The food was over but the hunger was not.
This was the shocking reality that stunned some Strathmore University students after they organised a food drive, collected hundreds of kilos of flour, maize, beans, sugar and rice, and travelled all the way to Naloilo, in Turkana, to distribute them.
Distribution had ended, but children and elders stayed at the distribution spot for quite a while.
They were collecting the grains that had fallen off the bags, picking them one by one and placing them in recycled plastic water bottles.
It was one of those moments that cry aloud in silence: shocking, moving and too real to pen properly. Elders and children stood bent over, combing the sand with their fingers in search of any little grain that might have fallen from the sacks.
The only woman in the crowd who could communicate in English pulled Sylvie and Benjamin aside and told them, “You are a gift from God. See how my people are looking for leftovers. Nothing should get lost. The hunger is real, but some of our leaders seem not to notice.”
Benjamin photographed the moment while Sylvie took a short video clip. Without showing faces, they wanted to show their classmates and the world that hunger is real; that hunger is the barbaric result of poor planning and poor education.
Sylvie and Benjamin also wanted to show their friends the beauty of little things, how nothing, absolutely nothing should go to waste.
There was no despair in the faces of those elders and children but a sense of duty and responsibility. They had to maximise the few resources they could access.
More than drought, hunger in Africa is the result of a disintegrated rule of law, broken governance structures, lack of foresight and corruption.
A SOLIDARITY TOOL
Hunger crises are far too common in Africa. According to the Los Angeles Times, close to half the population of Somalia currently needs emergency food aid, and the situation is predicted to only get worse especially if the April rains do not fall.
A similar catastrophe is in the making in Ethiopia, Northern Nigeria and South Sudan. The short-term solution is the rapid distribution of emergency food.
Once it rains a little, we will all forget about hunger, celebrate and make merry until hunger strikes again and is declared a national disaster, and the cycle goes on.
During rain, people die when flash floods carry them away. Once the rains are over and the sun mercilessly heats up the soil, food scarcity strikes again. This time it is too hot, and people die of hunger along with their cattle.
However, there are few projects aimed at long-term solutions, for example, providing boreholes to break the repetitive water cycle, and improving communication by building or repairing damaged infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools.
Food drives are more efficient as a solidarity tool than a feeding tool; they are necessary but unsustainable. They resolve the problem for a few days until food is over.
The idea of a food drive came from the students. They also raised funds and did the collection, planning and distribution. It was moving to see their enthusiasm and zeal for their country and for their suffering neighbour.
Some of the young men and women who travelled to Turkana for food distribution live in the middle-class estates of Nairobi. A few come from the wealthiest areas, while others live in lower income areas around Strathmore.
For some of them, Turkana is home. Others had never been past Eldoret. The food drive made social class and race irrelevant; it was a beautiful show of solidarity with the suffering, a show of the unity we all desire for Kenya.
Naloilo does not appear on maps and its name is only familiar to its people. It is a bunch of thatched huts and small bomas to the southeast of Lodwar.
The place has not seen rain in a long time. There are no roads. There is nothing but dust, and one tree below which some 300 people had gathered together in pangs of expectation.
Turkana is the poorest county in Kenya and in the last budget was the second-highest recipient of funds from the Treasury's kitty, after Nairobi.
According to the Kenya Inter-Agency Rapid Assessment (KIRA), Turkana hosts 2.2 per cent of the national population and it has a rate of poverty of 94.3 per cent, more than twice the national rate of 45.9 per cent.
In Kenya’s development index, Turkana ranks at the very bottom, 47th out of 47 counties. A bus ticket from Nairobi to Lodwar costs Sh4000 one-way and it takes two days to cover a fairly short distance of 680km.
The road is no more. Only isolated patches of tarmac are visible from what was once a road.
Turkana Catholic Diocese Bishop Dominic Kimengich accompanied the students from Lodwar to Naloilo and upon arrival, everyone regardless of creed or language was welcome. The faces of the people were bright with joy; short-term help had come.
WIDENING RIFT VALLEY
I could not help but thinking of the contrast between Naloilo in Turkana and Nairobi, where it was reported that 140,000 people had spent a day in massive traffic jams just to witness the inauguration of a new shopping mall, where so much food gets wasted in restaurants and homes.
If we had more solidarity in Kenya, we would have fewer calamities. Solidarity is the most efficient bridge between the haves and the have-nots. Turkana’s and Marsabit’s hunger is not just the government’s problem; it is also our problem.
The government should invest more in infrastructure (roads, boreholes, water points), education and health. Turkana has only 19 secondary schools. Only 18.1 per cent of Turkana’s population can read and write, ranking the county second last.
Naloilo and Nairobi are two different Kenyas. The posh, easy spending, comfortable, apathetic walled, safe and self-sufficient Kenya, and the poor, dirty, tired, miserable, crowded, dangerous, hungry and angry Kenya. A deep, constantly widening Rift Valley divides them.
This reality is unsustainable. The clock is ticking, and the splashing opulence of our political campaigns is making the clock on this time bomb tick faster.