Earning a penny at an early age..

Growing up in the past was fun almost every other day. Every new day was full of twists and turns and sometimes you would feel like you are in an audition for a movie.

There is this guy Arum Tidi who spent so many years repeating lower primary classes until he felt schooling was not just for him. He was almost the age mate of some of the untrained teachers in school. It reached a time where he would only come in the games seasons i.e. football during first term games and athletics in term 2 as he was blessed with brawn.  He was so endowed with big hands and feet and his presence in the soccer or volleyball line up would send rival school teams into fear and there were even reports of some passing water just by his mere presence.

Arum Tidi over time got smitten but was a shy guy who had problems approaching slay queens of them days. He also felt challenged in the alternative mode of reaching girls which was letter writing and therefore had to look for ‘go between’ who would not only talk to the girl she was interested but if need be also help in writing the love letters and acting as courier too.

One time the role fell on yours truly and I felt it was beneficial as it meant that I would be protected in return for writing and delivering the letters to the potential girlfriend who was called Nyangi. Sitting down with Arum Tidi so as to draft this letters was a scene to behold as most of the time he would be quoting for me the lyrics of popular benga songs like the ones of Okach Biggy, Awino Lawi and Collela Mazee and expect me to turn the same into letters that would soften the lady’s heart to say yes. This was in spite of the fact that the lyrics were also known by the targeted lady and therefore not original from him. We once sat for over three hours drafting letters and throwing them away as not being romantic enough till I got tired and told him that I was resigning if he didn’t think that we had done then was romantic enough. This made him agree and I was then tasked or is it commandeered to take the letter to Nyangi.

I had to use all my wit to make sure the letter reached its destination without raising eyebrows especially with other potential suitors and of course making sure the letter doesn’t fall into wrong hands. This would mean spending sometime grazing the cattle next to the river where Nyangi would inevitably end to fetch water. Once this was done, another problem arose as apparently the language that was used was too ‘complex’ for her and yours truly had to read the letter for her and make her understand. There is nothing as hard as reading a love letter when you are not the person who should be saying what is in the missive as you have to find a balance between the content and how you deliver it so that you don’t steal the show.  You want to make it in such a way that its not misconstrued like you are the one communicating your desires. You always want to be neutral to all the kinds of reactions you receive so that when you go back you don’t end breaking any relationship you had with the person who sent you especially when they start asking you how it went and whether he has a chance and you know that there is no chance from what you saw.

The task became even more interesting when Nyangi tasked me to write a response back to Arum Tidi not knowing that even the letter that I brought to her was written by me, on instructions of course.  Nyangi would try to play hard and use all kinds of words to inform Arum Tidi that he wasn’t interested while also providing a window of opportunity for further engagement. This is the moment I realized that I could as well make hay from this engagement. This I would do by making sure that I included requests that were not necessarily coming from Nyangi to Arum Tidi. I would include things that she ‘needed’ to be bought for her. Things like soaps, perfumes, shoes and some money for the village salon. I would make sure that this was in bold knowing anyway that I would be the one reading them to Arum.

Delivering the letter back to Arum meant that I would emphasize on not only what I perceived as interest from Nyangi but also the fact that she needed to be taken ‘care’ of in response to her ‘requests’ in the letter. This would obviously pass through me and while Nyangi received the other gifts ‘requested’ for in the letter which for her was a surprise anyway, the money ended up in my pocket as my wages. This would go on for a long time as the longer there was suspense without any positive response the better it was for my wages as every letter would come back with fresh requests.

Arum Tidi and Nyangi, if you are reading, sorry, I had to earn my wages!


Livestock influx exacerbates the demise of Lake named after the first President in Mpeketoni, Lamu.

livestock-at-the-lake-1Some of the livestock competing for water and pasture in Lake Kenyatta, Mpeketoni, Lamu: Photo by Alex Kubasu

Lake Kenyatta is facing a myriad of challenges with the influx of large population of livestock top among them.

When you approach Lake Kenyatta in Mpeketoni Lamu County one of the things that attract you is a large number of cattle grazing around the diminishing Lake while others are quenching their thirst. A first timer would be excused for assuming that all Mpeketoni community members are pastoralists. One struggles to locate where the water in the Lake is below the sea of cattle and goats that have surrounded the Lake and are all competing for this resource that was once Lake Kenyatta but is slowly but surely on its last legs and looks like a water in a basin.  The young men herding the cattle are in the farthest corner looking concerned as the cattle drink the last waters of the Lake seemingly concerned that if rains don’t come anytime soon they may have to come with solutions very fast on where they will get water for the animals. The cattle are aloof though and after drinking water, a number of them defecating in the water either to mark territory or to dare whoever is watching that the water may not be very safe after all.

