A bright future for agro waste

Innovative social enterprises are recycling biowaste into affordable carbon-neutral biomass fuels in Kenya

Amid a monotonous din, Elizabeth Nyamai feeds cubes of peeled and washed tubers into an electric grater. Not even the noise from the grater dampens her determination to process the starch slurry that is dried and sold to food processing companies and other users.

Nyamai is the director of Veliz Foods, a food processing enterprise based in Machakos County, some 60 km from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Her firm supplies several food manufacturing companies with dried and semi-processed food products for making flour and blending with various food products. Crops processed include cassava, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and African leafy vegetables sourced from farmers in the region. 

However, of particular interest is how Veliz dries its food; the firm uses technology from BioAfriq Energy Limited, a Kenyan social enterprise that recycles bio-waste, sourced from thousands of farmers in south-eastern Kenya, into affordable carbon-neutral biomass fuels.  

Nyamai notes that she has lowered her production costs using BioAfriq’s briquettes and a drier bought from the enterprise. “My expenditure on electricity is low, yet I am able to dry my products in large quantities without undermining their quality,” she says. 

Elizabeth Nymai, director of Veliz Foods checks stock at her food processing plant. Photo: Justus Wanzala

James Ivisu, a founder of BioAfriq, says the biomass fuel is made crop waste that are thrown away. “We recycle them,” he says. The briquettes are sold to farmers who have bought driers, as well as to other users, as a substitute for charcoal, firewood or liquefied petroleum gas. 

James Ivisu, the director of Bioafriq Limited, holding an example of the briquettes his company makes. Photo Justus Wanzala

BioAfriq co-founder Dorine Achieng describes their focus as developing solutions for properly preserving produce, adding value and providing clean energy to households and light industry. Ivisu further explains that farmers in the area have in the past relied on the sun for drying produce, leaving them vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns. 

“It is a challenge to dry produce throughout the year,” he told Africa in Fact. “Farmers lose harvest that could actually be salvaged. It is estimated that Kenya loses produce worth 150 billion Kenya Shillings annually ($150m).” But, he adds, about 65% of what is lost could be salvaged through improved drying techniques. 

Ivisu says farmers had resorted to buying ordinary solar driers to preserve their farm produce, but these were unreliable, with drying taking longer and the produce becoming prone to bacteria infestation, which meant a loss of nutrients. The produce processed with ordinary solar driers also absorbed moisture at night, and drying had to be redone. “It is like defrosting and freezing meat for days on end, which inevitably affects its quality,” he says. “Our innovation offers solutions that can dry food faster and evenly, reducing losses  even when there is no sunlight.”  

Ivisu, who initially ventured into chicken keeping, says the high cost of charcoal he used to warm the chicken compelled him to explore viable and affordable alternatives. “I was buying 30 bags in a month at a cost that was depleting my profits,” he says. Furthermore, the place he was sourcing the charcoal from was fast losing its tree cover. “It pained me to realise that I was aiding in the destruction of the forest and I had to seek a solution.”

BioAfriq Energy Limited’s venture resonates with other African bio-energy enterprises that support similar initiatives. Kobus Venter, the chief executive officer of Vuthisa Technologies, a South African company that offers green technology solutions, says while southern African countries have been rather slow to take up biotechnical products, his company has partnered with the United States-based Legacy Foundation to provide training and technology services for biomass fuel briquette production. Communities in 11 countries have already benefited from the technology, Venter says. 

The technologies promoted use both biomass and agricultural waste made from agricultural as well as commercial residues such as weeds and carton boards. 

Referring to the ever-growing problems of poverty and deforestation caused by the widespread use of firewood and charcoal as energy in the absence of an affordable alternative, Venter says the small network of briquette makers at present does not have the capacity to provide for the level of demand.  He points out that entrepreneurs lack access to information and better marketing skills. “They need support for marketing products, branding and processing,” he notes. They also require information on assessment of thermal capacity, emissions and standards. 

Godfrey Sanga, the East Africa regional director for Energy 4 Impact, a non-profit organisation working with local businesses in East and West Africa to grow sustainable, clean energy markets, agrees that the use of briquettes in sub-Saharan Africa is still limited. “Poultry farmers do use them, but household use is smaller,” he says. Sanga points out that competing use of the materials used, for instance in animal feeds, limits availability of stock. “Lack of appropriate briquetting technology is another limitation,” he says.

