May 23, 2018

War of Men, War of Flowers

To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist,
I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic,
but my willing and hoping are optimistic.

Albert Schweitzer

Under an acacia in Lake Nakuru National Park
Another non-eventful drive where, thanks to our very competent chauffeur/mechanic Patrick, we can relax and watch life moving by without a worry.  Our guide Martin normally sits at the front with Patrick.  He sits with us during wild-life safaris, so he can easily point out the animals and answer our many questions.  On occasion after dinner, he shares his opinions and stories of Africa, its stunning geography, its sometimes-dark history, its tumultuous politics, and its many challenges.  Both are from Kenya but from different areas, and different tribes, one Luau, the other Kikuyu.

We pass kids of all ages playing or attending to small projects on their way to school, young girls picking up dung from the soccer fields before a game is played, boys carrying tools to help clean the schoolyard; brooms, machetes, rakes.  Girls getting water, boys teasing each other.  All in their school uniforms, none allowed to attend school without one.  

Villagers, left, weaverbird nests above car, right
Agama lizard – before scurrying under rock
A couple of calves are loosely tied together at the neck making them easier to manage by young herders barely tall enough to reach their back.  Hard to miss brightly colored lizards are sunning on rocks, the temperature is rising quickly.  Weaverbird nests hang so low our bus barely misses them.  We learn that they usually make their nests on the less windy side of trees.  

Charcoal anyone?
Smaller quantities?
The lingering smell of charcoal oven smoke permeates much of East Africa.  Charcoal vendors are easy to spot with their small white buckets or large white bags full of black lumps standing in line by the side of the road like soldiers or carried perilously on bicycles or motorcycles. Haggling is the norm.  If, like us foreigners, a price is not understood, the seller scratches it, with a fingernail or a branch, in the dark skin near their wrist.  Everyone understands written numbers.

Some untrained men are making improvements to the road by hand.  Sometimes slowing down traffic, other times, traffic just going around them.  Drivers taking this ‘ritual’ in stride.  

Someone’s motorcycle, loaded with groceries is left unattended by the side of the road, helmet and all.  It stays there untouched by others.  

Colorful clothes drying
Laundry is drying on fences or bushes, sometimes directly on the ground.  Colors catching our eyes. 

Side of the road garage
Braising corn in the shade of billboard
Industrious people use the side of the road as their garage, fixing vehicles, unperturbed, as traffic wizzes by.  Mom and pop street eateries invade sidewalks, many braising corns on the cob to eat on the way to work or school.

Near impromptu local markets are small bottles of kerosene for sale, each plugged with an old dried corn cob, lid lost long ago.  Not many have the money to buy more than 2-4 cups at a time. 

Today’s local market, pile of cabbage in center
We pass storefronts advertising “Conveniently charge your cell phone here…”  Many live without power (nearly 80%), they pay to charge their phones when going to town.  If lucky, they own tiny solar panels to do that at home.

We finally reach Lake Naivasha, our prelude to its cousin, Lake Nakuru, both at altitudes more than a mile high!  These lakes are some of the few with their water rising rather than retreating.  This is affecting Lake Nakuru much more than Lake Naivasha.  No one knows or understands completely why – a mystery.  

Heavy electric fence is set up between our campground and the lake protecting the campers from nightly hippo marauders looking for food.  The fence is open during daytime.

Marabou stork preening on old stump
Up to 5-feet tall, 12-foot wingspan, 20 pounds – a big undertaker
The rising water is killing the trees, mostly acacia, along the growing shoreline of the lake, creating a spooky scenery of gaunt gray-black trunks in murky water.  Marabou storks sit or walk evenly spaced along a beach full of discarded feathers and guano.  They are called undertakers due to their peculiar look of seemingly wearing a dark cloak, perched on skinny white legs, and at times having an unkept mass of white hair.  They fit well within this landscape of death.  People complain that they are proliferating too rapidly but their increase in numbers correlates with increase in garbage, a source of food.  Humans create more of it and marabous’ population climbs.  Locals ax down the dead trees for firewood, leaving decaying stumps everywhere, some used as perches for various birds. 

Getting firewood.  Taking turns, they worked on this stump for hours
Lake Naivasha – airport, flowers, murder, rebellion

The word Naivasha is a variation of the Maasai Nai’posha, ‘rough water’. Intense storms have time to build quickly and unexpectedly over this large freshwater lake!