Every time whenever there is a drought which has been regular in the past, the pastoralists move their herds from Garissa, Tana River and sometimes as far as Wajir counties to come and look for pasture and water in Lamu County with some of them heading to Dodori and Awer areas while the rest remain in Lamu West striding between Amu Ranch through Lake Kenyatta all the way to Kipini provisional forest. In the past, this would be for a short season before the pastoralists start the journey back home once it starts raining and there is water and pasture where they are coming from.

From 2009 this has changed as now the pastoralists come with their herds and settle around the Lake and the ecosystem as the area back home has been experiencing longer drought seasons and the pastoralists fear going back and seeing their animals getting perished. They have decided to settle here and new structures are coming every day initially in Koreni but now in Pangani and Lumsi along the water catchment corridor. As the makeshift villages along the water catchment area continue so does the water levels continue going down as there is destruction along the way and some of the newly created farms block the channel that brings water to the lake when it rains. The cattle owners also have to use veterinary medicine to take care of the cattle and sometimes when this is not disposed of well end up polluting the Lake. The cattle also cause siltation along the Lake when they come to drink water.

Since last year, the situation became worse and the drought was more severe and the numbers of cattle from Garissa and Tana River counties increased. Some estimates put the current population of that cattle around the Lake as being over 100 000 and with experts averring that one cow drinks 8 liters a day this then mean that the 100 000 cattle plus consume over 800 000 liters of water every day! If this is added together with the fact that human beings and wild animals also need the ever dwindling water, the situation becomes grimmer and everybody is getting concerned on whether the ecosystem can withstand this pressure brought by domestic animals together with wild animals and human beings.  The livestock also competes with the wild animals for the same habitat including for water and pasture and end up displacing the wild animals who then move towards people’s farms and thus human-wildlife conflicts increase tenfold. The impact is not just restricted to the basin but is all the way to the Kipini conservancy which used to be under private hands but due to challenges in management was handed over to Kenya Forest Service to manage for some time before returning back to the owner to take over.

There have been stories that the cattle are left in Kipini conservancy by the herders who then take cover and when KFS officers come to arrest them for encroachment find nobody. There is a time some officers tried keeping an eye over the livestock the whole day hoping to capture their owners in the evening when they are coming for their cattle only to see the cattle going home on their own with the herders, not on sight. That’s when even KFS officers realized that the cattle not only knew home but that tending the cattle hoping to capture the owners only ended up taking their time that they would have used elsewhere as the cows knew home.

The Save Lake Kenyatta initiative is calling for action to address this challenge to the Lake. While they agree that the water situation is at crisis levels, they nonetheless agree that the herders and their cattle can’t be told to go back now as the effect of drought is everywhere and that may not work.  They are requesting the county government together with other stakeholders to come up with a grazing law that will regulate where to graze and the penalties of encroaching into a vital resource like the Lake.  WWF is working together with the county government and the Lake Kenyatta initiative to see that the dire situation of the Lake is addressed. One of the solutions is the ongoing Spatial planning which is almost complete and has proposals on the best land use system for the area i.e. conservation with controlled exploitation in terms of water extraction and usage.

The community in Mpeketoni live in hope that once the rain comes some of these pastoralists will go back. In the meantime the Lake continues to shrink, human-wildlife conflicts are going up, wildlife is dying, the water is becoming saline and domestic animals are becoming thinner. Let’s all join hands and #SaveLakeKenyatta

lake-and-livestockPart of what used to be the Lake now used by children to play football: Photo by Alex Kubasu


No Longer at Ease: The fishing community around Lake Kenyatta in Lamu County having sleepless nights

lake-kenyatta-photoThe last of the fish catch in Lake Kenyatta as it faces extinction: Pic by Alex Kubasu

Benta is a disturbed fish monger full of anger and anxiety as we meet her next to the fishing boats in Lake Kenyatta, Mpeketoni, Lamu County. She is happy that today the fish catch has gone up and she will be able to go back with fish home to prepare and sell in Mpeketoni township all the way to Kilifi and Mombasa. She is worried though that the business that she has depended on for eons will not last longer than a month as while the fish catch has gone up in the last one month or so, she says these are the final fish and the fisher-folk are literally bidding goodbye to the last stock unless a ‘miracle’ happens and the water in the Lake increases which she is not very optimistic about. Benta says that she has three children in high school who all depend on the proceeds from her trade to pay school fees and have food put on top of the table. She has been in this business for over twenty years and through it she has been able to build a house and make sure that her family is well taken care of.

