In November this year, Turkana will be the leading tourist destination in Kenya, especially for astronomy enthusiasts, as it makes a comeback as the cradle of science of the stars.
The county filled with controversy, high temperatures and pockets of conflict yet incredibly beautiful, will attract a host of tourists from scientists to astronomy scholars and enthusiasts. The reason for this will be a rare hybrid solar eclipse that will be seen in only four countries in Africa.
The Turkana Basin remains the preferred destination of choice for those who wish to catch this unique event, as it has a 75 percent possibility of clear skies aside from its stunning beauty. Those who will make it for the viewing of the eclipse will be able to watch it for a full 15 seconds!
Tourists and locals alike interested in the field of astronomy will camp in various places around the Turkana Basin for the rare spectacle. The eclipse will be visible in the entire Turkana Basin, which includes Marsabit County. The next eclipse of this kind will be in 2030, close to two decades from now and will not be visible in Africa.
Lake Turkana is widely known as the cradle of mankind by virtue of the fact that some of the oldest human remains in the evolution of man were found here. It is also an iconic site that is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Astronomy has not gained as much interest in Modern Africa as it commands in many first World countries that are constantly exploring the galaxies and reaching out to the unknown world. Interestingly, there is evidence pointing to the knowledge and study of stars in Africa dating as far back as 300 BC.
This is more than a thousand years before Galileo Galilei made a name for himself in the study of stars. As a matter of fact, Cushitic communities like the Borana used stone alignments whose movement scientists believe coincide with the seven constellations corresponding to the 12-month 354 day calendar.
In the past few weeks, most of the news on Turkana has been filled with doom and gloom as fishermen have been continuously killed by the Merille militia in a fight for supremacy over the natural resources they have to share via Lake Turkana.
The eclipse is therefore one of the few opportunities the neglected North has of showing that there is more to it than conflict and suffering. It is a historic and scientific site recognized the world over and should be given higher priority in terms of provision of security and other resources that will ensure its growth as a tourist destination and economic powerhouse.
The tides are turning for Kenya in astronomy as a result of the highly awaited eclipse to come. The few who study Astronomy in University of Nairobi are lucky to have the opportunity to witness a rare occurrence such as this in their very own backyard. For the locals who are fascinated by the science of astronomy, Turkana is the place to be come November.
When governments come up with huge projects that are geared towards solving the economic struggles of a vast majority, what naturally follows is celebration among the citizens. After all it is the job of every government to better the lives of its populace both economically and socially. However, when the Ethiopian government came up with the grand plan of building the biggest dam in Sub Saharan Africa, there was not much to smile about. Not for Ethiopia's local poor.
In July 2006, The Ethiopian government signed a contract with an Italian construction company, Salini Construttori to build the controversy laden Gibe III dam. This was the beginning of many worries for those who live along the Omo Delta and further down to the Kenyan communities who are largely dependent on Lake Turkana.
But what do Lake Turkana, Gibe III dam and the Omo Valley tribes have to do with each other, you might ask? They are all dependent on the Omo River in one way or another. Gibe III dam will block the south western part of the Omo River and put an end to its natural flood cycle. The Omo River floods every year in August or September. The Grand project geared towards generating huge amounts of electricity, poses a great threat to the livelihoods of these people and the natural resources they depend on.
Fast forward to over a half a dozen years later, and the construction is over 70% complete. All amidst the cries and constant resistance against the project by: Ethiopian, Kenyan and international bodies.
Projects such as the Gibe III dam are seen to rarely benefit the communities that live around the areas where they are located. Instead the huge amount of electricity produced is used for commercial purposes such as: export to neighbouring countries and supplied to big companies like factories that require a lot of electricity to be in operation.
The case in Ethiopia is no different from other Mega dam projects in different parts of the world. Aside from diverting the waters of the mighty Omo River, Gibe III will not only halt its annual flooding pattern but will later be used to irrigate large plantations leased to foreign companies for export and sugarcane plantations that are going to be run by the government.
