I am currently reading Richard Dowden's Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. It's a great book with some of the most insightful thoughts about Africa, Somalia and Somalis that I've read in a long time. He's also a good writer.
Tonight I was struck by his fanciful description of the landscape as he is driving south from Hargeisa, Somalia, "into a world of sand, rock, thorn trees and plastic bags [italics mine]. Given away free in markets, millions of blue and pink thin plastic bags blow across Somalia like confetti from a giant's wedding."
This is just as true in the desert in Northwest Kenya. Littering is not a concept that holds any sway there.
This became clear to me one day when I was walking through the streets of Kakuma and my backpack fell open. Peter, my guide, stooped down to help me retrieve the things that had fallen out. He put my camera and water bottles back in my pack, then he showed me a phone card.
Has this been used? he asked.
Yes, I said.
He zipped up my backpack and dropped the phone card on the ground.
I was shocked. I wanted to pick the phone card back up and put it in my pocket, but all I had to do was look around in order to see how pointless that would be. Water bottles, plastic bags, paper, cans, feedbags. Junk everywhere.
I remembered someone telling me that plastic bags were going to be banned in Kenya. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous. With all that corruption, they're going to worry about plastic bags? I thought. But then I saw how bad the problem was .... and I thought, Well at least they're doing something.
So I asked Peter, What about the plastic bags? Is it true they're going to be against the law?
He seemed puzzled. How can they be against the law? he asked. If you are moving from one house to another house, where would you put your clothes?
NOTE: The ban was enacted on January 6th of this year. And there must be something about plastic bags that brings out the poetry in people. Here's what the National Environment Management Authority's Acting Director General said in his statement:
“Our country has many colours and when God was creating the world, he only allowed plants to give us flowers, so when our landscape becomes flooded with many artificial flowers of varied colours due to poor management of plastic bags and wrappers, then it becomes a problem."