The cost of purchasing and importing, operating and maintaining briquette-making machines, tax and duties are also a barrier to expanding production. There are other challenges to expanding the market and encouraging demand: long distances between producers and consumers mean high transportation costs, for example. 

Sanga does, however, believe there is scope to expand and upscale briquette manufacturing, suggesting linkages between potential agro-waste briquette manufacturers and potential buyers to enhance the exchange of information. There is also a need, he says, for further research into creating higher quality product and standardising machinery. “At the moment there is variation in quality and performance specifications such as calorific value, density, ash content, moisture content and size,” he observes. 

Kevin Gikonyo, the social entrepreneurship leader at Hivos East Africa, an organisation that supports transitions towards renewable energy, says they implemented a briquette production programme in the Somali regional state of Ethiopia and have learnt valuable lessons.    

The project uses the Jatropha plant (Jatropha curcas) and other invasive species in the region to make briquettes, and there are plans to introduce bamboo. “We have targeted refugees and host communities on a 50:50 grant share allocation in the Deka-suftu, Suftu and Dollo Ado areas,” Gikonyo says, adding that the project has included the technical skills transfer of entrepreneurship expertise, briquette production and the manufacturing of fuel-saving stoves and their parts. 

The three-year project, supported by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency among other donors, ends in early 2021.

“The overall impact so far has been reduced environmental degradation, and fewer chores for women used to travelling distances to fetch firewood,” says Gikonyo.

While widespread use of the technology is still some way away, Venter’s optimism suggests a bright future for agro-waste as a source of clean energy in Africa.  

“Maybe this is foolish to western trained business managers, but when it works, it works well. It is in a way, a real benefit to being on the front edge of the growth of a new process for combating climate instability,” Venter says. For BioAfriq Energy Limited it is about affordability, environment conservation and food security, while Veliz Foods is witness to a green promise. 

Justus Wanzala is a Kenyan journalist who writes on the environment, climate change, agriculture and practical technologies as well as sustainable development and social issues. Currently, he works for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and as a freelancer/contributor for various publications across the globe.

The right path

East Africa: food forests

Agro-ecology enterprises are helping to cushion African farmers and smallholders against climate change, improve nutrition and generate income

Ruth Okalo in her food forest garden, which has avocado trees, passion fruit and Leucaena leucocephala, a tropical forage tree whose leaves she uses for fodder and firewood Photo: Justus Wanzala

Chirping birds welcome you to Bio Gardening Innovations (BIOGI) a local not-for-profit organisation and demonstration centre in Vihiga county, western Kenya. The centre is a mass of fruit trees, other exotic and indigenous tree species and vegetables, tuber crops, a rabbit hutch, a fishpond filled with collected rainwater, and a kitchen. Although measuring less than an acre, the centre resembles a natural forest teeming with abundance.

BIOGI’s goals are to address challenges of climate change, deforestation and food insecurity through innovative agro- ecological principles and sustainable management of natural resources, and the NPO works with more than 2,000 smallholder farmers and their groups in Vihiga and Kakamega counties. The two counties have one thing in common, a high population density. Vihiga has a population density of 1,047 people per square kilometre, while Kakamega has a density of 618 per square kilometre.

Population density has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation and biodiversity loss in the region, but farmers, in partnership with BIOGI, have set up community learning ecosites as places to incubate new ideas for how to create regenerative enterprises in support of livelihoods in a sustainable manner. These enterprises include setting up food forests or organic gardens, in addition to rearing small livestock to cushion farmers and smallholders against climate, improve nutrition and generate income.

Farmers are also taught innovative approaches to crop and animal husbandry. These include aspects of permaculture, seed banking, organic farming, pre- and post-harvest handling and bio-fertiliser making. Ferdinand Wafula, BIOGI’s Chief Executive Officer, explains that the food forests concept is a  farming  system that involves integrating  trees  into  food gardens. Food forests, he says, mimic natural forests. “Soil degradation and high  demand  for  wood  fuel  led  to deforestation and poor harvests, which prompted farmers to collectively seek innovative remedies that ensure sustainable agriculture,” he explains.