Benta says she only knows of Lake Kenyatta in Mpeketoni as home as her parents came with her when she was two years old and she has spent all her life in Mpeketoni growing up, getting married, raising her family all while doing the fish sale business. Initially she also used to go to River Mangai in Basuba location when the conditions were tough in Mpeketoni but that is no longer possible with the Al-Shabaab threat in Basuba meaning that with the water in Lake Kenyatta going down and the fish stock disappearing, Benta is becoming more desperate day by day. What is even worse that she cannot venture in alternative livelihoods like farming because of the adverse impact of drought in the county.

lake-kenyatta-customersCustomers waiting for their turn to buy fish at the shore of Lake Kenyatta: Pic by Alex Kubasu

Benta is not alone as over two hundred fishermen depend on Lake Kenyatta for their livelihoods.  These are people whose life revolves around the Lake either as fishermen, fishmongers, boat makers etc. Put this together with the people who also rely on the fisher community indirectly for their business to thrive like the people who sell them fuel and others then you realize why many people are no longer at ease as the lake continues to shrink and the fish disappear. A normal household in the area has 4 people meaning that when the figures are put together then nearly 800 people are facing danger due to what is happening around the Lake.

When we visited the Lake whatever remained is  almost a memory as from  a Lake that was once 12 meters deep has now reduced to around 1.5 meters and  one would as well walk through from one end to the other. One is welcomed by the sight of vultures hovering around having a feast on the immature fish that the fishermen fish and throw around the Lake in anger at seeing that their livelihoods is slowly disappearing in their eyes. The hippos have also realized that their habitat is under threat having seen almost 20 of their kind losing their life and are moving in their droves to Mkunumbi a distance of over 10 Kilometres, a distance that goes through people’s farms and settlements and thus increasing human wildlife conflict incidences and retaliatory killings.

The lake is threatened mostly through human activities and some of these include encroachments in the catchment area by farmers and pastoralists through a process known as ‘wetemere’ or self-service, the high number of livestock and wildlife accessing the lake for water and around it for pasture, over extraction of the lake for domestic and agriculture use as most of the people around are farmers practicing flood irrigation,  and increase in population brought about partly by the LAPSSET project in Lamu.

The national and county governments together with a number of non-state actors have come together under the Lake Kenyatta initiative and are working on finding short and long-term solutions to the Lake with a number already on top of the table including coming up with a multi-stakeholder task force that will coordinate this urgent task.

Benta and her colleagues meanwhile are a desolate lot, they know what the challenge and they also aver that they know the solution. She says they participated in the drafting of the catchment management plan and proposed a number of actions that would go a long way in addressing the issue. She for example proposes that the people on the catchment and the waterways to the Lake need to be moved to other grounds so that the water from River Tana can find its way into the Lake. They would also want restocking of the Lake once the water level rises.

As we leave she calls us back and tells us that she has nowhere to go if the lake was to dry up. She also says that the time for politicking over the lake is long gone and the stakeholders need to put their heads together and sort the issue. She also calls for neighbours to love each other more and share with each other as the current arrangement where every resident even with a very small piece of land wants to dig a bore hole instead of sharing with neighbours is not sustainable. She says the situation is so dire and people have to act like yesterday.

lake-kenyatta-boatsThe owners of these boats are no longer at ease for what used to be their source of livelihood is shrinking every day: Pic by Alex Kubasu



Kiangwe villagers are spending sleepless nights in search of freshwater…


This is the only well with some water in Kiangwe village. Community members spend nights as they wait to hopefully get the elusive commodity. Pic by Nickson Orwa


We find over ten people carrying torches surrounding a shallow water well in Kiangwe village, Basuba location, Lamu County at 11 am and the first question we ask is why they have torches at day time?. This comes out automatically in a place where insecurity has been rearing its ugly head for some time. The answer we get surprises us even as it makes all of us sad. These community members have spent their night next to the only well with some water hoping to get even five liters to go use back home. They tell us that they walked for over two hours to reach here in search of this elusive yet important resource.

It’s a team of men and women who after traveling for over two hours spent the night next to the water well and by 11 am, the water that is dripping in the well can’t even fill two cups and yet there are over ten 20 liter water containers waiting in line. The determination on their faces tells a whole story for this is a community facing all kinds of odds ranging from insecurity, drought, illiteracy and now this scarcity of water. They tell us that they had their last meal over 24 hours ago but can’t go back to the village without water for what will they use to prepare their food, what will they use to drink? How will they even take a bath?


