Tag Archives: East Africa

In Kenya, islanders on heritage site count cost of $25 billion mega-project

Lamu Island on Kenya’s northeast coast was established some 700 years ago as part of a thriving Indian Ocean trade network that eventually stretched to Oman, India, Portugal, and China.

The mixing of those cultures produced the Swahili people and language, as well as an Islamic renaissance of architecture, poetry, and cuisine.

Lamu is regarded as the best preserved Swahili settlement in existence. The history, the remote white beaches, the carved wooden doorways, and the winding alleys, all make it a top Kenya tourist destination.

But change is coming – more drastic than any in Lamu’s history – that could irreversibly transform this ancient place. Read more…

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Kenya conundrum: Kick out Maasai herders to develop geothermal energy?

Maasai sheep graze in front of geothermal wells at Olkaria, Africa’s largest geothermal complex, near Naivasha, Kenya. Photo by Jason Patinkin.

Sitting by his dung hut at sunrise, Daudi Maisiodo, a Maasai herdsman, praises Mt. Suswa, a smoldering volcano on Kenya’s Great Rift Valley where he lives.

“It’s the best land,” Mr. Maisiodo says of the mountain slopes. “There’s firewood. There’s plains with enough space for pasture. You can grow maize….There’s red and white ochre … for rituals.”

The mountain is rich in another way as well. Hot springs and fumaroles, the cracks in the earth’s crust that belch steam, indicate that magma-heated rocks are only a mile below, close enough to be tapped for lucrative geothermal energy.

Suswa holds part of Kenya’s vast undeveloped reserves of geothermal energy, which the government wants to exploit in order to help propel the East African nation to industrialized, middle income status.

Already, Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal and the ninth-largest worldwide. But the 424 megawatts currently generated represent less than 1/20th of the energy locked beneath a string of volcanic fields in the Rift Valley. Suswa alone has an estimated 600 untapped megawatts.

Realizing Kenya’s geothermal potential would cut energy costs and power economic expansion. But it could come at a high price: displacing thousands of indigenous Maasai people who, after a century of losing land rights, are upset at being moved again.

“We don’t like it,” says Maisiodo of the budding geothermal exploration at Suswa. “We fear many people will come and take our land.” Read more…

East Africa’s elegant antelope on the verge of bowing out

 

Antelope conservationist Abdullahi Ali, left, and an assistant, track radio collared hirola using a radio receiver at sunset near Masalani, Ijara District in northeastern Kenya. Jason Patinkin

Africa’s most endangered large mammal species isn’t the majestic mountain gorilla or the stately black rhino.

It’s the hirola, pronounced “hee-ROH-la,” a tawny brown antelope with spiraled, curved horns and a long, skinny snout whose facial markings make it look like it wears eyeglasses.

With just over 400 individual creatures living in a small section of northeastern Kenya, the hirola is not only more threatened than Africa’s most famous species, it is also the world’s most endangered antelope species.

But outside the narrow strip of sandy, thorny wilderness along Kenya’s volatile border with Somalia, few know the hirola exist at all – or of the need to conserve them.  Read more…

Young men and guns: Why South Sudan’s war flamed so fast and brightly

Rebels sit in the now-emptied hospital in Malakal, South Sudan, in February. Photo by Ilya Gridneff/AP

Juba, South Sudan — Gabriel Mabior left South Sudan’s army for the same reason he joined it: he wanted an education.

Mr. Mabior signed up to be a child soldier in 1987 after being assured that a pledge to fight would give him a seat in school.

But like thousands of other boys, he was quickly yanked out of school and ended up fighting for years for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against the government of Sudan.

Mabior, now a soft-spoken and thoughtful businessman with a proclivity for button-down shirts, feels proud of his contribution to the liberation struggle that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Freedom allowed him to earn a university degree, he says, which is why he chose to fight in the first place – and achieving a degree was unlikely under the old Sudan regime in Khartoum.

But Mabior, who lives in the capitol Juba, is now frustrated that South Sudanese are fighting again instead of pursuing what he describes as the fruits of liberation and peace, like study and individual growth.

“What are you fighting for?” the former child soldier asks. “This is the time for young people to live. This is the time for peace. This is the time for education.”  Read more…