Due to its location (near train station and Nairobi), generally good weather, and size, Lake Naivasha was Kenya’s first international airport!  It carried passengers from 1932 to 1949.  The ‘Imperial Flying Boats’ service ended with advances in technology, moving large airplane traffic from water to land.

The total surface area of Lake Naivasha is 86 sq. miles (223 sq. km) but this figure has increased by at least 40 sq. miles over the last few years.  It has no surface outlet yet water level changes over the last 100 years were of more than 39 feet (12 meters).  The water level can change several yards within just a few months, causing shoreline variations of many miles.   These severe changes make it difficult to effectively manage the water and land around the lake.

The fertile soils, low rainfall yet reliable supply of water, decent climatic conditions, availability of cheap labor, and easy access to Nairobi Airport, are the ingredients of a booming flower-dominated horticultural industry around the shores of the lake.  Since 1980 it has mushroomed causing high concern for its sustainability.

and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team, Jesse Allen
Fallow fields are light brown or pink, growing plants show bright green.  Sunlight glints off the glass greenhouses, turning them silvery blue and white in this view from space.

Somehow, most first world people expect flowers at any time of the year, and Kenya helps meet those expectations. Overlapping the equator, this area has the perfect climate to grow them year-round. The center of Kenya's flower industry is Lake Naivasha, shown above.  The industry is so large that it produces nearly 11% of Kenya’s foreign earnings.  Seventy percent of the exported flowers are produced near Lake Naivasha.  Roses, lilies and carnations are the most common flowers grown and exported to Europe.

Local growers are not held to the same standards for chemical uses as in the countries where their flowers are sold. Harsh chemicals can be used to produce perfect, pest-free blooms. This poses health risks to workers, affects water quality in the fresh water lake, and distresses local wildlife such as birds and hippos.  The high price of the flower industry.

This is where I learned about the work of naturalist Joan Root who, many think, was murdered at age 69 because she was trying to save Lake Naivasha from pollution and overfishing.  Nothing was stolen, but her life.  ‘Life can be dangerous in Africa. Especially if, like Joan, you care about the place.’

All that agricultural work brought many eager newcomers to the shores of Lake Naivasha.  The industry now employs over 25,000 people and each day more come in hopes of getting their share.  While waiting, hoping, and praying to find employment, they live in makeshift camps without basic sewage facilities, they denude the forest of trees for firewood and fish to eat.  In Naivasha alone, the population has increased a hundred times over the past 20 years, from 5,000 to half a million.

Joan Root foresaw what was to come and tried to change the course of progress to ensure a better and sustainable future for animals, the lake, and the people. 

Joan was a famous wildlife film maker with her husband Alan Root.  For decades they followed wild creatures around the world.  Alan, behind the camera, Joan the adventurous one, climbing trees, facing venomous cobra snakes, swimming with hippos or crocodiles, walking on hot lava, flying over Mt Kilimanjaro in a hot-air balloon, etc.  At the time, they were regarded as the best wild-life filming crew in the world.

After her painful divorce from Alan, Joan kept the 88-acre farm overlooking Lake Naivasha and ‘devoted herself to save her beloved lake from the ecological ravages of Africa’s lucrative flower-farming industry.’  She also created a small private ‘army’ that would stop poachers from fishing illegally but they, as well as the local government, eventually turned against her even though much progress was shown.  Fish were coming back in the lake, things were looking up.

She was rehabilitating many orphaned wild animals, they were her best companions.  ‘She always got along better with animals than people.’  People from all over East Africa would bring her wounded animals to mend and then release, if possible.

Everything grown in hothouse with lights on 24/7 disrupts the night feeding of hippos and nocturnal insects.  Overfishing leaves no food for eagles and other birds.  Destruction of papyrus, the lake’s natural filter system, compromises the clean water.

‘Naivasha is the perfect microcosm for the larger picture of Kenya; lawlessness, poverty, collapsing infrastructure, corruption, abuse on all levels – the sad story of a displaced society where money talks.’

‘If consumers in Europe knew the misery caused by one rose, they wouldn’t buy any.’

From:  A flowering evil, Vanity Fair

The Mau Mau Rebellion, an inevitable path to independence

For the Kikuyu the closest word to respect is ‘I fear you’.
The only way we can live here is by having them fear us… (British resident)

Mau Mau from ‘Maundo maumau nderiruo ndikoige’ or, The things I was told not to reveal when Kikuyu prisoners were interrogated.