Simon Amwoyo is among the local farmers affiliated to BIOGI. Amwoyo undertakes various activities on his one hectare farm, where he grows a variety of fruit trees such as mangoes and avocados, as well as Grevillea Robusta, a species used as a source of wood for fuel and timber. He also grows Calliandra and Sesbania trees, which provide fodder. “I have a tree forest and I also grow cassava,   pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bananas and indigenous vegetables,” Amwoyo says, adding that the skills offered by BIOGI have enabled him to establish a fishpond, an apiary and keep livestock. He has also learnt better ways of using wood-fired cooking stoves and to recycle farm waste for organic manure, all of which have enabled him to meet the daily needs of his household.

Likewise, Ruth Okalo, who is also affiliated to BIOGI, says she has been able to seamlessly  incorporate  her food forest and organic garden into rearing livestock. Okalo, who grows bananas, sweet potatoes and indigenous vegetables alongside fruits and Grevillea Robusta, also rears dairy cattle. “I am self-reliant and I supplement the income of my husband instead of depending on him as I used to do before becoming a member of BIOGI,” she says. Wafula says the practices espoused by BIOGI are turning around the lives of farmers because they mitigate against climate change and environmental degradation.

The forest cover provides protection for food and fodder crops, increasing the production of food and other farm goods that meet farmers’ needs in the short-, mid- and long-term, he says. Food forests also contribute to improving Kenya’s forest cover, given that the national average is less than 8%. The farmers, he adds, are also involved in regenerative enterprises such as converting waste into organic manure and fodder. The farmers working with BIOGI have also harnessed indigenous knowledge  to ensure climate resilience, Wafula says. “As part of the local culture, the community had traditional seed banks to preserve the germplasms of indigenous crops.

They knew how to undertake seed selection and methods of preserving them until next planting season.” To that end, he told Africa in Fact, they have now helped to establish a farm seed bank to preserve the seeds of endangered, indigenous crops, especially vegetables. BIOGI also educates partner smallholders on ways of preparing the produce and thus encouraging their consumption. As part of the move to include regenerative enterprises in the value chain, so boosting the local economy, the farmers prepare and sell traditional dishes using indigenous crops. Participating farmers are also taught how to establish and manage organic gardens, Wafula says.

They also receive training in integrating small livestock with crop farming, which can have benefits for nutrient recycling and renewable energy utilisation. Variants of BIOGI’s approach are appearing in other sub-Saharan countries. The approach is certainly applicable on a continent of some 51 million farms, of which 80% (41 million) are smaller than two hectares, according to the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Richard Kimbowa, chairman of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), East Africa, says the concept is also practised in Uganda. The establishment of food forests in the East African country, he says, has resulted in a range of agroforestry systems, including the use of mangoes and avocado trees in home gardens. Food forests contribute to the maintenance of existing agro-pastoral systems involving livestock, such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, Kimbowa says. Food forests keep land under cover, thus mitigating degradation, deforestation and pollution from the overuse of agrochemicals.

They also provide firewood, which most farmers depend on for energy. Moreover, the trees contribute to improving air quality and and the development of microclimates. Unfortunately, food forests also face various challenges. “Food forests are threatened by the policies of governments that favour large-scale and commercial farming, resulting in displacements and land grabs with considerable socio- economic effects,” Kimbowa says. At the same time, rising population growth means that more farmers require extension services and education to help them adopt new technologies.

Chris Macoloo, Africa’s regional director for  World  Neighbors  (WN), an international NGO that educates communities about solutions to challenges such as hunger and poverty, says many smallholder farmers may also view food forest practices as competition for other profitable land uses such as cropping and livestock rearing. “Trees are seen as competing with crops for available and limited essential resources such as labour, water and nutrients. The farmers we work with also initially lack the skills and technical expertise needed for establishing and managing agroforestry systems.”

