The Rendille refer to themselves as the ‘Holders of the Stick of god’ and traditionally live in one of Kenya’s most arid and unforgiving regions – the Kaisut Desert. Once known for their implacable resistance to change, their way of life is now in real danger of disappearing as the rains fail ever more frequently.
Over time, this has left them weakened and unable to resist the constant harassment and livestock raiding of their larger and more powerful Borana and Somali neighbours – despite the government arming sections of the Rendille with rifles.
Their original grazing areas extended well beyond where they are at present. Security has become a major factor in reducing the boundaries of the area. Stock losses to armed raiders to the north and east of them compounded by a severe drought in the 1970s and another in the 1980s resulted in large sections of the Rendille population being deprived of their herds, their only means of subsistence.
As a result, they have attracted the attention of a variety of NGOs, missionary societies and the government, but unfortunately, the distribution of aid depends on them abandoning their nomadic ways – there is no way to reach them otherwise.
In fact, the Kenyan government and others have repeatedly encouraged these nomadic people to settle in order to ‘get an education’ – yet it would be environmentally devastating for all the Rendille to remain settled in one area, as overgrazing and the need for firewood have already turned the settlements into a wasteland.
Nonetheless, under these various outside pressures, the Rendille are gradually abandoning their nomadic way of life in favour of permanent settlements, where many have become dependant on hand-outs from aid agencies. This ignominious fate should be a tale of caution to all those who wish to help what they see as impoverished African tribes without, for a moment, considering the cultural and social effects of their efforts.