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Kenya’s undisputed wheat basket

The sight of farmers around Narok drying wheat on the ground with agents haggling over price and quality is a reminder of how Kenya’s farmers take advantage of the plentiful sunshine to cut post-harvest costs. Makeshift canvas driers line both sides of the Maai Mahiu-Narok-Bomet highway, a section of the Northern Corridor transport system that creates a shorter link to western Kenya.

Narok is Kenya’s undisputed wheat basket, producing half of the national wheat output in any given year. Its lush wheat and maize (corn) farms, as well as livestock ranches dotted with thousands of cattle, sheep and goats, tell you why the over 2,000 farmers in this fertile region of the Rift Valley are so powerful. Moreover, it is gateway to the world famous Masai Mara game reserve, where wildlife riches and revenue, especially bountiful during this period of the famous wildebeest migration, are shared by the Narok and Trans-Mara county councils.

Think equal, act equal!

Obiageli Ezekwesili's picture

This week’s release of the 2012 World Development Report (Gender Equality and Development) forced me to reflect, not on the life of my grandmother or women her age, but on the women of my generation and girls the age of my three young adult sons, whose voices and life stories the report brought to us so poignantly.

If they have to live through the inequality the report unveils, how can we who are blessed to work in development deliver better on our mission to lift slightly more than half of humanity out of the status of “second best”?

Refuge in Nairobi

Asa Torkelsson's picture

Zeinab Lebon, 65, with her family

In the Nairobi slum of Kawangware, people like Said, 33, are struggling to help relatives fleeing the drought in Somalia. The full-time gardener and father of four is providing refuge to his mother, Zeinab Lebon, 65, and six other relatives. All share his family’s two bedrooms of 144 square feet each, and he now supports 12 people on one salary.

“We do not have water or toilet; I have to pay every day 1 Kenya schilling for every person for the toilet, 20 schillings for 20 liters of water,”  says Said. Yet, he now also plans to bring his mother-in-law, who is 70, from Daadab in northeastern Kenya. She lost her husband to a stray bullet as they took off for Daadab on foot from Mandera, on the Somali border.

Eid in a dry season

Greg Toulmin's picture

I am standing in a camp near Dollo Ado, in southern Ethiopia near the border with Somalia. The camp is an open site on hard rocky land: the only vegetation is grey, thorny scrub. An endless wind is swirling around me, picking up the light soil under foot and coating everyone and everything with a thin film of orange. Dust devils spin lazily in the relentless hot sun, making it hard to see the plastic sheeting that is the only covering for the ‘huts’ in which 10,000 people are living. Welcome to Haloweyn, the newest refugee camp for the drought-triggered exodus from Somalia. Today is Eid-ul-Fitr, but nobody is celebrating here.

Haloweyn Camp, Ethiopia's border with Somalia. Photo: Robert S. Chase, World BankWe have stopped to talk to people and understand the challenges they face, but it is hard work. Many of them have scarves wrapped around their faces to protect themselves from the wind, very few of us speak any Somali, and when we do communicate they look uncertain and dazed, as well they may. This camp is only three weeks old—less than a month ago all these people were wandering through this extraordinarily arid landscape, trying to pick their way past the lines of conflict, almost all malnourished and often sick too. That those we meet seemed to have recovered their physical health already is fairly miraculous. Their reluctance to relive their experiences seems wholly understandable.

Leaving the two Congos

Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly's picture

Working for the two Congos – DR Congo, Kinshasa and Congo Republic, Brazzaville (the closest two capital cities in the world) – over the last three-and-a-half years has been like running a fast-track marathon. Everything was urgent and important. Time was never our friend.

Yet, when I settled in Kinshasa as the first World Bank Country Director to serve the two Congos in-country, I was convinced that I would find a few weeks now and then to catch my breath. As I am leaving, I know better. The two Congos demand all the time and energy we have… and more, to make a dent in the many development challenges of the countries.

As I leave Kinshasa for my next post as World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, I will surely miss the dynamic and hard working people of the Congos. Happily, I will take indelible memories with me. I will forever remember my first field trip to the Province Orientale in the northern part of DR Congo. It came on the heels of my assuming service in Kinshasa at the end of January 2008. I remember the big smile of farmers in several villages along the 750km road we were helping to rebuild in order to reestablish the Eastern Corridor with Uganda and Kenya. “We are happy,” the farmer told me about the road, beaming from cheek to cheek. He explained that, only a few days before, he had seen for the first time in seven years, a car coming from Bunia (a town in the same province). Another farmer noted: “Before the road was built, a trip to Kisangani would cost us $10. We are now paying $2. Now we can travel faster and sell our products more easily.”

Ever on the brink of disaster

Fred Owegi's picture

Farmers guide their livestock in the arid region of Mandera, Kenya

Earlier this month, I participated in a four-day mission to Mandera, a county in northeastern Kenya, some 640 km from Nairobi on the Somali border. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Agency (ECHO) arranged the mission to assess progress of various community-managed drought risk reduction initiatives.

