Loiyangalani is named after the Sesbania Sesban shrub that grows abundantly near water. The town lies on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana and is inhabited by people of diverse cultural backgrounds. The ELMOSARETU – an acronym that stands for Elmolo, Samburu, Rendile and Turkana – is the main ethnic group in Loyangalani. The ELMOSARETU are largely pastoralists with a few being fishermen. A few Meru and Somali people run most of the businesses in the town.
Loiyangalani is a unique magical place where all these different ethnic groups coexist with minimal conflict. It is intriguing to see people from different ethnic backgrounds switch from one language to the other during conversations. The people clearly share more than language.
Permanent villages characterized by traditional huts have developed as more and more drop out of their nomadic lifestyles due to chronic cattle raiding and persistent drought. This new population of villagers has taken long to adjust to their more sedentary life and have developed a dependency on relief food.
These sedentary settlements have led to increase in population putting more pressure on the natural environment as they haplessly clear the scarce vegetation to meet their fuel and building material needs.
Loiyangalani has the potential to attract local and foreign tourists as it is endowed with a rich heritage, rugged scenery and the lake. Between the 1980s and mid 2000s, tourism flourished in Loiyangalani with tour operators like the Turkana Bus and Gametrackers Safaris organizing tours. Air Kenya’s Sunbird also operated regular flights from Nairobi to Loiyangalani’s Oasis Lodge. The towns unique herigage and scenery earned it a place in the award winning 2004 movie, “The Constant Gardener” that was based on the novel by John Le Carre.
These tourism activities became a source of income especially for the Elmolo – one of the smallest tribe in Kenya. Tourism also spurned the growth of the cottage industry with locals producing handicrafts to sell to tourists and job opportunities such as local guiding sprouted. Today, all these glorious days are nothing but history. Insecurity, political instability, poor insecurity and the global recession are seen as the main contributors to the decline of tourism in Loiyangalani. Despite all these troubles, the jovial mood of the people remains. “As long as there is drinking water, life goes on,” they say.
Lake Turkana is the main source of livelihood and supports the economy of the town. Most villagers are involved in the fish trade. They mostly trade in dried fish from the lake and their main market is in Kisumu and Busia on the shores of Lake Victoria. In fact, these two Lake Victoria towns are virtually the only markets for the fish thus creating a situation where they can dictate the price.
The fish industry has the potential to boost the local economy and by extension the living standards if properly harnessed. Poor management of fish marketing cooperatives, such as the Loiyangalani Fishermen Cooperative Society has been an impediment that needs to be addressed.
Loiyangalani is also attracting energy investments. The largest investment so far is the giant wind farm, the Lake Turkana Wind Project that is expected to be the largest wind farm in Africa and one of the largest in the world. We need to ensure that the community benefits from this development and it does not go the way of the Turkwel Hydropower Project which contributes to the national power grid and never benefits the local people.
As the northern districts of Kenya begin to attract investment, including oil prospecting, greedy elites have started grabbing land in speculation. Some of these elements have even encroached into water catchment areas that should be conserved to serve the entire community.
There is hope of reigning in these acts of impunity as the educated youth of the region, equipped with knowledge gained in dialogues facilitated by FoLT, are taking on the woud-be land grabbers through educating the public about their rights. One of the avenues they are using is theatre.
Without water, there will be no Loiyangalani, and without this magical town, the people of Lake Turkana will be worse off. That is why FoLT will continue to support the youth in their agenda.