The annual flooding pattern of the Omo River is very important to the Southern communities of Ethiopia. They depend on it for planting foods like maize and sorghum which go a long way in sustaining the population. They have devised sophisticated ecological practices that involve alternating between, pastoralism, fishing and cultivation. When the river floods, a bonus is fertile silt deposits that nurture the plants with the nutrients they need to grow. The six Omo Valley communities are: Daasanach, Kwegu, Kara, Bodi, Mursi and Nyangatom. Fishing which is one of their alternative sources of food is now under threat as the fish stocks are in danger of dipping to an all time low.
To add insult to injury, there have been incidents reported of forced and sometimes violent evictions of people from the land to be later used for large scale plantations by the Ethiopian government. These allegations have been met with a lot of resistance and denial. Unfortunately, this is just one of the elements of the bleak picture painted for those who are likely to be affected by the Gibe III dam project.
The continued construction of the dam has got hundreds of thousands of people both in Kenya and Ethiopia fearing for their lives, with the possibility of their lifeblood being snatched away. The government of Ethiopia however, insists that the ongoing project will have minimal impact on the environment and that the vast tracts of land to be used for sugarcane and cotton plantations are scarcely populated.
What remains a mystery is whether the government will ever back down from the pressure that is coming from local and international bodies. The key recommendations that have been given are, that an Environmental Impact Analysis is done and the people, ecology and biodiversity of the area and those outside of the country connected to it, be given serious consideration in the bid for economic development.
Driving into Loiyangalani, one cannot help but notice the spectacle that greets the eye on the left side of the road. The gigantic and magnificently stunning Lake Turkana is indeed a sight to behold. Not many Kenyan towns can boast such a grand entrance. Yet as silent and unbeknownst to much of the Kenyan population, the little town on the northern shores of Kenya is one of many homes to unique tribes and cultures. The Turkana, Samburu, Rendille, Ghabra, El molo, Dassanach, Borana, Konso, Burji, Watta, Saku and Somali are the twelve tribes that convened for the festivities.
In this same location is a rock art collection find, which reflects the life and culture of people who inhabited this land millions of years ago in the evolution of mankind. In fact, many would know that some of the very first existing human remains ever found by the ‘archaeologically famous’ Leakey family were on the banks of Lake Turkana Basin, earning it the title ‘The Cradle of Mankind’. Loiyangalani also hosts the first Kenyan desert museum, which was opened five years ago and is filled with artifacts that depict the existence and culture of the eight communities that reside here.
On the eve of the Turkana Festival, all roads and certain flights lead to this generally unrecognized part of the country. Some drove in buses, others in personal cars with a number of people crossing the lake via boat from the opposite side of the shores.
“It was very exciting and encouraging to see more local people from Marsabit and neighboring counties attend the festival in addition to the high flyers from Nairobi and abroad.” Ikal Angelei, an activist expressed her sentiments about the impressive turnout.
The Lake Turkana basin including the Ethiopian end hosts a large diverse group of peoples with cultures that have been preserved over decades if not centuries. The majority of these tribes have very unique features and practices that stand out to the extent of putting them on the map in the Guinness Book of World Records. From spotting red ochre Mohawks and braided fringes, to intricately done colorful beaded necklaces and bracelets these communities are hard to miss. Those who do not do much with their hair wear plain white to bright colored garments and textiles that have been woven in their very own local industry.
The annual festival that was turning six this year lasted three consecutive days, from the 24 to 26 of May 2012. It started with lectures and discussions with the locals that were aimed at finding out how to utilize and fully exhaust the potential of this part of the country. The discussions were facilitated by various personalities including the Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Sports Arts and Culture, Dr. Hassan Arero Wario. Ikal Ang’elei, a popular activist and winner of the Goldman Environmental Award, known for championing the rights of the Turkana people, also addressed the participants and visitors during this discussion.
Among the activities undertaken on the second day of the festival were speeches made by the guests including the German ambassador, Cabinet secretary for Ministry of Sports Arts and Culture, and a few politicians from the area. The main message was that this festival was started not only to showcase the rich cultural diversity of the Turkana Basin but also to promote peace and cohesion among the various tribes participating.
