Researching Climate Change and Massacre Surrounding Lake Turkana, Kenya
Updated: Jul 28
While visiting Richard Leakey's Turkana Basin Institute in 2011, a massacre took place in Todonyang. We traveled there to witness the aftermath and to attempt to understand the conflict between the Ethiopian tribe, Merile, and the Kenyan tribe, Turkana. The notion of "Tribalism" in politics can be felt here in the United States during the 2016 Presidential Election. (Recommended Reading: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger). Nationalism and ethnocentrism are key points in our nations current political methodology.
Prior to 1997, Todonyang was a thriving village in the north-eastern corner of Turkana, where the two communities of Merile (from Ethiopia ) and Turkana (from Kenya ) coexisted in peace. There was much trade and intermarriage between the two communities. At Todonyang itself there existed a primary school with 200 children, a dispensary, a fisheries cooperative and store, a church, and a chief’s office. An estimated 1,500 persons lived at Todonyang. Misunderstanding between the two communities broke out in 1997, and this eventually led to inter-tribal skirmishes and raids. The whole village of Todonyang was dispersed – the Meriles crossed the border to Ethiopia while the Turkanas migrated to Lowarengak village, leading to overcrowding and social pressures for the community at Lowarengak.
The Turkana region of Kenya is the "purported 'Cradle of Mankind', [where there have been] find[ing]s of early hominids, including remains of various Australopithecus species, Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo sapiens." - http://www.bluegecko.org/kenya/tribes/turkana/prehistory.htm
What we anticipated in our travels is that this profoundly beautiful region would be exactly what it has been made famous for, a window into humanity's origins. Yet what we did not expect to discover was that simultaneously, the region has become a foreshadowing of mankind's possible future. Climate change has lead to increasing desperation for resources. Compounded with AK-47s left over from government wars, political manipulations, and historic differences between tribal communities, horrifying events like this have taken place.
I met a Mother who had lost her third husband due to tribal conflict. I met a man who was shell shocked, his infant having been cut in half with a machete.
[T]he grinding poverty affecting local tribe members and the ongoing difficulties both communities have in adapting to their fast-changing environment means tensions remain high. This has led some experts to surmise that future conflict between the tribes is inevitable.
Indeed, there is a school of thought that maintains the Turkana’s pastoralist lifestyle is no longer sustainable, as the area’s ecosystems cannot withstand the unpredictability of the changing weather patterns or the coming impact of the dams on the lake and its fish.
However, rather than advocating that these tribes give up their centuries-old lifestyle, Trócaire is trying to help the Turkana to adapt.
Paul Healy, head of Trócaire in Kenya, believes they have a right to make their own choices and must be supported in this. “Ultimately it is about the rights of indigenous individuals and communities to choose what way they want to live.”
The charity, through its intermediaries, lays fodder along the pastoralists’ migration routes, which also reduces inter-tribal competition; it provides veterinary services for the goat, camel and donkey herds that struggle to stay healthy in the area’s high temperatures.
Healy said much of the inter-tribal conflict in the country was down to the political elites who used historical tensions to achieve their own ends.
“Tribalism is the tool used by the political elite in Kenya to advance their own power agendas and economic interests. We have seen it regularly used around elections, with the 2008 poll in which over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic violence, a good example.” - irishtimes.com
Find more information on the conflict here: