We drive across the East African plains and wonder at the moonscape they have become. Along the roadside, the trees stand brittle and covered in a heavy coat of dust. The faces of the little shacks along the way are the same. Fine, powdery dust has lifted easily in the dry wind and painted everything a lifeless brown. The monotony of color is strange and disturbing.
Even from my desk by the window in my bedroom at our house set in a watered garden, I can see the dust. Carried on the tired wind, it billows against Mt. Meru, the quiet volcanic mountain that our city sprawls at the base of. Instead of misty blankets of moisture, Meru is shrouded in a gritty cloud of dust. Though I don't see it coming through my window, I feel the build up on my keyboard and stop to wipe it often.
Africa, it seems, is blowing away.
Even the elephants are skinny. We passed four or five herds as we traveled last month and I was saddened by their sunken contours. BBC reports that livestock and wildlife alike are dying in droves. We pray, asking God to protect them and to not allow human life to be lost.
"The worst drought in ten years." That's what they're saying.
Now, everyone knows that East Africa experiences cyclical droughts, but this is different. A combination of man-made and natural factors have collided to set up the perfect non-storm. No rain of significance over the last couple of years and 2 harvests in a row have failed now.
"And, what will happen?" I wonder to myself. Will East Africans stop felling the trees that draw their rains? Will the farmers finally learn to protect their topsoil by ploughing with the contour of the land instead of up and down the hillside? Will the pastoralists who have lost so much grazing land reduce their herds and stop stripping the fragile environment right down to bare earth?
And will the world notice?
The middle aged folks in wealthy western countries are the kids who passionately attended or at least watched the Live Aid concerts back in the mid-eighties. Stirred by famine in Ethiopia, Bob Geldof's dream event raised about 150 million pounds in financial assistance. Those who hold the world's discretionary funds have been here when they were young and unstoppable.
But what came next? HIV/AIDS followed on the heals of famine and while it spread quietly at first, it spread quickly. By the end of the nineties, Africa was in full blown crisis and Bono was asking that we drop the debt. In a staggeringly massive effort of evil, Rwanda invited her citizens to kill each other and, en mass, they did. Since then, that bastion of stability, Kenya, has shown the real shape of her heart by dividing along tribal lines and killing several thousand of her own during elections. And Zimbabwe... What a mess. Corruption of all sorts all over the continent? Yes. All the while, global warming and global economic crisis have piled their burdens of destruction onto this continent that should be plenty able to feed herself.
Geldof's concert-going activists are tired and in financial crisis. They've grown up and have all the mortgages and car loans to prove it. They have kids with expensive education bills and many of them have lost their jobs, their homes and/or their retirement funds. Their sure foundations have crumbled underneath them and there is fear in its stead.
BBC can tell us this is the worst drought in East Africa's last decade, but does anyone out there have the stamina to help her face it?
I sit at my desk, watching Africa blow away, and pray mercy.