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Of the Sahara, war veteran and effects of climatic change

Xn Iraki

A lack of curiosity should be declared a national disaster. Curiosity is lacking not just in classrooms but everywhere. Could too much information online and the thinking that, I will “google it” be muting our curiosity? Have other observers noted the same or it’s my Mwalimuness?

A lack of curiosity is found even on flights. Why sit by the window on a plane and then sleep all the way? Why not let those curious sit there, take photos and admire the planet from above? Even for regular fliers, there is always something new to see. 

On a recent intercontinental day flight to Europe, I got more than I bargained for. The flight took a different direction and diverted to avoid flying over Sudan.

We turned west through Uganda, then north through the Sahel and Sahara to cross the Mediterranean through France. Night flights remind us how “dark” Africa is going by the number of lighted settlements.

Economists have even used this lighting to get a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). See “Measuring Quarterly Economic Growth from Outer Space” by Robert Meyer, Yingyao Hu and Jiaxiong Yao published in 2022.

My main attraction was the Sahara Desert, which took several hours to cross. The landscape was more beautiful than I thought. It looked Martian with hills, valleys and lifelessness.

But there were occasional rivers that broke the monotony of the rocks, promontories, jagged hills and valleys of sand. Some structures made it appear like someone had made them the previous night 

But it was desolate! Could this explain why the Sahel, the region neighbouring Sahara has lately been rife with political violence?

Nature and God are gracious. Beneath this desolation lies lots of strategic minerals, from oil to uranium. Think of it, our oil was found in the dry Turkana region and not well-watered Limuru or Kericho. 

Compare this route with flying over the Congo rainforest or over Sudan and Egypt where the great Nile reminds us of life-giving water. And more importantly, our interconnectedness.

The water that Egyptians drink comes from villages on the Nandi hills or near Mt Elgon. The desolation of this desert sent me into the bowels of history. This was the theatre of World War II.

How did Britons and Germans fight in this desert?  Where did they get water from? How did they traverse this lifeless desert without roads? 

This is where innovation came in handy. Adopting military strategy and technology to different terrains. It was even tougher for the soldiers who may never have fought in such a terrain.

The key combatants were Germans and Britons, without a desert. This could explain why British soldiers are common in Nanyuki and its neighbourhood. 

I got a surprising connection to this desolate desert. It evoked memories of 30 years ago. It all started with a conversation with a kinyozi (barber). He was an elderly man with lots of stories living in the White Highlands. 

Aberdares range

Njau Njuguna was his name, grandfather to Mwaniki Sungura. He lived in Shamata, high up on the northern edge of the Aberdares range. Several colonial-era houses leave no doubt this area was once a playground of the Britons and some Boers.

 We learned about Zinjanthropus but not the settlers who once made Kenya their home before the wind of change blew them away. I recall a school broadcast in Class 5 on Boers leaving the Netherlands for South Africa led by Jan van Riebeeck.

About 30km away was a school by the same name built by descendants of the Dutch who left for South Africa. Ever heard of Ndururumo High School? Why is our history so detached from reality? To my surprise, Njau told me he was a veteran of the Second World War (WW II) and fought in Libya. His description of Tobruk in Libya after it was besieged by Germans and Italians closely matched historical facts.

The Town was captured by Allied forces in January 1941. Unfortunately, by the time I tried to follow up on Mr Njau, he had left this planet.

His first-hand encounters in WWII left with him. He joined many other veterans whose history was never written. One of his neighbours, Mburu Mwikonyi fought WW II in both Burma (Myanmar) and Mau Mau.

He witnessed the sinking of Khedive Ismail near Colombo in Sri Lanka with the loss of some Kenyans. Luckily I got his story on tape. As we celebrate Kenya‘s 60 years of uhuru, we need to re-access the contribution of ordinary Kenyans in turning the tides of history.

How many fought in WW II? King Charles III met some of them during his recent visit. What efforts have we made to immortalise their war efforts? Maybe without them, the war would have turned the other way. Where can I get a list of all these veterans? Uhuru gardens?

The desolate desert left me wondering how much innovation we would need to make the planet Mars or even the moon habitable. The vastness of the Sahara and its desolation demands that the war on climatic change must be won. What if all of planet Earth became a desert like the Sahara or Mars?   

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