Making ends meet in post-election Samburu

Joseph Letresh had considered himself lucky because he was employed as a traditional dancer at a tourist hotel in the Samburu game reserve, northeastern Kenya. But then violence broke out in various parts of the country after disputed December elections, forcing many tourists to cancel their trips.

"I was employed as an entertainer because I had attended school," he told IRIN. "I worked for seven years at the hotel until January when the management sent me home. Now I am struggling to support my three children."

Like Letresh, John Lekollol had worked as a waiter for a decade at another hotel in the game reserve until he too was sent home because the hotel could not afford to keep its staff on the payroll after business slackened.

"We have resorted to begging," he told IRIN. "I have lost my status. The government must assist us to feed our children [and] pay fees for those in college. My two daughters at teachers’ college will drop out if the hotel fails to call me back soon."

Fabian Lolosoli was a member of the Kalama Community Wildlife Conservation group in Samburu - a project started up to help families that had lost livestock to drought and bandits.

"The project is now threatened as tourism, their main source of income, has collapsed," he said. "We had managed to assist most members to start income-generating activities after raising money from tourists who visited our camps [but] we have not received any visitors since early January."

Women traders who used to sell crafts have also been hit hard, said Rebecca Lolosoli of Umoja Women’s Group at Archers Post, Samburu. "The political crisis and violence are taking place very far from here, but we are suffering very much.

"This crisis is a major challenge to our plans to empower women by giving them a source of income and providing an alternative source of income for most of them who only know livestock and nothing else," she added.

Circuit without tourists

Northeastern Kenya used to have a popular tourist circuit that took visitors to Isiolo, Laikipia and Samburu.

Over time, hundreds of families that initially depended on livestock as a source of income shifted to rely on tourism - a less risky venture in a region that suffers frequent drought.


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Tourism was a major source of income for Samburu residents, where most of the land is semi-arid:

Isiolo county council, for example, also relied heavily on tourism as a source of revenue. Now, said Councillor Galma Ali, it is struggling and has had to suspend some programmes such as bursary allocations to poor students and rubbish collection.

"The politicians must end this problem," Mohamed Galgalo, who used to sell goat meat that was mainly consumed by tour drivers, told IRIN.

Galgalo was referring to the leaders of ruling Party of National Unity and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, who agreed a month ago to create a coalition government but have yet to agree on its composition.

After two months of post-election violence in which at least 1,500 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced, the coalition agreement was seen as the best chance to pacify the country.

This week the talks were suspended, prompting the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to warn that the 8 April suspension could slow or halt progress made in returning thousands of internally displaced persons to their homes.

Tension has since risen again in some parts of the country, spurring calls from the international community and aid agencies for Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to reach a consensus quickly and implement the coalition accord.

"The politicians must resolve the current stalemate and also address the problem of high food prices, which have forced many families to go without food," said Halima Wako, who used to sell fruit at the Isiolo road barrier.

"The government must also give us food and not close the schools."

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