In 1895, British extended rule to include Kenya as the East Africa Protectorate.  The original plan was simply to facilitate construction of a rail line (Lunatic Express) from the port of Mombasa directly to Lake Victoria, creating a strategic link with British-held Uganda.  During the construction of the rail line, British officials discovered a climate perfect for agriculture, the rich soil being especially suitable to produce tea and coffee.  The earliest colonists quickly secured the most profitable lands in the Rift Valley and Highlands for white usage only.  Trade from coffee was an immediate financial success, made possible by the labor of the reluctant native population.
Railroad construction may have caused the initial bitterness between the British and Kenyans, but it was the unfair land use restrictions which resulted in violent protests by the native tribes.  British colonial police responded to the violence with swift, military brutality; rather than cowing the Kenyans, this action unified the tribes in an anti-imperialistic attitude.

The Mau Mau Rebellion/Uprising of 1952 to 1960’s aim was to remove British rule and European settlers from the country. The main causes of the revolt were low wages, access to land and kipande - identity cards African workers were required to submit to their white employers, who sometimes refused to return them or even destroyed them, making it incredibly difficult for workers to apply for other employment.

By mid-1952 around ninety percent of Kikuyu adults had taken the Mau Mau oath.  ‘If I know of any enemy of our organization and fail to kill him, may this oath kill me.’

During the eight-year uprising, 30+ white settlers and about 200 British police and army soldiers were killed.  Over 1,800 African civilians were killed, and some put the number of Mau Mau rebels killed at around 20,000.

The Mau Mau should not be seen as a political, religious or cultural movement. Rather, the rebels who came from the forty tribes of Kenya to enlist in the Mau Mau movement symbolized a nationalistic sensibility learned from shared experiences with the colonists. 

The British response to the uprising entailed massive round-ups of suspected Mau Mau and supporters, with large numbers of people hanged and up to 150,000 Kikuyu (that figure goes up to 1.5 million in some research) held in detention camps and used as forced labor.  There they suffered torture, broken bones, castration, starvation, sodomy, etc.  They use the term ‘Rehabilitation through work’ when they forced inmates to work so hard they would be too tired to resist.  Should you fly to Nairobi’s Airport, know it was built by their hard labor.

The uprising escalated further on March 26, 1953, when Mau Mau fighters carried out a major assault on the Naivasha police station.  It resulted in a humiliating defeat for the police and the release of 173 prisoners, many of them Mau Mau, from an adjacent detention camp.

Despite the defeat of the Mau Mau, the uprising put Kenya on an unavoidable path to independence from colonial rule. There were several reasons for this.

The first was that it was made clear to the Kenyan population that the Europeans were far from invincible, and that their rule was more tenuous than previously realized. Consequently, the effective resistance to colonial rule shown by the Mau Mau accelerated the pace of nationalism in Kenya and throughout East Africa.  The actions of the white settler community had demonstrated how fearful they were of indigenous opposition to their land seizures, and divisions emerged between extremists and moderates, weakening the political domination the community previously enjoyed.  In addition, the brutality shown by the government had been effective in driving a fresh wave of anti-colonialist sentiment in the country.

Also important was the financial impact of the Mau Mau uprising. The British were forced to spend a tremendous amount of money to combat the rebels, and with the lackluster British economy still suffering from the effects of the Second World War, this expenditure doubtless sapped the British will to continue maintaining their colonial ambitions in the face of such determined opposition. In addition, the organized approach taken by the Mau Mau and the difficulties they posed for British troops challenged European assertions that Kenyan nationalists were incapable of effectively challenging colonial rule.

Perhaps the greatest impact that the Mau Mau uprising had on the struggle for Kenya’s independence was its role in politicizing and mobilizing the agrarian sectors and shaping their political awareness and economic thinking.  By awakening this key section of Kenyan society to the damage and repression caused by colonial rule, the Mau Mau set in motion a popular movement for independence that captured the national consciousness of the economically disenfranchised Kenyan people like never before.

The extreme methods Britain used to defeat the Mau Mau galvanized the Kenyans into a politically savvy, nationalistic, unified political entity.

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy addressed the United Nations.  Kennedy expressed sympathy for the Kenyan peoples and their desire for self-rule.  The world started to recognize the extent of the violence imposed on the Kenyans by the British rulers.

Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963, seven years after the collapse of the uprising.