Over the period of the Festival’s existence more understanding and collaboration has been seen among the communities through the inevitable interaction. Dances and songs, ranging from rhythmic jumping and movement of the head and neck in a fashion similar to how the Maasai dance, were highly entertaining. Clapping and playing of traditional instruments made of wood metal and ankle bracelets with jingling sounds were also prominent features of the entertainment. Language was needless as one could easily tell that some of the songs sent a message of peace and unity among the people.
The field that swarmed with people was a kaleidoscope of colors from traditional costumes adorned by the indigenous communities to foreign and local guests. At night, you could hear children singing traditional songs within the homestead while playing in the bright moonlight, in a clear starry night. The beauty of Loiyangalani in the evening is breathtaking, with the sun setting into the lake as the moon rises above the hills. The moon gets brighter as it rises and sets in the wee morning hours simultaneously to the rising of the sun. It’s akin to watching nature dance to its own beat.
The Turkana Festival was a major success and hope was expressed of including communities that live along Ethiopia’s Omo River next year. Hon. Hassan Wario also gave his word to the locals saying a cultural center would be built on the very site of the festival in the coming 5 years. A message of peace and reconciliation echoed throughout the festival with prospects of economic development and involvement of the communities in the growth process.
“We hope to see more interaction with the children in poetry and essay /art competitions on the festival’s meaning to them and to encourage young participants.’” mused Ikal Angelei. In addition she hopes that over time the festival grows to be not only a coming together of communities to forge peace for 3 days, but a festival that they celebrate continued efforts of cohesion among communities. The Lake Turkana Festival should be a culmination of struggles and celebrations of the efforts these communities have engaged in throughout the year to realize economic, social and environmental sustainability.
For the past 5 years, various organizations including; Friends of Lake Turkana and International Rivers among others have been united in the fight to stop the construction of Gibe III dam. This has been a struggle against not only the Ethiopian Government’s mega project, but also big organizations such as the World Bank who bring in huge funding to ensure the reality of such mega projects.
Organisations such as Friends of Lake Turkana have been fighting to bring attention to the The World Bank, Africa Development Bank and European Investment Bank who are among those interested in funding the Grand Inga dam projects and the smaller dam projects that culminate in it.
Such key lenders have for decades come up with grand scale projects such as these to provide quick solutions for the masses. However, according to many NGOs around the world, the benefits of these projects have hardly trickled down to the countries’ poor. In Congo, for instance, despite the existence of mega dams like the grand Inga dam, only 8-9 percent of the population has access to electricity while about 85 percent is consumed by the mining industry; this is according to an article by Peter Bosshard.
These projects range from huge dams for hydroelectric power generation, to Major irrigation schemes that take up thousands of hectares of land. Similar projects have been undertaken in many African countries rich in resources such as water and minerals, and those with a huge capacity to produce electricity through wind power and geothermal energy.
Some of those who have been and are likely to be affected by these projects are the indigenous minority of a country and those who are so poor; they hardly have a voice against their government. The motivation for a government’s hard stance on sustaining and ensuring that these projects push through is, first and foremost, the economic gains that are promised.
With such mammoth investments comes the prospect of equally massive profits. In a capitalist society, it is easy to push aside other concerns like preservation of the ecosystem and the livelihoods of those dependent on it. ‘Rational’ solutions like resettlement of those who are in the way of a mega project are made without any regard to the change in lifestyle and culture of those directly affected.
A case in point is the various indigenous tribes living along the Omo River, Omo valley and its environs. The Mursi, Karo (Kara), Hamar and Kwegu, are some of the tribes dependent on the seasonal floods coming from the Omo River. Some of these tribesmen are said to be forcibly resettled and in some cases severe methods of violence used to move them. These military methods are employed instead of more friendly alternatives like diplomacy and trying to figure out how to strike a balance between financial development and preservation of long standing cultures and traditions.
The World Environment day just recently highlighted the need to ‘Think. Eat. Save’, it is prudent for individuals, communities, organizations and governments alike, to think of the planet’s future before making major ecosystem-changing decisions and save it from impending degradation. Anything that can protect the environment and its occupants from the danger of ruin is worth a try. Going green is not just a fad but the solution to many of the world’s problems. Save the planet. Save humanity.
