Kenya’s Smallest Indigenous Tribe Faces Extinction
Impacts of Climate Change Takes Toll on Their Livelihoods
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenya’s smallest Indigenous tribe that resides in the world’s largest desert lake is in the verge of extinction as climate change and human activities continues unabated on the tributaries that feed the lake.
By Shadrack Kavilu for Gáldu
The El Molo tribe, arguably the smallest tribe in Kenya that inhabits in the Southeastern shores of Lake Turkana is an endangered tribe as competition for the lakes resources intensifies.
With receding water levels, prolonged drought and waves of insecurity in this part of northeastern province, the El molo tribe that entirely depends on fishing is an endangered tribe as the lake waters continues to recede.
Unlike her neighbours the Turkanas, Pokots and Samburus, the El Molo tribe is the only North Eastern tribe that entirely depends on fishing from Lake Turkana.
In the recent past, statistics from various research institutions have reported a decline of fish in this Lake, which is attributed to receding water levels because of climate change and human activities.
Environmental conservationist warn that if the situation is not mitigated ,the tribe which has been grappling to protect itself from extinction could further face decimation as impacts of climate change could force the neighbouring pastoralist communities to scramble for the lakes dwindling resources.
The Turknas, Pokots, and Samburus, which are the immediate neighbours of the El Molo tribe, are heavily armed with machine guns to protect their livestock from cattle hustlers and prolonged drought in the area could see them turn into fishing for food.
The Lakes receding water level that has led to dwindling of fish is forcing the tribe that used to fish in the shallow shores of the lake to venture into deeper waters where the fish have migrated.
Competition for the Lake’s resources that spans about 250km in length and 50km wide has grown fiercer in recent years as drought continues to bite in Northeastern province and some parts of Ethiopia.
In a bid to make a catch in the deep waters, the tribe traverses in hostile zones mostly controlled by heavily armed pastoralist communities and most often they are confronted and assaulted leading to fatal casualties and sometimes death.
In recent years, the tribe has clashed with local pastoralist communities and Ethiopia’s Mirile tribes as the fierce competition for fish continues. These conflicts have claimed lives of El Molo people drastically reducing their population.
Though there are no official figures documenting the tribes’ population, various statistics by research institutions indicate that population of pure El Molo tribe is around 400.
Over the years, the tribe has lost some of their cultures and traditions through assimilation to influential pastoralist neighbours; Samburu, Turkana and the Pokots.
Up to date, there are no official records to show the population of this endangered tribe.
They have also lost their language as a result of intermarriages and assimilation. Most of their culture is now borrowed from these pastoralist communities.
In 1934, the tribe was estimated to be around 84, but in 1973 census, their population grew to 233. However, due to poor health, diet and impacts of climate change, the tribe’s population has declined tremendously.
El molo people’s life expectancy is short; people usually live only 30 to 45 years. The salty water, lack of medical facilities and poor diets is attributed to the low life expectancy.
Environmentalist and human rights groups have expressed fear that the tribe might face extinction if the government does not intervene and save the community from the devastating impacts of climate change and provide medical facilities.
Officials from International Rivers, a Non Governmental Organization that protects Rivers and defend the rights of the communities that depend on them, argue that, the recent drought, insecurity and the construction of Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam could further decimate Kenya’s smallest indigenous tribe.
Conservationist activist argue that any further disruption of waters flowing in the lake could change the livelihoods of these indigenous community that thrives in fishing.
Poor fishing equipments, poor storage facilities and lack of markets are some of the challenges facing the tribe.
“We used to fish in the shallow waters and get enough catch, but the receding waters have forced us to venture into deep waters where fish have migrated,” avers Limanyang Kuyo, an El molo fisherman who has fished in the lakeshores for years.
He adds that they have lost some of their members in the deep waters as a result of lack of modern fishing equipments that can be used in the deep turbulent waters.
“These days we have to stay in the lake for a week to catch a significant number of fish unlike before where a day or two was enough to make a big catch,” laments Moses Ekalale, teenager fisherman.
Ekalale observes that due to stiff competition from other local communities, who have abandoned their livelihoods for fishing, the price of fish has reduced and the number of fish dwindled.
“Our market is controlled by brokers as far as Kisumu who determine how we are going to sell our catch,” he quipped.
According to statistics from a group of conservationist, “Friends of Lake Turkana” the assault on the Omo River and Lake Turkana by the Gibe dam is projected to result in a drop of seven to ten meters in the lake’s depth in the first five years alone.
The lake has already receded by about five to eight meters because of climate change. Resulting changes in the chemical balance of the water threatens the region’s tremendous biodiversity, including large populations of Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus, and over 40 different species of fish and snakes.
The riparian forest, one of the last pristine dryland forests in Africa, would also be in grave danger.
Turkana’s indigenous communities are highly dependent on the lake for their food crops, livestock grazing and watering, and fishing.
Any impacts to the lake’s ecosystem would disrupt the economy, leading to an increase in conflicts in the area. Considering the unstable state of peace in Northern Kenya, such damage to the local economies would invoke a threat to regional stability.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi