It is hard not to think about crocodiles when you are swimming in Lake Turkana, supposedly the body of water with the highest concentration of crocodiles in the world. Everyone assures us that the mamba’s (crocodile in Swahili) avoid areas where there are people, especially anywhere near the Elmolo, who hunt the crocodile and incorporate them into their traditional practices. This includes the requirement that a young man kill a crocodile to achieve warrior status, likely a discouraged practice, much like the maasai who are discouraged from killing a lion for their warrior status.
After a morning of training, a carbohydrate-fueled lunch and an afternoon of meetings, the cool water of Lake Turkana is welcome. Few of the women join me for the full swim, but everyone at least refreshes themselves. At the men’s beach there is lots of yelling and screaming – boy’s games. A young Turkana girl joins me and we swim-race out into the lake. Makombo told us that the mamba’s will not attack people that are blessed, and I pray that those blessings are with us now.
Our training program has been a participatory one. There is an active dialogue between the Mentors and Kura and I as we refine the questions on BOMA forms for cultural appropriateness and the goal of receiving true and consistent answers to the questions we must ask in order to determine REAP participant data. Our objective is to establish individual baselines in nutrition, household assets and the education of children. Those questions will be asked again at one year and at three years to determine change – the most effective way to measure the impact of our poverty reduction program. The question of how to verify dependents stirs up many questions on both days. Do we include the children who are living in another household? Do we include the adults that a household must care for, like the disabled and the elderly? Do we include the children of a co-wife?
For northern Kenya, we are breaking new ground. The main activities in the area have been the delivery of relief food and the traditional poverty reduction programs common to the continent, including the building of schools and homes, digging wells and providing medical care. My opinion on these activities is controversial. Should we not ask whether we are undermining the self-confidence of people’s ability to improve the conditions of their own lives when we reinforce the idea that the only way out of poverty is through the charity of others? I continue to believe that if we are to address persistent poverty we must create markets and income-earning opportunities so that people have the tools and resources to do the things that traditionally come from charity. I recognize that government structure and accountability, infrastructure, and judicial systems that establish property rights must all be part of the successful equation on poverty reduction. But billions of dollars of aid has been dumped into the continent and it is poorer now than it was 30 years ago. Maybe I am swimming with the crocodiles here too.
By the end of the day, I have had my requisite visits with the local officials, including the District Officer, the District Commissioner, a Councilor and one crazy chief named Bullet. Our conversations revolve around two significant issues. One, how can we encourage the rebound of the once-thriving tourism business around the lake and Loiyangalani (anyone want to buy a hotel?) and two, what will be the effect of the Lake Turkana Wind Project on the region?