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Redeeming Turkana? First School the Few Schooled Turkanas

In Memory of Arch. Lemukol Ng'asike

For the past few weeks I have had an opportunity to move into the remote corners of Turkana County, and to interact with the populations found there. Apart from the usual observations about lack of this and this, there was clear evidence – (at least from the actions, talks and thoughts of these people) – that they are wiser than those we traditionally consider to be learned, informed and with that golden chance of residing around towns – places believed to be sources of information, power and government largess.

This observation was a case in point about mischaracterization of people living in kraals, and with little or no formal education to brag about. It also brought to the fore the role of the schooled members of a society in development. But above all, this tour left in me a solid mark which recreated the question on whether Turkana can be redeemed, and if yes, by who.

Within this question comes another point which I think should guide our thinking about redeeming Turkana. The point is: where should this Turkana redemption start from? Top, down or from both ends?

There is a big reason why I choose to entertain this matter. And it all revolves around Turkana development history, and why this history must be rewritten in favour of the people for something tangible to be felt across the board. By the way, I do not blindly buy this idea that Turkana redemption has come with devolution. No, Turkana redemption will only materialize when people, not offices, matter.

Let's first remind ourselves of some ignored facts. Turkana is poor yes, but its resource basket is NOT empty. It is full. The so called 'influential' sons and daughters of the soil are principally hollow and have no plan for the masses.

For your information, my encounters with members of these far-flung kraals have revealed to me that influence, according to them, is never about wealth. It is about being schooled. Though uneducated, they value education to the core. They know there is something juicy in this thing called school, and that is why they won't, and can't allow anyone to dilute it.

But therein lies the real problem. Their love for education has been used against them. Their absolute respect for the schooled has been turned against them. Their understanding of progress as having roots in education has been deployed not to further their collective interests but to bolster individual prospects.

This cancer survives in different forms. The first and the most deadly one is based on the notion that 'development ideas' must always emanate from 'professionals'. In short, a collaborative framework that must link the masses and these professionals is of no use. The people are only but recipients of these 'development ideas', their voices notwithstanding.

Then there is this poisonous philosophy that is evident in almost all NGOs operating in Turkana. The local population has been led to believe that 'to be helped means not to question the helpers'. This is what I mean: my people in kraals tell me that the 'free health services, education, food, money et al' belongs not to them but to those who use their names to source for the aid. They tell me this is what they have been told, and that which they believe is true.

What is absent in these exchanges is the very undisputable fact that this 'aid' appears only because those to be helped exist somewhere.

Which takes us to another level: why are these aid recipients sidelined when it comes to questioning the inadequacies of those purporting to help them? I smell something fishy here. The few schooled guys over there have their own mission. They see a robust social mass as an enemy. And this is why they find it 'anti-development' to inform the people that those NGO billions are there because someone used their names to source for them.

So, why should I be optimistic that things will be positive when this same reasoning has found its way into the Turkana County Government?

Now, back to Turkana redemption. I still hold the view that schooled Turkanas have no 'inherent right' to be respected and to be praised by the unschooled majority out there. I reject this practice that villagers should salute me every morning just because I happened to have gone to school. Respect, like good health, must accrue from many years of sacrifice. I must prove that I deserve to be respected!

This is not to generally condemn all schooled folks in Turkana. I know there are those few who stick to what is right. But there is that huge crowd that must be redeemed first. They are the ones blocking Turkana redemption from materializing.


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