But he agrees that food forests enhance food security and biodiversity protection. “They create a suitable habitat for wildlife and insects, including pollinators,” he says. “They also enrich the soil with organic matter and support the control of pests and diseases, enhancing and promoting agro-ecology.” Partner farmers work on their own farms, and are therefore more motivated to plant and manage the trees than those who cultivate communal areas. Moreover, he says, research has shown that vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs are more productive when cultivated in a near-natural habitat model such as that provided by the food forests.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) runs a project, the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), which offers financial support and technical assistance to strengthen forest and farm producer organisations, says Philip Kisoyan, a programme coordinator. He describes food forests as “multi-storey gardens” that include root crops, cover crops, vegetables and fruits. “Our goal is to enable farmers to adequately benefit from tree products such as fuel wood, timber, fodder for livestock and fruits.”

The choice of tree species to plant depends on climatic and ecological factors as well as the farmer’s needs. “Some farmers opt for multipurpose trees for fruits, fodder, timber and fuel wood, while others go for early maturing species,” says Kisoyan. The FFF works with smallholder famers in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Africa, the programme operaties in Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia Ghana and Madagascar. It is also operating in Bolivia, Latin America and Vietnam in Asia, according to Kisoyan. “Smallholder farmers are a critical part of society, but without support they can’t fully fulfil their potential,” he told Africa in Fact.

They represent a huge number of our farmers. If organised and empowered with skills and capital, they could form a significant segment of the private sector.” Supporting farmers to organise into groups and co-operatives, he adds, also empowers them to collectively seek markets, inputs and add value to their products. The food forest concept is crucial for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, he argues. “There are more trees on farms than in designated forests in Kenya. Around 40% of timber sold in Kenya is from farms.”

Like other food security specialists, Kisoyan points to the many benefits offered by food forests.  In  his  view,  the key factor is that they improve biodiversity, which contributes to high crop productivity by offering a habitat for pollinators – bees and birds. Like the WN’s Chris Macoloo, though, he says that the concept and practice of food forests faces challenges. Incentives to cultivate a food forest can be adversely affected by government policy, or a lack of knowledge, or the availability of appropriate technology. Kenya’s position on trees is a case in point, he says.

“When you plant a tree it’s your personal decision, but should you require to cut and transport it, you’re compelled to obtain authorisation from authorities.” All the same, food forests are gaining popularity in Africa, says Ru Hartwell, director of Community Carbon Link, which runs a forestry project connecting Wales and Kenya. The organisation is currently working with a community in Bore, along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, to promote farm forestry. In Hartwell’s view, food forests should also be seen as contributing part of a solution to a larger problem – climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted that humanity will lose the battle against global warming if the tropics are not reforested, he says. “Reducing emissions in the developed world without stopping tropical deforestation won’t fix the broken climate.” The   poorest   people in the world – who  include  sub-Saharan Africa’s large number of women farmers – now hold the key to fighting climate change, says Hartwell. They are increasingly getting involved in reforesting, and growing trees for food, fodder, fuel and even medicinal purposes, he says. “No- one really appreciates it yet, but poor, marginalised women now hold the fate of the entire planet in their hands.”

Meanwhile, Stepha McMullin, a scientist at the Nairobi-based International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), also called the World Agroforestry Centre, says her organisation promotes the cultivation  of various species, including indigenous and under-utilised African food trees and crops, such as baobab, moringa and sorindeia. “These are crops with under- exploited potential for food and nutrition security and they have been ignored by researchers,” she says. “They can provide fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils into the local food system.”

However, fruit consumption remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because seasonality poses a challenge. Moreover, the short windows of harvests, and gluts of certain species at particular times, lower market prices, McMullin says. “Fortunately, seasonality also provides opportunities, not just for income generation but, importantly, for food security and nutrition.” To take account of these issues, ICRAF has developed a “portfolio”  approach  to address the seasonal availability of foods in local food systems, based on studies of the mixes of trees and crops best suited to particular areas. Some 17 location-specific portfolios have been developed across East Africa in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia  and  Somaliland,  says McMullin.

Working with national partners and local farming communities, the centre promotes relevant portfolios to local farmers, training them on the benefits of diversification, tree planting and management, and the importance of using quality seed and seedlings. McMullin believes farmers can be incentivised to adopt food forests if they are involved in the research process. Researchers need to provide them with information on the diversity of food tree species that can be cultivated in their localities, and the opportunities for income that they offer. Crops derived from trees have an additional benefit, she argues.