In 2013 the British government formally apologized for the brutal tactics it used to suppress the uprising and agreed to pay approximately £20 million pounds (US $26.7 millions) in compensation to surviving victims of abuse. 

The Mau Mau uprising is not a simplistic morality tale: it’s the story of one democracy ineptly managing the emergence of another.

From: Rastafari TV
The Mau Mau Insurrection: The Failed Rebellion That Freed Kenya by Joshua Scullin

Lake Nakuru – higher water

Impala bachelors running
In 2009, Lake Nakuru was nearly dried up.  Businesses nearby were slowly preparing to close but, surprise, against all forecasts, it started rising.

The thinker of Lake Nakuru

‘After breakfast we set off to make history by becoming the first living people
to cross the lake on foot…There’s no water at all in the lake now.’
Elspeth Huxley’s Nellie: Letters from Africa. 1939

Seventy-eight years ago, the lake was completely dry. The situation today has reversed significantly.

White rhino
The water level is the highest it has been in recent memory. So high that a major portion of Lake Nakuru National Park is under water, as well as part of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWs) building at the park’s entrance. KWS says water levels rose by about 20 feet (six meters), and the size of the lake has increased from 16 sq. miles to 26 sq. miles (68 sq. km).

Threesome in lone acacia tree
The lake has swallowed up a section of the northern route and has flooded a large part of the acacia forest to the south. 

Baby is brown and black – better camouflage
Dr. Judith Nyunja believes that the main cause of the high-water level is geological – rather than high rainfall, better conservation or siltation. She believes that an undiscovered flow of groundwater connects, and is feeding, Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru.

Heron on dead tree
One million farmers causing silting from agriculture and tree cutting.  Pavement increasing water runoff, climate change, better water conservation upstream – all could also be contributing factors but cannot explain the full extent of the rising water.

Death by water
Though the true cause of the high-water level of Lake Nakuru may be unclear, its consequences for the ecosystem are unquestionable. The most obvious being the lack of flamingos, which now fly in tens of thousands to another lake. The flamingos feed off blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which thrive in alkaline water. The water in Lake Nakuru is now too deep, and not saline enough, to support the growth of the algae.

Too many buffalos – overgrazing by the lake
Habitat constriction is another problem, particularly for the population of buffalos, which was even deemed too large for the national park before the lake started to expand. According to Nigel Hunter, the previous director of the East African Wildlife Society, a considerable number of buffalos will have to be relocated to other parks. The saline water has also flooded and dehydrated large parts of the acacia forest, which is forcing its inhabitants – like the extremely territorial leopards – to occupy a much smaller space.

Baboon’s blue balls
The fact that we are still debating why the lakes are so high, even though the water levels have been fluctuating drastically for as long as we know, shows that we don’t quite yet fully understand the dynamics of this complex hydrological system.  Dr Judith Nyunja

From: The East African

Road used to follow the contour of the beach. 
The road you see here is now under water. 
Current water level is near trees to the left of the road.

Soda Lakes

A soda lake is a lake with a pH value of more than the usual measure of 6 or 7, usually between 9 and 11. Both named above lakes are soda lakes.  High carbonate concentration, especially sodium carbonate (a compound like baking soda or soda ash), is responsible for the alkalinity of the water.

Soda lakes are highly productive ecosystems compared to the freshwater lakes. Soda lakes are the most productive aquatic environment on Earth because of the availability of dissolved carbon dioxide. While you might think these lakes are relatively inhospitable to life, the salty conditions allow for plants and algae to perform photosynthesis at a rate up to 16 times the average of normal lakes, making them the most energy rich aquatic environment on Earth.

Soda lakes occur naturally in both arid and semi-arid areas.  Nakuru pH 9.2.  Mono Lake in Nevada, USA is pH 9.8.

Soda ash is used domestically as a detergent and in the manufacture of glass. Soda ash is an essential salt that gives ramen noodles their distinct flavor.

Male tree lion – we did not see them but were told they live here…
To visit this very peaceful area while learning about its past puts everything in a different light.  What looks nearly frozen in time has seen atrocities and changes of amazing magnitude.  We cannot simply judge a book lake or park by its cover…  Battles for good or bad can be hidden in so many unexpected places.

“It’s terrifying to realize that the population of my country
has gone from two to 42 million in my lifetime,”
Don Turner

“Nothing happens halfway here.
Everything is wild, violent, savage,”
Local woman

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