Kiangwe community members lining up hoping to get water for their domestic use. Pic by Nickson Orwa


Some of them tell us that even the wild animals are not spared and we are shown banana stems that have been ostensibly attacked by wild animals looking for fluids from the stem now that there is no water anywhere. The community members used to go look for natural wells in the forest in the past during such calamities but now that is not possible because due to insecurity their movements have been curtailed and they have to survive around the village with limited resources including the elusive water resource.

One of the team members ask whether they have informed the county government about their situation and we are told that while the county government have water boozers, the closest they have come is Basuba village which is over 6 hours away from Kiangwe. Somebody else asks why the boozer didn’t reach here and everybody goes quite before saying that while they don’t have the right answer, they hear it’s because the driver feared insecurity and therefore reached Basuba and went back.

Somebody else asks whether the community leaders like the Member of County Assembly (MCA)  knows about this situation and whether they have responded and again there is silence before one of the community members say the MCA ostensibly due to insecurity hasn’t come to the village for over two years and literally they are on their own.

One person shouts that while the rest of the county is celebrating the culture festival in Lamu Island, they have been left on their own and don’t even have water to drink.

We cast our eyes to where we came from and see the mass of water in the sea and compare with the situation where community members don’t have water and we feel sad. How could it be that people who live next to the sea don’t have access to water? Somebody will say the water is salty but haven’t we heard of technology? The technology to desalinate the salty water and help this community have freshwater? How many people elsewhere would want to trade places with the Kiangwe community and be next to water mass? How many responsible leaders would be falling over themselves to invest in technology to help address the plight of this marginalized community?

How much can one marginalized community take? They don’t have titles to their land, their schools were closed due to insecurity, all the teachers ran away, they can’t move into the forest to go look for herbs and food due to insecurity, they can’t harvest their honey in the forest again because of insecurity, the only dispensary they had in Mangai was destroyed by Al-Shabaab, the young men are moving in droves going to the nearby towns in search of income leaving the old folk behind and the drought is taking its toll!

In this mix, you add water scarcity and the fact that family members are literally spending nights next to water wells hoping that they can get some for home use and you realize that as one person once said  ‘things are elephant’.

One of things you can’t fault this community for is the fact that in spite of all these odds their resilience is up there and they tell the team that we can go ahead and strengthen their capacity on the drought resistant crops because as one of them says, their people who will survive this drought will need food and life has to go on.


Traditional store where community members keep their harvest. Pic by Nickson Orwa


We finish our mission, jump into the boat troubled with what we have seen and promise to do what we can to make sure that the county and national governments are informed of this plight only for our mood to be saddened when we reach Lamu and watching news we hear some ‘suspects’ bragging of how they used to ‘catwalk ’ with baskets and baskets of money from one place to another like groundnuts  paying imaginary characters and wonder what did people like Awer do  wrong that while they are struggling to get even a drop of water, some others are cat walking on one corner with money that would have come in handy in addressing the plight of people such as the Awer.


Lamu County Government department of Agriculture officer showing the team from WWF and other stakeholders some of the cashewnut plants thriving thanks to the support of WWF in construction of game moats which have deterred wild animals from encroaching into the farms. Pic by Nickson Orwa





The Differences of Non-runners and Runners


It may be hard to remember, but there are people in the world that don’t run!  The life of Runners and non-runners is drastically different.  I can remember a time I didn’t run and can relate to all of these.  Thinking out loud, every person, athlete or not, has a routine.

The Differences of Non-runners and Runners

How do runners and non-runners stack up against each other? 


Non-runners: Non-runners save money for a lot of different things: happy hour, the newest technology or even a great wardrobe.  Whatever if it is, they put away money to do the enjoyable “fun things”.

Runners: We save money for new shoes, new workout clothing and of course races.  Don’t forget the newest GPS watch.  The smaller the watch, the more money it is.  Without these things we can’t do what we love!  Right?

Beauty Routine:

Non-runners: Non-runners know how to make their features look great.  They…

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Swimming with dolphins in Kisite Mpunguti, Kwale



One of the dolphins at Kisite Mpunguti. Pic by Nickson Orwa

One of the items on top of my bucket list for this year was seeing dolphins and hopefully swimming with them and therefore when I stumbled into the Facebook page of ‘Oasis adventures’ offering expeditions like swimming with dolphins in their menu, my mind was made up. I had to by all means make this happen. I quickly contacted the number provided on the page and booked my place (me and the family) for the adventure of a lifetime to Shimoni, Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park and Wasini Island to witness firsthand what I had only seen in geographic channel and movies. My family was excited too with the boys having a sleepless night on the eve of the trip.

