One of the ox-carts in Lumakanda.

Gladys and I are still members of Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting outside of Washington, DC. I am on a list from the meeting discussing climate change and what needs to be done about it. As part of the discussion, on 6th February, one member of the meeting wrote the following:

Fostering the creation of truly sustainable alternatives — sustainable both for individuals and for the planet — would be a really worthwhile endeavor. As it stands right now, I doubt that anyone reading these words has ever in their life met anyone who is living wholly within a sustainable carbon footprint. How many of us live off of foods that were grown only within walking distance of our home? (Or that otherwise were hauled here by a team of oxen? Or were transported here by a railroad that operates solely on solar power?)

The problem with this statement is that I know many people who are “living within a sustainable carbon footprint.”

Let me start with introducing you to Moore Misavo, a member of Lumakanda Friends Church and therefore a Quaker like the writer of this comment in Maryland. Moore owns an ox-cart and makes his living by renting it out. He carries sand, rocks, gravel, water for building if there is no nearby source, and other building materials as needed. Others might hire his cart to carry firewood, bring crops from the field, or carry household furniture if someone is moving within town. We frequently hire him ourselves. For the transport itself we pay 400 shillings ($4) per trip. Since he can make about five trips per day, he can make up to 2000 shillings per day ($20) which is a good wage when the average daily pay is 200/- ($2) to 500/- ($5). He is always busy and, when we need his services, we usually have to wait a few days before our turn comes up.

He can also use his oxen to plow fields although most people use tractors which are much faster and dig more deeply. But his oxen are better at plowing the furrows for planting the maize (corn) seeds a meter (3 feet) apart. We have hired him to do this for us also.

Notice also that the ox-cart in the picture above is made from an old axel from a vehicle. It is built locally; we pass one “manufacturer” of ox-carts on our way to Gladys’ home area.

In Lumakanda town and surrounding area there are at least four ox-carts and two donkey-carts. It is a thriving business here.

Most of the food that our large “family” of ten or so people eat is raised right here. We cultivate one or two acres of maize (corn) each year which is more than enough to feed ugali (maize mush, the stable food of Kenya that most people in our household say that they must eat at least once per day). Collard greens are usually served with ugali and grown, along with other greens, right in our small ¾ acre plot. Besides the chickens we slaughter ourselves, we buy beef from the cows slaughtered right down the road from us and sold in the local butchery shop. Recently we sold our year-old male calf to our butcher and, then went to buy some meat from the calf we sold him. Most of the processed items – jam, butter, peanut butter, ketchup, and so on – is packaged around Nairobi which is 400 kilometers (250 miles away). But we live “high off the hog” (that is, the best part of the meat) compared to some people around us.

For example, an elderly woman named Leonida lived up the street from us. She lived in an old mud and wattle house with no electricity and a small field behind the house. She was a very friendly woman as we always greeted each other. I doubt she even had a cell phone and I don’t think she even used a kerosene lamp at night. Her “carbon footprint” would have been as close to zero as humanly possible. About a year ago, she moved away, I understand, to live with her children. Her house was knocked down – the iron roofing sheets used for a fence, the windows and doors taken elsewhere, the wooden posts and branches used for firewood, and the mud returned to the earth which in a few years will grow crops again. I have met here in Africa, many, many people like Leonida, with almost no carbon footprint. I have read that the energy footprint for the average Kenyan is only 3% of the average American.

My point is that the American consumptive life-style is a choice, made not only individually, but in a societal context. Living simply in Kenya is easy since everyone is like that. Living a low carbon lifestyle in the United States is difficult because the society is structured to high carbon living. Yet if we envision a sustainable world, then it is going to be a necessity for the US to substantially cut its consumption. Yes, personal change is important, but the structural changes needed for the US to stop consuming so much are going to be much, much harder to accomplish. Good luck.

The ironic part of this is that it is the people in Kenya and surrounding countries who are already the victims of climate change that has already occurred. A few days ago the six month weather forecast for eastern Africa is for below normal rainfall in the drier areas which will then be the third year in a row for drought. Already 3.4 million Kenyans are in a food deficit position and will need food assistance this year.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.


David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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