‘Everything is dry’: Kenya droughts put herding cultures at risk

Kenya’s remote Marsabit County, in the far north near the border with Ethiopia, is the land of pastoralists. Even in the heat of the midday sun, the smooth tarmac roads are regularly interrupted by meandering goats, cattle or camels passing by.

The region has been dubbed the “Cradle of Mankind” – Kenya has more fossil human species remains than anywhere else in Africa – yet the intensely unforgiving and parched environment means life here has never been easy.

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.

Benjamin Galwaha was born and raised in Laisamis – a modest town, 3,000 strong – in southern Marsabit. The 33-year-old runs a small shop in addition to owning a few dozen cattle and sheep.

As his three young sons watch American cartoons inside one of the traditional huts he has built for his family, he thinks back to just a couple of decades ago when his hometown 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.

Back then, the town had a mere fraction of its current population, and the landscape was thickly covered with dryland forest.

Now, the sandy landscape appears barren, punctuated by thorny brush and the occasional green shrubs that goats nibble at hopefully.

“Everyone had plenty of animals then,” Galwaha remembers, leaning his slender frame over his motorbike. “We ate meat all the time. But life has gotten much tougher now.”

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