As the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Egypt meet today at Addis Ababa to try to unlock a diplomatic deadlock – one with far greater implications than just diplomacy – over Ethiopia's plans to build a dam on one of the River Nile's major tributaries, a question arises as to whether Ethiopia has become too arrogant in its attempt to rejuvenate its economic growth.
The dam in question is the Grand Renaissance Dam being constructed along the Blue Nile River. If completed, this will be among the largest dams in the world and will join another rising colossus that is also under construction by the Ethiopians along the Omo River – the Gilgel Gibe III Dam. Ethiopia has already started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile as part of the construction process despite protests and thinly veiled threats of 'water wars' coming from the Egyptian government.
Perhaps the strongest sign that water wars are looming between the two countries is that immediately after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in May, Ethiopia announced that it was diverting the waters. What this could mean is that Ethiopia will forge on with their dam unfazed by any contrary opinion – even if their forging ahead threatens to catastrophically alter the existence of millions of people downstream.
Drawing parallels to Egypt's unfortunate situation with that facing Lake Turkana owing to the ongoing construction of Gibe III Dam along the Omo River – which contributes about 90% of all the water of Lake Turkana – one cannot fail to see a pattern of impunity in the Ethiopian Government: a government that will execute hugely disruptive projects without concern for contrary opinion even when such opinion is based on fact.
The repetitive chorus chanted by Ethiopia that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not affect the flow of the Nile, is the same empty rhetoric that has been applied in the case of Gibe III and Lake Turkana yet scientific evidence clearly shows that the Gibe dam will have a disastrous effect on Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Lower Omo Basin in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also claims that the Grand Renaissance Dam will not be used for irrigation but only for Electricity generation. Nobody should believe that given that that is the same thing they say about Gibe III – and all consequent Gibes planned downstream of this third dam – yet we know that huge tracts of land in the Lower Omo have already been wrestled from indigenous Ethiopian populations and leased out to Asian entities to be converted into sugar and cotton plantations. Only a lunatic would believe that Ethiopia will not use the dam water for irrigation.
What then is the option for Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya? These three African sisters - and all other nations in the world - should ponder on the big question of water scarcity that is escalating with the increasing severity of the effects of climate change and Africa's burgeoning populations. Currently, Egypt and Ethiopia have a combined population of almost 170-million people and this is projected to increase by another 100-million people by 2050. That can only mean that, climate change notwithstanding, water will definitely become an extremely dear commodity for both nations. Kenya on the other hand has more than 40-million thirsty inhabitants, a significant fraction of whom will be directly affected by the adverse effect of the Gibe III Dam on Lake Turkana.
Better ways of managing shared water and other natural resources are long overdue. If Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya are to properly harness their water resources, mutually beneficial resource sharing methods have to be thought out and quickly implemented. Respect for the lives and well-being of downstream populations has to be paramount. Impunity has to end.
The biggest challenge to the survival of Lake Turkana has always been the Gibe III Dam being constructed on the Omo River in Ethiopia. A more sinister development downstream is however posing a much graver danger to our lake – the conversion of tribal lands in the Lower Omo Basin in Ethiopia into irrigation fed plantations.
Ethiopia is forcefully evicting tribal people from their ancestral land in the Lower Omo and leasing it out to Asian farming entities to grow sugarcane and cotton in large irrigation-fed plantations. The water to irrigate these massive tracts of monoculture will come from the Omo River, thus further complicating the dire situation that Lake Turkana is in. Lake Turkana draws 90% of its water from the Omo River. With both Gibe III and the plantations taking out water from Omo River before it gets to Lake Turkana, the water level in the 30 meters deep (average) lake could drop by a massive 22 meters. This is recipe for disaster for the lake communities who are already marginalized and perennial recipients of food aid. It will further complicate food insecurity in the region. Not least, the displaced populations in Ethiopia are also food insecure and when their land is taken, their situation can only get worse.