“The extensive roots of trees make them more drought tolerant than annual crops, so they can provide food in dry periods when other food sources are not available.” Meanwhile, Nicholas Syano, co- founder and chief executive officer of the Drylands Natural Resource Centre (DNRC), which promotes agro-ecology among farmers in eastern Kenya, agrees that food forests can play a role in climate resilience.

“This isn’t really a new concept, but rather part of indigenous knowledge which the  continent  had  lost,”  he  says. Traditionally, homes would have forest gardens with food crops such as mangoes, guavas, avocadoes and cashew nuts, root crops such as sweet potatoes, as well as beans as a cover crop, vegetables, medicinal herbs, shrubs, climbers, and fruit trees, among others. BIOGI, it seems, is on the right path, back to the future.

 

Justus Wanzala is a Kenyan journalist who writes on the environment, climate change, agriculture and practical technologies as well as sustainable development and social issues. Currently, he works for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and as a freelancer/contributor for various publications across the globe.

 

The art of war

Africa and wars: traditional weapons

The advent of the machine gun at the end of the 19th century irrevocably changed the way wars were waged in Africa

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini demonstrates the use of the .308 rifle, which has replaced the traditional spear for Zulu royal warriors, during the revival of the age-old hunting ceremony that began with King Shaka. The two-day event, revived after two decades, was held at Hluhluwe, some 350 km north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal in 2001. Photo: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP

“Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not,” wrote Hilaire Belloc, British writer and poet, in his essay, ‘The Modern Traveller’ in 1898. He was writing at the peak of the European powers’ empire building and the Maxim, a revolutionary machine gun that could fire 600 rounds a minute, was the ultimate weapon for the “pacification” of “hostile” tribes. Just a decade later much of Africa would consist of colonies or protectorates of European powers. For centuries African weapons had been used for offence, defence and game hunting, and they had undergone transformation to suit contemporary needs – but they were no match for the Maxim gun. African weapons stood no chance against a gun that spat volleys of bullets and thundered like lightening during a tropical rainstorm.

A general assessment of weapons and war strategies on the continent before the anomie created by external influence, which took root during the slave trade and colonial conquest, depicts a continent that had wars but with comparatively few war-related deaths. Cultural factors – a lack of sophisticated arms, small populations, thick forests, vast savannas and deserts, long unnavigable rivers, and health and ecological challenges – all conspired to limit the losses warring communities could inflict on each other on the battlefield. Allan Chore, a lecturer at Kenya’s Garissa University, who is also a PhD candidate exploring the African art of war, says precolonial African weapons fell into two main categories – close combat and mid-range. Close-combat weapons, he explains, included swords, clubs, arrows, knives, daggers, axes and crowbars.

Mid-range weapons comprised of projectiles such as spears, slings, bows and arrows. Each community, he says, had a certain weapon that was associated with it. Andre DeGeorges in his 2012 article ‘African Traditional Hunters and Their Weapons’ agrees with Chore’s observation, but adds that the hand-made aspect of African weaponry also involved a degree of artistry and identity. “Weapons conveyed not just the ingenuity of their makers, but also their role and artistic abilities, which in turn brought out the ethnic identity of their makers and their users,” he argues. In terms of tactics, Chore says that war skills, terrain, the nature of war and strength of the enemy dictated the methods employed in fighting. He questions the often-repeated idea that African communities have never had war strategies.

The Maasai and Nandi of Kenya’s Rift Valley used bows and spears against the British in the 1890s-1900s because the high ground of the escarpment offered them an advantage when targeting the enemy below, for example. The Zulu, like the Maasai in Kenya, were considered “fierce fighters” by Europeans, and they mastered close quarter combat techniques, preferring a short spear known as the assegai. The Fulani of northern Nigeria, the Berbers of North Africa and communities in the Horn of Africa had cavalry when they adopted horse breeding from the Arabs, adds Chore. Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, in his study on ‘The Military System of the Benin Kingdom’ (2002), noted that iron technology led to the development of weapons that impacted on the character of war in the region.

“In West Africa, the states that rose to power in the period between 1400 and 1700 such as Benin, Nupe, Igala and Oyo dominated others partly because of the advantages in the development of iron technology,” writes Osadolor. Similar views are expressed by Chore, who adds that most communities lacked formal training for fighters, although training did take place. “Since there were no military academies, fighting skills were imparted through games, drills, physical fitness during ceremonies and also through game hunting,” he says. According to Chore, African philosophies guided the rules of warfare. So, for example, the women and children from communities that lost a war were usually not killed. Combatants and members of communities that lost a war were usually taken prisoner, and assimilated.

