission was for road construction, according
to Permanent Secretary Hukka Wario (a long-time civil
servant and former Ambassador who also is from Marsabit, in
the arid upper Eastern Province).

13. Less clear is the mechanism through which the new
ministry is supposed to interface with other ministries
that have overlapping mandates, such as the Ministries of
Livestock and Water. The first step in the right direction
was a recent interagency meeting chaired by the Prime
Minister to discuss disaster risk reduction in arid lands.
While the meeting was narrowly focused on garnering UNDP
funding, a more coordinated approach to arid lands policy
in general may be on the way.

14. While road construction and other infrastructure
development are much needed for the region's long-term
economic development and more equitable access to social
services, those who wish to "bring development" to the
North Eastern Province will have to make some difficult
choices if the land providing critically important fodder
and water is to remain viable. Some believe that there are
already too many boreholes and too many grazing animals in
too small an area. With the disappearance of perennial
grasses and an increase in the number of small bushes and
invasive non-native species (inedible to livestock), it is
easy to understand why most conflicts in the region are
over access to grazing areas and water.

Comment: Balanced Approach
Critical to NEP's Future

15. The North Eastern Province now supports an increasingly
settled population that wants roads, clinics, schools and
wells. If the area's residents are to overcome the dark
history of the Shifta War and truly integrate into the rest
of Kenya, transportation, education, health, and
improvements in the livestock industry are critical. At
the same time, it has always been a mark of honor and
wealth among pastoralists to maintain large herds that in
turn need lots of forage. While pastoralism has always
driven the economy of the North Eastern Province, it has
only been the proliferation of permanent water sites that
have allowed unsustainably large herds to survive.

16. As time goes on and resources become more constrained,
both sides will have to give. There is a limit to how much
settlement the North Eastern Province can take. Staff
members from the Arid Lands Project complain mightily about
the cost of trucking water to communities that have settled
around pans that go dry in between rainy seasons. If there
is a balance to be found, it is most likely to happen under
the watchful eye of the new Ministry of State for the
Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands.
Initial indications are that the new minister, Mohamed
Elmi, who is both a former employee of Oxfam and from the
North Eastern Province himself, will bring an experienced
eye to the problem and give voice to the experienced
technical staff in the Arid Lands project.

17. If scientists' predictions that global warming will
cause weather patterns in the North Eastern Province to
become more unpredictable, droughts to become longer and
more frequent, and fragile soils to become drier, it will
not make anyone's job any easier. It will, however, force
us all to take a critical look at how we "bring
development" to a dry land. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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