The theme of today’s World Environment Day celebrations is THINK.EAT.SAVE – Reduce your Footprint. It is all about consumption and food wastage and their impact on the environment. Is the conversion of tribal lands and destroying natural habitats to create room for sugarcane and cotton plantations a product of the increasingly wasteful consumption that is beating our environment to its knees? As far as the carbon footprint of these plantations is concerned, we can go as far as to add to the increase of greenhouse gases generated by airplanes and other fossil fuelled vehicles that will transport the agricultural product to the market in developing and emerging nations.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted or lost. This volume of waste is more than the total net production of Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger. Also, approximately 98% of the world’s hungry live in developing nations including Kenya and Ethiopia.
Given the above statistics, one would wonder why the Government of Ethiopia would even think of forcefully evicting thousands of starving and already marginalized indigenous people from their ancestral land in order to create plantations that will produce cash crops for export to the already wasteful developed and emerging world. One would also wonder why the Government of Kenya would not engage in diplomatic negotiations with Ethiopia to halt these developments and instead support local communities to develop multiple small-scale projects that will reduce environmental impact and maintain ecosystem integrity.
Kenya is expected to buy up to 60% of the power generated from Gibe III. It is, perhaps, not surprising that it will close its eyes and sacrifice the people of Lake Turkana in order to feed its power-hungry electricity grid in the name of development. It would appear that a half-million odd people are a small collateral damage in the quest to quench the thirst of millions of power consumers.
Today is a day for the world to pause and reflect on their consumption and wasteful habits. It is a day to think about the future of the blue planet that we call home. For us, it is a day to remind our governments, and everyone, that we need our environment to survive. We need to give this land back to the future generations – who trustingly lent it to us – in as good a state as, if not better than, the way they lent it to us.
Pastoralists, fisherfolk and indigenous communities access to and control over their natural environment; land and water as well as culture has come into sharp focus as it has become clear that the lives of pastoralists or indigenous peoples is anchored on these resources, making access to land and environmental resources equitable is one way to achieve development. This means much dependence on productivity of the natural environment thus the need to protect the environment, increase natural resource governance, communities and biodiversity that depend upon it by linking environmental and natural resource governance, land and social-cultural rights
Between 1st and 2nd October 2012, FoLT held the Integrating Environmental and Natural Resource Governance, Land and Socio-Cultural Rights workshop at the Anne Nanjala Resource Centre in Lodwar Town, Turkana, Kenya. The workshop brought together 70 participants representing local leaders, civil society organizations (CSO's), youth and women representatives, local community members, government departments, UN agencies, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and donor agencies.
This workshop provided an opportunity for the participants to share their experiences and to deepen their personal understandings of oil, extractives, environmental governance and land rights and consider the various dynamics created and how this impacts on opportunities and experiences. Experiences and case studies in this crucial sector were drawn from far and wide including from Ghana, USA, South America, Uganda and the UK. Experiences shared in this workshop included:
Oil Governance experiences and lessons from Uganda and Ghana in comparison to Turkana & Kenyan experiences
TheWorkshop also made some assessments of the current situation in Turkana and Kenya including an assessment of the current community engagement processes in Turkana through Turkana Leadership Forum. Participants would also review the thorny issue of the Gibe III Dam development and its implications on the people and the environment. Participants would also discuss at length how Kenya can develop and implement responsible, transparent and participatory oil and gas policies.
The Workshop also introduced a number of tools, strategies and processes for strengthening the voice of the community in advocacy to address their concerns.
At the close of the workshop, a task force of 6 persons was selected to put together a framework that provides an advocacy platform for the broad Turkana community that reaches the attention of policymakers, philanthropists, thought leaders, and the general public; local, national, regional and international. The task force was responsible for producing the workshop report and will hold a meeting at the end of October to assess progress and chart a way forward.
The report of the workshop proceedengs is now available on this website and can be downloaded in our Documents Downloads section or by simply clicking on the link below.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have jointly decided to inscribe the Lake Turkana Parks heritage site into the List of World Heritage in Danger. This decision is awaiting approval by the World Heritage Committee during their 36th session at St. Petersburg, Russia, June 24 till July 6, 2012.