“What might surprise many, is that wars were also fought as a sport,” he told Africa in Fact. “Young men, especially in pastoralist communities, would raid neighbouring communities, without the blessing of elders, to acquire cattle for use as a dowry.” David Neville Masika, a peace and conflict studies lecturer at Kenya’s University of Nairobi, says African warfare was organised and guided by elders to conform to traditions. War was governed by traditional constraints, he says. Like Chore, he argues that combatants in most communities were barred from violating women and hurting children. “Fighting wasn’t supposed to take place where women and children were; no wonder it was a taboo to wage war at night,” he says. Select groups possessed the art and science of weapon making and secretly guarded their skills, says Masika.

“African weapons have always undergone transformation,” he says. “Take the case of the Zulu people, who opted for shorter spears after realising that, unlike long spears, they could be used without having to be thrown at enemies, hence minimising battlefield losses.” Other improvements included the use of poison on weapons to render them more lethal. In his 2013 article, ‘Weapons in African Art’, Andrew Keet points out that while African war was often a serious business, weapons were also an avenue for artistry and self-expression. “Weapons would be decorated with intricate designs. The handles of daggers and axes, for example, became an art form as soldiers took pride in the weaponry that would defend their land and people,” writes Keet. With the arrival of European arms on the continent, Africans were quick to note the comparative weakness of their weapons, says Chores.

As part of compensating for this, communities developed the ability to mobilise fighters quickly on a battlefield while devising ingenious methods to counter European armies. “The Zulus used the ‘horn formation’ against the British and Boer armies, while the Maasai and others in East Africa used ‘multiplicity or massing’ in the battlefield, literally overwhelming the enemy, and thus compensating for their ‘weak’ weapons by wearing down the enemy for possible retreat,” he says. John Laband, historian, retired history lecturer and author of The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation says that the type of weapons used by traditional African societies could vary enormously from one society to another and from period to period. African communities worked continuously to improve their weapons, with changes inevitably occurring over time, he told Africa in Fact.

Variations in types of weapons depended on a range of factors, including geography, the seasons and the reasons behind any war. Chris Peers, writing in his book Armies of the Nineteenth Century. East Africa: Tribal and Imperial Armies in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar, 1800-1900, argues that the types of weapons used by some communities were, in themselves, deterrents to the widespread killing of combatants. Peers quotes the British explorer Joseph Thomson, who visited the Kavirondo region around Lake Victoria in the late 19th century, describing the spears of tribesmen as long with small heads and inherently less lethal. Thomson wrote that combatants also aimed at avoiding getting too close to each other.

“It’s at once seen from their weapons, that they are not warlike people, their spears being of the very poorest with small heads and handles commonly eight feet long, as if they had no desire to get into close quarter with the enemy,” said the explorer. Some African codes of war were so deeply ingrained, Peers writes, that the Karamojong of northern Uganda, who were known as fierce fighters, were were shocked at the inhumanity of African opponents using machine guns in the late 19th century. The Karamojong warriors went into battle yelling war cries based on the names of their oxen, but fell apart on encountering an enemy armed with guns. And after the battle they were less concerned at the huge human losses than they were that their enemy had not offered them a chance to perform their ritual taunting before the battle. Once guns were introduced into Africa, communities incorporated them into their battle strategies.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Chore says, African communities even started making homemade guns. But, as Masika says, no African societies had weapons of mass destruction. Communities, while at war, were forbidden from poisoning water sources out of consideration for women and children. “War atrocities were rare,” says Masika. “An exception was the era of King Shaka of the Zulus, whose philosophy of ‘revenge’ destabilised communities in southern Africa and beyond.” Yet, despite possessing the assegai, arguably a “superior weapon”, even the Zulus did not generally annihilate the communities they defeated in battle, preferring to displace or assimilate them.

Justus Wanzala is a Kenyan journalist who writes on the environment, climate change, agriculture and practical technologies as well as sustainable development and social issues. Currently, he works for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and as a freelancer/contributor for various publications across the globe.
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