The rugged mountains and valleys of Kidepo, historical homeland of the Ik people, during drought conditions in 1981
Despite the horror of the famine, perhaps even because of it, the beauty of the great open Kidepo valley with its herds of buffalo and zebra and slow moving giraffe and its vistas of distant mountains affected me deeply and remained with me. Though I visited many wonderful parks in the following years, I always maintained that Kidepo was the best. I was lucky enough to visit again some 15 years later, and was deeply affected again. Kidepo remains my favourite park in Africa.
This photo looking out across the Kidepo valley was taken from Apoka Lodge, just a handful of simple rooms in 1981, run-down but still working. Apoka Lodge today is a rather different affair.
The book covers Turnbull’s disturbing experiences studying the Ik people and describes their decline and disintegration. Turnbull believed that poverty and famine had created a community in which personal survival outweighed the social and cultural bonds. Parents and children were abandoned to die when food was short. Kidepo had been the Ik's most important hunting and gathering grounds. Creation of the national park in 1962 made a bad situation worse. The Ik were excluded from the valley and resources that might have made the difference between life and death for some.
My visit to Kidepo Valley National Park and an encounter with members of the Ik taught me some important things. I learned it is easy to misunderstand people and situations. The 1980 famine was much worse than the 1964 famine that Turnbull experienced, but the Ik I met were caring for their families just like anyone else. Turnbull controversially call for the Ik tribe to be dismembered in order to prevent their culture of personal survival from infecting others. Instead the communal spirit of humanity returned by itself.
Perhaps I should call Kidepo one of Africa’s worst parks. It contributed towards the suffering of the Ik. But the park has protect something of beauty and value of importance to the Ik as well as to me and other conservationists which might otherwise have been lost. The connections that gave meaning to Kidepo for the Ik can still be re-established.