Yesterday was World Camel Day, a day to celebrate the uniqueness and importance of the camel. Its role in health and happiness is something that is only emerging now, but the camel was and still remains the most awe-inspiring animal much loved by the nomads. In the pastoralist parlance, the camel is the Ferrari of the jungle and even better. While camels are found across the globe, it is only the northern nomads and Arab Bedouins who appear to fully appreciate its importance and place in the animal kingdom. It occupies a pride of place among the nomads of northern Kenya and across the Horn. It defines the stature and economic status of the nomad. Folklore is awash with the important place this amazing creature occupies in the socioeconomic setting of the nomad.
Before the advent of Cash and the rural urban migration, the camel was the currency. It featured in almost every transaction and more tellingly used to pay for dowry and as blood money for restitution. Dowry and blood money are vital aspect of a nomad’s life and using the camel to pay for both signifies the important place it occupies in our culture.
It is the ultimate measure of pride and status. Speaking to Mzee Abdi Haret who lives in Wajir and is a proud owner of many camels, he tells me camels cannot be compared to even expensive cars. “Cars, even the most luxurious and expensive will give you illness through stress but camels are nothing but health and happiness” he says. It is true in the sense that the camel is not only the most enduring and hardened animal in the desert, that can walk for days without water or pasture, but science is only recently waking up to the fact that the beast is burdened with many medicinal qualities. The milk of the camel is now under heightened studies and according to the results of their research the milk has medicinal values. There are numerous studies that confirm its value in the treatment of diabetes and what conventional science knows as terminal diseases. There are claims that it cures autism in children and legend has it that its milk and urine is a cure for HIV. As much as Big Pharmaceutical companies will come up against these claims because it is detrimental to their economic mainstay which is chemotherapy, these claims are not far-fetched and are worth exploring.
The meat of a camel is healthier with more protein content and 50% less fat than that of beef.
More importantly a verse in a chapter of the Holy Quran speaks about the uniqueness of its creation as Allah asks us to ponder over the distinctive features of this creature. This is after Allah informs us of the beauty and luxury awaiting the residents of paradise and before He speaks of the majestic erection of the mountains and raising of the mighty sky. Buried in these questions is wisdom and information worth researching by those who study the science of the Holy Quran and scientist. Of all the animals why has Allah picked the camel? Many narrations of the Holy Prophet point to the health benefits of the camel’s milk and even urine. Some attribute this to the types of plants it eats but it could also be a naturally endowed benefit. In its day, the camel was the Mercedes Benz of the Bedouins and until today in the Middle East the wealthy and well-connected keep it as a status symbol.
Allah has endowed great favours on the nomad when he gave us the gift of the camel. Our county governments must dedicate whole industries and build factories not only to process the invaluable milk and meat of the camel but to also explore the value addition aspect of its hide and even its manure and urine. For example, the world over, leather shoes and belts are a much sort after commodities and the hide of the camel is the main if not the only ingredient used in their manufacture. When resource managers talk of value addition, their main focus is on the beef. Yes, beef is important as much as its under-sold and the nomad does not benefit as much from it, but the camel is king. Some governors proposed the building of fruit processing factory and investing hundreds of millions of shillings. This is not entirely wrong but farming as much as its gaining traction and our people are diversifying into, despite the limited support from governments and other system providers, the backbone of the nomads’ socioeconomic mainstay are the animals of which the most important and best suited to our natural habitat is the camel. Our governments must learn how to build on the little we have before we venture out into other fields.
These are few of the reasons and opportunities that our governments must invest in and pursue to build a stronger and diverse income stream for the nomad and further propel the progress of the north.