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Turkana cultural fete a perfect development foundation

In Memory of Arch. Lemukol Ng'asike

It is a matter of fact that culture and people are one, and that for progress to get the right footing it must be mixed with elements of culture. That is, the said progress must appeal to the social makeup of the people. Another fact: progress and peace go hand in hand. Put another way, until peace becomes acceptable to the people, and stability is felt by everybody, any move to develop them will end nowhere. Hence the question: how can development agencies – governments included – invest in communities when peace remains a mirage?

What is my point? The just ended third edition of the annual Turkana cultural fete, dubbed Tobong'u Lore (Come Back Home) which was held in Lodwar has resurrected that old debate on whether culture – specifically African culture – merits to be listed as a useful resource which can be used to economically uplift our people.

There exists two sides. One for, and another against. There is this loud group that thinks that any investment in promoting culture is akin to misusing public wealth. Their reasoning is one-sided and built on one factor. Budgets. They assert that allocating millions of shillings in organizing an annual event like Tobong'u Lore is wrong because such allocations should have been directed to other “noble” projects like drilling boreholes and building schools.

They are wholly wrong and intellectually weak. I do not underrate issues like water scarcity but I know why this route sells to those with ulterior motives. One reason. Easy money involves little mental gymnastics. And politicians who rubbish public interests will definitely adopt it. This is why a certain section of Turkana politicos found it easy to badmouth a cultural fete of their own people – their principle employers!

A critical question pops up: where will an overloaded government like Turkana County Government get those billions of shillings to supply water to the people, build schools, expand healthcare services and so on, if its leaders won't think outside the box? Will budgetary portions from the national government be sufficient to bridge the development gap that has crippled this county for ages?

Perhaps they need light to see the import of Tobong'u Lore. The Kingdom of Morocco is, in terms of natural endowments, no better than Kenya. In fact, Kenya is a world on its own. It has mountains, deserts, wildlife, beautiful cultures, hardworking people... but it economically performs no better than Morocco. Morocco is running. Kenya is walking. Reason being? Morocco knew – long time ago – that cultural tourism yields huge returns. And this is why Mawazine Festival, Morocco's annual cultural bonanza has won its place internationally; pouring in billions of dollars, creating millions of jobs and building an economic edifice that isn't dependent on weather patterns or poachers' mercies.

Another solid reason: the historical context that led to the creation of Tobong'u Lore can never be wished away. Ethnographers rightly claim that while the Turkana, Karamojong, Toposas, Jie, Teso and Nyangatom ethnic groups live separately and independent of each other, at their core rests a deep connection. They belong to the Ateker family. They exhibit commonness that go beyond languages and dress codes. They are one. They are victims of those colonial boundaries that ignored their natural and unbreakable bond.

Ironically, these peoples (with the exception of the Teso) have been fighting – a war that has for long been reduced to a contest for cows and goats. Families have been wiped out. Schools have been closed. Roads rendered impassable. Poverty reigning supreme. And communities adopting slave-like life to survive. Hence the questions: How can these peoples be brought together if not by appealing to their cultural commonness? Could opponents of such initiatives be profiting from the disintegration of these people?

Political opportunism is a sin against God and His people. Political opportunism masks people’s eyes from seeing far. It cripples their minds from thinking big. Political opportunism is anti-progress. It is a child of intellectual hollowness. And this is why I find opponents of Tobong’u Lore a sinful lot that should be thrown away.

Long live our people’s culture!


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