This East African nation is known for stability. But drought and rising prices are fueling insecurity and dissent.
MORABI RUSSIAN MOUNTAINS, Kenya, DECEMBER 3, 2011—Konza, a small town in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, is in the midst of a drought, even as it is facing another challenge: rising prices for its staple crop sorghum, which is used to make sorghum flour, a staple food for about 70% of the Kenyan population.
The local government recently introduced a new sorghum tax as part of a series of cuts to government services. Konza residents are not happy with the tax, which they say will force them to become beggars.
The issue, along with a long-running dispute over the ownership of a nearby forest, has sparked a wave of anger through the East African country. “I was always a big supporter of the Kenya Forest Service, but how can someone be forced to give up trees when it is the government’s fault?” says Mwendwa Cheung, a local resident and environmental activist. “Kenya Forest Service is the symbol of government efficiency; this is about the government taking away peoples livelihoods.”
Cheung knows that environmental conservation is not a partisan issue in Kenya, especially when it comes to land and wildlife. Cheung’s family has been using the forest here for generations to grow cotton. But over time it has been converted to agricultural land for grain, and now the government wants to sell it off.
Cheung and others are now pushing the government to allow them to keep the forest. “I can’t have my forest for farming, we have lived here for so many generations,” says Cheung. “We have grown crops, but since they came into the area we are unable to grow crops. What I want is to preserve the forest.”
The forest that is under threat is one of Africa’s oldest. Once believed to be the home of the great lion, the Kogelo area once teemed with wildlife