When the morning of the adventure came, we all made the short journey to the company’s pick up place…

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Swimming with dolphins in Kisite Mpunguti, Kwale


One of the dolphins at Kisite Mpunguti. Pic by Nickson Orwa

One of the items on top of my bucket list for this year was seeing dolphins and hopefully swimming with them and therefore when I stumbled into the Facebook page of ‘Oasis adventures’ offering expeditions like swimming with dolphins in their menu, my mind was made up. I had to by all means make this happen. I quickly contacted the number provided on the page and booked my place (me and the family) for the adventure of a lifetime to Shimoni, Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park and Wasini Island to witness firsthand what I had only seen in geographic channel and movies. My family was excited too with the boys having a sleepless night on the eve of the trip.

When the morning of the adventure came, we all made the short journey to the company’s pick up place at Bamburi Mtambo which is about 3 kilometers from our home in Kiembeni Mombasa. The first shock for me was the fact that we were going by road as I had somehow convinced myself that it would be a dhow trip all the way from Pirates beach in Mombasa to Shimoni in Kwale and had even come with heavy clothes to ward off the breeze from the sea only to realize that we would be going by road all the way through the ferry past Ukunda upto Kisite Marine Park!

The road trip was an eventful one especially when we went to pick other people who were also going on the trip from their estates yet our team had to come to a collection center. I remember when we went to pick this family in Kingorani estate who apparently during the booking for the trip had said they were two adults and 2 children only for us to see around 8 people who even differentiating the adults from the children became a problem. This forced the company to hire another vehicle for the extra team members after lots of negotiation on agreeing on who had been booked and who hadn’t and who was a child and who wasn’t, yeah, you would think that would be easy!

Back to the trip we made the journey and 2 hours later arrived at Shimoni where we were checked by KWS rangers for our tickets and then jumped into speed boats for the best part of the long awaited adventure. Our tour guide made the adventure worthwhile explaining to us the different types of dolphins to expect in the Kenyan waters, the ones that are dangerous and the ones that are hospitable. He also informed us of the dolphins feeding and migrating patterns and through him we were made aware that swimming with dolphins is banned in Kenya and therefore the concept that has been widely used to promote such adventures is a fallacy.

The dolphins must have been listening to the guide for in an instant we show them jumping up and down in the ocean and it was a sight to behold. I looked at the face of my boys to the face of my wife and I would see they were really enjoying the spectacle seeing the dolphins up and down while posing for photos as it they knew our mission. Some of the photos are shown below here and anybody out there should tell me of anything more beautiful than seeing dolphins up and down and especially for my boys who are lucky enough to understand this things so early in life. This lasted for over 30 minutes until the other boats came too for a view and we moved to go have a swim in Kisite Mpunguti Park.

This was later followed by lunch at Wasini Island where we had sweet Swahili seafood lunch of cassavas, fish, lobsters, coconut rice laced with spices  followed by a stroll through the island as the guide narrated us to the history of the community resident in the Island and the various attractions in the village. We ended up at the coral rocks which was a sight to behold in the island which are being conserved by a women group in the island and entrance is through minimal charges paid to the group.  Looking at some of the way the rocks are formed and standing makes the religious ones to appreciate the almighty Lord’s creativity. This lasted for some time before the team decided it was time to go back home with everybody smiling that it had been a day well spent.


The  entrance to the board walk at the corals run by Wasini women group: Pic by Nickson Orwa

Some of the coral rocks at Wasini Island. Pic by Nickson Orwa

Photos of dolphins and the sea at Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park. Pic by Nickson Orwa


The historical cemetery at Wasini Island. Pic by Nickson Orwa


The entry to Wasini beach with the sign of the beach management unit (BMU). Pic by Nickson Orwa

Personally, this was another item off  my 2016 bucket list.

Kowe village is waking up thanks to one community member’s efforts


IMG_2483Jack Obiero  on the right, spearheading the change in discourse on Kowe village: Pic by Nickson Orwa

When I received a phone call from a long lost relative calling from UK telling me that we needed to travel to ancestral home in North Kowe, Seme Sub-county Kisumu to go and discuss development, I had mixed feelings. Mixed feelings because I first thought he was pulling my legs and maybe wanted to venture into politics and was calling some of us to provide him with the audience and the support he needed before plunging full scale into politics because the season of people being ‘called’ to politics was here and I thought the bug must have bitten him.

I also had mixed feelings because while I am one of those people who pride in keeping contact with ancestral home especially through my parents and relatives, the experience hasn’t always been smooth…

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