National Geographic : 2015 Aug
72 national geographic • august 2015 Razik is an entrepreneur, one of the few to glimpse possibility in Lake Turkana beyond hand-to-mouth survival. He lives in Selicho and married a Daasanach woman, but he is an Arab Kenyan, originally from the ocean coast. He owns four boats and sometimes brings a truck from Nairobi carrying a shipping contain- er packed with ice. He buys the catches of his neighbors, fills his container over several days with two or three tons of fish, then returns to Nairobi, where he sells the haul. Before coming to Lake Turkana, Razik had worked for years in a fish-processing plant in Kisumu, a city on the shore of Lake Victoria, far to the south. Victoria is Africa’s largest lake, shared by Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. It supports a multimillion-dollar fishing industry that supplies hungry regional markets and also annually exports to Europe thousands of tons of Nile perch. High demand has severely stressed Lake Vic- toria’s ecology, and the industry’s success has brought many boomtown problems—lakeside slums, drugs, crime, poor wages and working conditions. Eventually Razik had had enough and left. “Besides,” he said, “the fishing was get- ting worse. The perch were disappearing.” Razik considered his options. Lake Turkana had no industrial fishing operations, none of the boomtown by-products. Living would be rougher, perhaps dangerous. But competition would be low, and the lake did have Nile perch— just like the beast that lay in a heap of scale and muscle at the bottom of his boat. Six years he has lived among the Daasanach. His business has grown profitable, and he’s come to love the tribe. It’s not always easy to be a Muslim in Kenya, but the Daasanach have never cared about his religion; his wife has even converted. Beyond that, Razik said, people in Selicho are peaceful and do not overfish. He plans to stay, to raise children in the small two- room house where he sometimes repairs motor- bikes in the kitchen. As long as there are peace and perch and ice for his shipping containers, a man can be happy. He can see possibilities. Until he looks north. Some 450 miles up the Omo River, in Ethiopia, the hydroelectric dam called Gilgel Gibe III was completed in January. Much nearer Lake Tur- kana, enormous bulldozers crawl over the dry lands near the riverbanks, scraping the way for sugarcane and cotton. Soon the effects of this work will ripple down into Kenya, with poten- tially devastating consequences for the 90,000 tribal people who depend on the lake. “The Omo River is the umbilical cord for Lake Turkana. That’s the best way to think of the relationship,” said Sean Avery, an engineer- ing hydrologist who’s spent years studying and exploring the Omo-Turkana watershed. “If you cut that cord, the lake will die.” Avery lives in Kenya and has analyzed Ethio- pia’s plans for the river for the African Develop- ment Bank and other clients. In 2013 the African Armed with a homemade slingshot and mud balls, a girl guards her family’s sorghum crop near the lake from hungry birds. The grain is a staple for the Daasanach, who rely on seasonal flooding of the Omo River and its fertile riverbanks for agriculture.