With the hashtag, #Turkanadrought, Kenyan citizens are posting their thoughts about the ongoing drought in Turkana. Importantly, they are demanding accountability by elected political leaders and calling on the Kenyan government to take concrete action to end the cycle of repetitive droughts. By clearly calling out Kenyan elected officials and letting them know they have failed the very citizens that elected them, these citizens are doing the right thing. This is impressive and worth highlighting.
As I read one tweet after the other, I could not help but appreciate, the voice of citizens.
This outcry is a departure from tradition. Unlike other years, where droughts have been solved by receiving foreign aid and employing other short-term strategies such food aid, citizens are taking it upon themselves to demand for sustainable and permanent solutions, particularly solutions from the Kenyan government.
For the record, this is not the first time Turkana citizens are going through drought. In 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014, the same county was on the news due to the devastation. Surely, it will be in the news in the coming years too, unless this cycle of repetitive droughts ends.
It is encouraging to see citizens, everyday citizens, demand we put drought to an end. However, like any other trending twitter hashtag, after a few days, the hashtag may be forgotten. This should not happen. This should be a new beginning to an era where citizens voice up and demand for sustainable solutions to Africa’s challenges including droughts, food insecurity and a changing climate.
As such, there needs to be strategic well thought out and articulated plans on how citizens are not only going to demand, but, actually follow thorough until solutions are implemented. Indeed, for any cause to succeed, it is important to move from tweeting to having concrete solutions.
Already existing on-the-ground coalitions, groups, and trusted local community champions of change should mobilize for tangible actions. These groups should strive to include media to continue to bring attention to the country the current state of progress. In parallel, they can make an appointment to meet with elected leaders of county, and during that meeting have the officials write what action plans. Importantly, coalitions should ask for both short-term and long-term strategies and have clear monitoring strategies.
What should they advocate for in these coalition groups and meetings? These are some ideas.
First and foremost, it is important for Turkana residents to have access to reliable and permanent water sources. Having water will allow citizens to farm throughout the year, regardless of whether the rains happen or not. Secondly, even with water, citizens must have the financial power to access agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizers and other inputs needed to ensure that they can grow food to meet their food needs. Thirdly, they need agricultural extension support and other support systems to ensure that their farming efforts are productive and successful. Of course, we cannot forget factoring in their cultural foods. Citizens of Turkana, for example, keep livestock, so we must ensure that their livestock has access to pasture and much more.
While applauding citizens for taking the first step – voicing their concerns – it can’t end there. Demanding concrete action to solve Africa’s repetitive challenges by their elected government officials is the way to finally put African countries on track to achieve hunger-free societies. The time is NOW.
Dr Esther Ngumbi is a distinguished post doctoral researcher at the Entomology Department, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is also a food security fellow with the Aspen Institute New Voices.