At the sharp end of things

Nov 25th, 2009 | By | Category: International

There was a hollow in the ground at the bottom of which a woman was digging.  The fact that the road crossed the hollow by a bridge reminded passers-by that this ground had been a river.  Our Tanzanian accompanier said she was digging for water.

“How far down?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  “Maybe two or three feet”.

The landscape around was arid scrub, the odd baobab tree broke the horizon.  “I can remember when this place was green with trees.  I have a photograph”.

“When was the photograph taken?”


“1970! You mean that in less than thirty years this has become a desert

It was 1998 and the visit was intended to focus upon how international debt was affecting the country, but there seemed forces far more profound at work.  Deforestation had not helped matters, but the empty river bed pointed to changes of a far greater scale; the whole climate of East Africa seemed to be changing.

The BBC reported yesterday that, ‘Climate ‘is a major cause’ of conflict in Africa’.  It would hardly have needed research to demonstrate what would be a common sense conclusion.

The arid lands around the remote capital city had been reached by a two day jeep ride from the south-west of the country.   It had been a grim journey in which my two African companions had said little about the countryside through which we had passed.  People lived at the roadside in houses that were literally no more than mud huts. The poverty was absolute, in two days of driving the bright spots could have been numbered on the fingers of one hand.

The journey had begun barely more than sixty miles from the Mozambique border. At one point a group of tribesmen with a cluster of bony cattle crossed the road, one of the few roads in the region.

“Maasai”, said John, the driver.

He paused, reflectively.  “I have never seen them so far south”.

The southward drift of the Maasai had been caused by the lack of grazing for their cattle. They had shifted far from their traditional regions. A lifestyle that had endured for millennia was under threat from forces far beyond the control of the tribesmen.

“Will there not be trouble with local farmers?”

He shrugged.

Since humanity became farmers and pastoralists thousands of years ago, there has been competition for the best land.  Read the book of Genesis and there is a conflict over resources:

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.  But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together.  And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company.   Genesis 13:5-11

In Ireland, a Government that can afford billions to bail out the banks can afford to literally bail out its people suffering the effects of climate changes as the floodwaters of the Shannon rise, but who is there to confront the problems of the dry lands of Africa? There is not the option of Abram and Lot had to go their separate ways; people must live together or they will die together. If nothing is done, the conflicts will only multiply and the research and the reports will continue without resolution.

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  1. As I sit here lamenting the pathetic efforts of our Rugby team in my T shirt and shorts with a fan blowing my frizz I can attest that things are changing. We are having our fifth day of over 35 degree weather which is most unusual for this time of year. Whether man made or not, climate change is upon us and even as I type our Opposition is in crisis over the issue.

    Unfortunately, the Maasai will have to adapt . . their ancient lifestyle cannot be maintained any more than the Irish farmer or the Australian coal miner. All are dying breeds. Governments are re-active, not pro-active. It’s up to us to work out a solution. I’m sorry I haven’t been around for a while, I will catch up on the weekend. Eloquently put as always. Hope you and yours are keeping your feet dry,

  2. The Irish farmer and Australian coal miner have options, they have state structures and welfare systems, the poor Maasai have nothing, except the habits of generations. No-one is going to pay them social security, no-one is going to give them land on which to settle.

    Dublin is dry – the West is going through a terrible time.

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