The decision is based on findings of the joint mission visit to Lake Turkana in March 2012 that identified the dangers posed by Gibe 3 Dam construction and associated irrigation fed plantations and dams in the Lower Omo basin, oil exploration, pressure from poaching and livestock grazing and impacts of other larger developments in northern Kenya. The joint team concludes that these dangers are severe enough to place the Lake Turkana heritage site in the danger list.
Gibe 3 Dam and associated irrigation plans is the biggest danger to the lake. Gibe 3, according to the official Ethiopian website for the project, is 50% complete and it will take 3 years to fill up once completed. During this 3-year period, the water levels on Lake Turkana will reduce by 1.65 to 4m above normal flactuation levels according to joint team's models. But this is not the biggest problem. According to the team's assessment:
After filling is complete and if no water would be extracted from the Omo river downstream of the dam, normal river flow volumes would return to the lake, but it could take 12 years for the lake to return to its equilibrium level. Thus the impact of filling may last 15 years in total. The drop in water levels will move the shoreline of the lake significantly, particularly in the northern part of the lake where two components of the property are located (estimated at 2-3 km minimum at a drop of 1.65 m). This significant drop in lake levels could result in increased salinity and in likely impacts on wildlife which depends on the riparian flood plains and wetland habitats along the lake’s shore for food and breeding as well as on fish stocks as a result of the drying out of major fish spawning areas, such as Ferguson’s Gulf and the delta of the Omo River)
There will also be direct impacts of reduced oscillation due to the dams flood control capacity. Cummulative irrigation projects in the Lower Omo will complicate this matter further. For instance "the Kuraz sugar development is already under construction and there are plans to convert 278,000 ha of land along the river to sugar plantations and other agricultural developments using irrigation. The African Development Bank study cites the Omo-Gibe basin master plan in which irrigation developments by 2024 would use 16% of the basin’s water and calculates this would lead to a reduction in lake level of 8.4 m. This is a significant hydrological change to the lake."
The World Heritage and IUCN team cites many other reasons for inscribing Lake Turkana into the danger list. You can read the section on Lake Turkana in their report which can be downloaded here. Lake Turkana is on page 11 of this PDF document.
On the first day of June, we recieved an alert that the Ethiopian government forces have continued their killing spree aimed at forcing Lower Omo tribespeople out of their land and into the resettlement lands that the government has set aside. This forced resettlement scheme is as a result of the lands of these people having been leased out by the central government to foreign agricultural investments to establish comercial plantations.
There can only be one way to express the pain that these poor people feel about forceful relocation - by publishing the email we recieved unedited.
The Suri, a conglomerate group of the Timaga, Chai, and Balas, are linguistically similar to Mursi and known for lip plates worn by the women. They are cattle herders, as well as cultivators, in their mountains lands to the west of the Omo River.
There have been more recent killings in Suri by the Ethiopian military. Numerous sources have confirmed this. Three Suri had their hands and feet tied and were thrown off the Dima bridge (of Dima town) into the water and drowned. Seven more were found shot along the road. These bodies were left to be eaten by hyenas and vultures.
There have been more reports that others were killed in the bush, but there has been no count of how many. This all is because the Suri are refusing to move into the government resettlement site. The resettlement site has been cleared and demarcated, but no infrastructure work has begun. The Suri are vehemently opposed to resettlement. They say, 'Are we the government's children? If you tells us to move into one place, we just go?'
Last week it was reported that 1500-2000 Ethiopian soldiers were in Suri territory to disarm them. The Suri say this all has to do with the lease of a large section of their land to a Malaysian palm oil plantation.
I would first like to take this moment to honor the efforts and inspiration by the last Kenyan to win this award in 1991, Nobel Laurette Late Prof Wangari Maathai for her efforts through which she linked the day to day struggles and conflicts around the world to how man related with nature; a philosophy best understood by many communities around the world.
