Tragedy of the commons


By Mohamed Haji

Ewaso Ngiro river

This is a picture of a part of the river just next to the big bridge

Rising from Mt. Kenya and Aberdare, the Ewaso Ng’iro River was the only free source of water for our people and livestock. The river banks was colonized by grooves of Doum Palms and thick forest which acted as areas of refuge for animals during long spells of drought. The water carried life from the forested highlands of the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya down to this dry northern landscape bringing for wildlife, livestock and their pastoral owners, and to the green bright acacia trees that normally stands along its banks. Don’t even ask of the Mareer qoox and the Kamasha! This hitherto beautiful River now disappears in and around the Lorian Swamp, the riverbed is dry and the soil is cracked. It goes underground they say as Merti Quaver.

What happened is the question everybody is asking? Why does it disappear before it reaches Qoone? Is it the cyclic drought and vagaries of nature or errors of commission? Someone could shed light on this. Leaders should be asking pointed questions.

Maybe some are too young to remember when the river flowed at grade V11 or too foreign to care. I vividly remember the old good days with a tinge of rose-tinted nostalgia. Days when we could walk to the river, swim, fish, play at the banks, and sometimes infuriate the infamous ‘kabeer’ drivers ferrying miraa from Meru and dancing on the bridge, diving into the water. What happened to our river? At least we could claim that part of it and call it ours. A lot would have changed with the river roaring back to live. Sabena farmers spoilt for choice, cattle herders not risking lives and properties in the Borana region of Gubatu in search of pasture, kids would play, swim and fish at the banks of our crocodile-free river.

Ewaso Ngiro river

This is part of the river famous for its fish and acacia trees

As practise makes for perfection some of our youngsters will compete in the Olympics swimming competition! This now seems not only a luxury we can ill-afford but a very distant dream. More important than this, we will not be selling our water to the poor in Habaswein, as is currently the case. Better still, we will do as is done in California. Part of California {South} is a desert but the denizens of this state tamed nature and her orchards and vegetable farms are irrigated by water from the Colorado River which breaks the monotony of the desert. Surprisingly this river is about 500 miles away from California; this is about seven times the distance between Habaswein and Wajir town.

Ewaso Nyiro is less than 10 miles away from the town center. The desert in California is no less forbidding than the one in Qoone plains but while authorities in the country whined, they worked. I can only dream of a time where the river kicks back to life and tamed into submission. We might struggle and wrestle with the huge resources required but the labour and the technology will be readily available.

The pertinent question stands, why has the river dried? The last time in my memory it flowed with clean water was in the 1980’s. Persistent drought coupled with evil and bland politics could be the reason. There are powerful forces diverting the river water for their farms and electricity and other use the rumour goes. Special-interest groups are gagging our leaders. Some dismiss this as urban legend but the tales are more convincing than not. We are told that many miles from Mount Kenya {it is the glacial headwater from the mountain that feeds this river} the river has dried up. What I cannot tell is, how far this stretches. The debased desires of disinterested individuals could be causing havoc to both livestock and wildlife. A World Bank report talks vaguely of illegal distractions but the report is not clear as to what or who is causing it. More importantly the solution lies with us the affected.

A government, if it is not a banana republic and has efficient and working institutions, follows a moral agenda once it’s given both the spur and legitimacy by popular opinion. Let us generate that opinion. It is easy to lampoon and sneer from a distance. One of life’s conveniences is to scapegoat every problem. Now that devolution is with us we expect our local leaders and all stakeholders to look into this matter. It is only by collective responsibility that problems of this magnitude could be resolved.
The writer is a Social commentator and regular contributor of Nepjournal







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NepJournal is Northern Kenya's online newspaper. It is also a space where the leading thinkers and writers from the region bring you unsolicited and uncensored views, analysis and opinion from the region and beyond.

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