We visited several projects being implemented across Mandera’s central, northern and eastern districts, an area which is home to more than a million people, according to the last census in 2009. The area is classified as arid and receives on average 250 mm of rainfall in a good year. But for the last several months, not a single drop of rain has fallen and all water reserves have been depleted. Famine could be imminent in Mandera and its neighboring counties if policies are not put in place to prevent it.

Being my first visit to Mandera the mission was eye-opening but also disquieting, coming as it did in the midst of what is now accepted as “the most severe drought in the Horn of Africa in the last 60 years”.

Fleeing Famine—The View from Inside a Refugee Camp

Johannes Zutt's picture

Newly arrived Somali refugees at a Dadaab reception center

I recently visited Dadaab, Kenya’s third-largest and fastest-growing city, having grown from 250,000 residents a few years ago to more than 400,000 today.

Dadaab is not an ordinary Kenyan city. Most of its residents are not Kenyans, but Somalis, living in a collection of refugee camps crowding the small Kenyan town that existed 20 years ago.

The camps’ earliest residents sought refuge from the fighting that has made Somalia a failed state. The 1,000+ refugees that are now arriving every day are seeking refuge from climate change, the region’s worst drought in 60 years, and the famine that it brings.

I met a group of refugees at a reception center at Dagahaley camp. They had left everything in Somalia and walked hundreds of kilometers across a dry and unforgiving landscape in a desperate gamble to find food, water and refuge in Kenya. The very young and the very old were in terrible condition. Some had already been in Dadaab for a week, living off the kindness of others, too tired to sort out their status. Now they waited patiently to be registered and to receive their initial food ration.

Looking around the camp, I could see their likely future. Refugees who had arrived earlier were cooking, sitting, or talking around water points, or in the low white UNHCR tents that were now “home”. Still earlier arrivals, also squatting outside the formal camps, were building makeshift shelters, digging pit latrines, collecting firewood, or planting dry branches to fence their meager possessions. The earliest arrivals were the most settled—living in tin-roofed houses and fenced compounds that were formally allotted, not far from the main street of kiosks, shops, and community and administration buildings that gave each camp the look of a small town.

Nollywood has talent!

Ismail Radwan's picture

Lights, camera, action!  It’s a clichéd phrase that we more often associate with the movie business and not the World Bank.  In the past the Bank has financed schools, hospitals, power stations but now we are looking for new areas to finance.  So why the movie business?  Nigeria’s movie industry, euphemistically known as “Nollywood” is the world’s most prolific, churning out more than 40 full-length feature films every week. It employs about 500,000 people directly and perhaps double that indirectly. And yet there is tremendous scope for growth. 

Osuofia in London, 2003Most of the movies are low budget affairs. Want to make a movie in Naija – it only takes $25,000 and a couple of days with local producers using gorilla film-making techniques.  They make low budget movies filmed on site in cheap locations (hotel rooms and offices), with improvised sound and light. The result, sometimes grainy, sometimes inaudible, ham acting at its best – but for Nollywood fans it is totally watchable, gripping action that they can relate to. African stories for an African audience. 

Learning under the trees in Ongiva

Cristina Santos's picture

I started working in Angola just before the peace treaty was signed in 2002. Luanda was a dangerous city at the time, and armed youths were a common sight on the street corners. Traveling within the country was almost impossible as roads were either destroyed or mined. The authorities had little control over service delivery, and in many provinces, the population had migrated and there were very few villages left. But now, nine years after the peace treaty, Angola is a very different country. It is about this new country that I want to tell you, about a school in one of the most remote villages in Angola, where a silent revolution is taking place – a learning revolution.Lucinda Alves with her students at the Caxila school in Ongiva

I must first introduce you to Lucinda Alves, a primary school teacher. Lucinda is 26 years old, and like many of her fellow villagers, returned to Ongiva, in the southern province of Cunene, after the war. After attending eight years of school, she is now a primary school teacher. She is one of about 70,000 new teachers who were recruited by the Ministry of Education between 2004 and 2008. Like many of her colleagues all over the country, Lucinda is an auxiliary teacher. This is a new teacher category that is supposed to include those with a minimum qualification of 12 years of schooling and no pedagogical training. The next category, teacher with a diploma, allows auxiliary teachers to upgrade their academic and pedagogical qualifications and develop their careers. All teachers in Lucinda’s school are auxiliary including the head teacher.

Welcome to Africa, Welcome to Naija

Pierre Strauss's picture

Backpackers looking for an intense experience are constantly looking for new regions to explore. While Asia is nowadays swamped by mass tourism, and Western destinations lack originality, Africa remains the ultimate well-kept secret for unconventional tourism – tourists are heading into the rain forests of Madagascar and on safari in South Africa. But hurry up because more and more folks are traveling south.

Pierre Strauss (right) with Abubakar Wakili in Kano state, NigeriaDespite the economic downturn and a general decline in tourism worldwide, tourism in Africa is growing faster than in the rest of the world. African tourism arrivals grew from 37 million in 2003 to 58 million in 2009. The continent receives more tourists than the Caribbean, Central America, and South America combined. For instance, in Nigeria-the most populous country in Africa-we welcome more than three million visitors annually, largely business men from neighboring countries and the Nigerian Diaspora visiting friends and relatives.

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