WHAT OTHERS SAY: Climate change: Why the rich will win and Nyerere will cry

Thursday March 8 2018

Charles Onyango-Obbo

Charles Onyango-Obbo 

By Charles Onyango Obbo

First, it was a drought, and parts of Kenya were hit hard. In the corner of Nairobi where I live, we have endured rather nearly primitive conditions without water for the better part of three weeks.

The story is no different in most other parts of Africa. That most fashionable and tech savvy of African cities, Cape Town, is going to run out of water kabisa, kabisa, in a few weeks.

Then, the rains came, and the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. We are being washed out and drowned.

In the face of missing rain crisis, the big question was how do we get out of this mess. In a development that must warmed the hearts of environmentalist, the hashtag #plantreesKE trended earlier in the week, a sign that a good enough of people are troubled enough to care about what has happened to Kenya’s forests.

Planting trees is just one solution. The question we should also begin to ask for the future, is “how will some people respond to the crisis?”

When cities have become crowded and noisy, almost everywhere in the world people have moved to the suburbs.

When criminals take over the streets, and governments are unable to stop them, fellows move to gated communities and hire private security.

In 10 years, these people with deep pockets, will do something more dramatic than they have so far. They will just go far away, and leave the rest of us behind.

Because I don’t want to be cursed as a bad visitor, I will not be specific, but I have been to parts of Kenya where this future is already here. The first stage of it can be seen in golf resort developments at the coast and the Rift Valley.

But these are mostly designed as resorts, not “villages” or communes. We now have places where beyond the bungalows and club house, small airstrips, independent water and - in some cases - electricity supplies are being developed. In addition, schools, small shopping centres, and houses of worship, are being thrown in.

In the next few years, I see a lot of these coming up.

In Chile, arid parts of the country that haven’t had rain for 60 years are green all year round, and produce more food than virtually every part of Africa.

Among other things, they solve their water problems through “fog catching”. The technology is quite basic; they put up large mesh nets that capture clouds of fog mostly in the night and condense it into clean water. They then use it to drink and irrigate. Life goes on, almost immune – if not indifferent – the moods of the weather and the fury of rain gods. In Africa, countries like Morocco have moved to free themselves from the tyranny of rivers and lakes, with some clever fog catching, and a massive shift to solar power.

When you google what solutions some brave souls in Kenya are trying to deal with the erratic climate, it is quite impressive. Fellows are tinkering with many things, and I even found some fog catchers.

This secession of the rich and the innovative, can be quite problematic. The rest will be left to scrap it and, basically, kill themselves in the cities and towns. They will not just sit by. They will head to the oases where the rich have retreated to get something to eat. That won’t end well.

A glimpse of this can be seen in South Africa, once you drive further out from the big cities. After the end of apartheid, and “our people” took over, the inevitable problems of providing expanded services in post-independence societies hit South Africa.

Many rich people, especially white Africans, left the big crime-ridden cities, and set up home in these exclusive fenced off villages, providing for themselves and families a life alien to the struggles of the city. It’s the kind of thing that would make Mwalimu Nyerere turn in his grave.

Yet, today, the fact that we all endure the same horrific traffic, breathe the same dirty air, face the same erratic electricity and water supply, in a strange way keeps us united in the same miserable national experience.

Once we have the water-and-fresh-air rich vs. destitute, we shall be in uncharted – and dangerous – waters. That’s why getting climate governance right is not just an issue of floods and failed crops. It is about whether our countries will exist in their current shape.