I would like to thank the Goldman Family and the Goldman Environmental Prize Staff and all those who nominated me. The situation in Turkana is not a unique one, all around the world governments are destroying environments in the name of development both nationally and regionally, all in the name of geo-politics. We are witnessing as governments destroy the environment to increase their GDP's. And while we appreciate the need to develop, meet Millenium goals by 2015, we agree that we all have to solve the current problems of access to energy and access to employment; we however cannot achieve these at the expense of the environment especially with the availability of alternatives and the reality of climate change.
It’s been 3 years of struggle to defend our environments, a journey that started with one person and one step, but grew to the Omo Basin- Lake Turkana family. Car breakdowns, fatigue that surpassed hunger, threats and abuses, appreciation and recognition, all these and more have been part of this journey. Along this journey I met lots of people both within and outside this country, those who opened up their homes to us, those who joined us in this struggle, those who shared their experiences, mentored me through the journey and even shared their meals.
Ladies and gentlemen, my acceptance and receipt of this award and honor would be not be complete without paying tribute to the Great Chief Chopper and his desendants who are the protectors of Anam Naruko. The many gallant men and women who have made this milestone a reality, the staff and board of Friends of Lake Turkana, the Lake Turkana communities, the men and women who joined us on the streets demonstrating, signing court petitions or seeking redress through political representatives; to our partners both within country and outside the country. Our donors who believed in us to support our efforts, Dr Richard Leakey, Turkana Basin Institute and all scientists affiliated to the institute and to my family and loved ones who offered support, comfort, wisdom and motivation, and most of all the love to make it all worthwhile.
I must admit that I am humbled, honored, and at the same time excited to receive the Goldman Environmental Award. I feel a deep emotion and pride for the honor of having been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa 2012. A deep personal feeling and pride; for the values of the community and the people to which I belong. I consider this Prize, not as an award to me personally, but rather as one of the greatest conquests in the struggle for environmental justice and for the rights of communities.
Early this year our Prime Minister visited us in Turkana where we discussed the government's role in destroying Lake Turkana by signing on to buy power from Ethiopia, all he could say is “Angelei you cannot go on fighting neighboring countries”. A week later, our president, together with the president of South Sudan and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, stood at the coast of the country where our president publicly declared support for the Gibe 3 dam despite our concerns.
He ignored Parliament; He ignored the Omo Basin Communities; He ignored the Lake Turkana Communties.
With the reality of climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems that have served humanity for thousands of years evident before our very eyes, i remember the words of the strong musician and freedom fighter Miriam Makeba “Freedom is not given to you, you must take it”, a call to everyone of us to stand up and take our freedom; the freedom to protect and conserve our environment. To the governments who are compromising the environment in the name of development, we are telling you “ you cannot wish us away”.
To all the unsung heroes and heroines working to protect the delicate balance of nature and sustainability all over the world, you are an example of courage and solidarity, heroes who chose to fight for humanity, whose convictions led them to offer the ultimate sacrifice and suffer purges in their own countries and around the world; who take part in all the important social struggles of their day. Indeed, the environmental crisis is daunting. The work will not be easy. But take heart. To the Omo tribes in Ethiopia and all other peoples around the whorld who struggle for the protection of their environments, has seen some lose their lives or end up in prison, my heart bleeds for you, but at the same time my belief in the struggle gives hope if not to us, to the generations that come after us. As Martin Luther King told us, the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome. I know that from personal experiences and experiences of those that have gone before us.
Many times people ask me why i do what i do, why we fight for the environment. And taking time before i answer, I reflect on lessons taught to me by my father, i realize that we must trivalize the labor of the past struggle, we must celebrate the gains that have been made while taking inspiration from the struggles to confront the challenges..... and after taking a few moments of silence, I have only one reason why I fight for this environment; I cannot watch as my people struggle for survival only to have scarce water stolen by a government that is supposed to protect them; TO NOT FIGHT IS NOT AN OPTION
With humility and gratitude I accept this award given to me today, While I am not worthy of this honor, I would be lying if I did not recognize that it makes me extremely proud to receive it, for its history and what it means for the commitment to the future of this passionate fight for mother earth as we are reminded by the African proverb that “The earth is not ours; it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations”.