It is estimated that between 500- 600 million people all over the world live in arid and semi-arid areas. Of these, 30- 40 millions entirely depend on animals for their livelihood and 50- 60 percent of those who fully depend on animals are found in Africa. The horn of Africa where about 70 percent of land is either arid or semi- arid is home to the largest grouping of pastoralists in the world. These region provides between 20- 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product for the horn countries. At the family and community level, about 70 percent of the income is gotten from livestock. Basically, livestock holds a central place in the lives of these people.
If proper mechanisms are put in place and the communities that practice pastoralism are helped to look at their activities from an economic point of view rather than taking it as a way of life, pastoralism can earn the communities and the relevant governments a lot of income. However, this is not the case as this very activity is under threat both from natural calamities like prolonged droughts which lead to insufficient water and pasture for livestock and security.
Due to prolonged droughts, these people are forced to migrate from place to place in search of water and pasture for their livestock. Their movement leads to competition for pasture and water with the other communities. This competition leads to armed conflicts between them. Such conflicts are just but one of the contemporary ills that plague the pastoralists in Africa. Moreover, African countries with significant pastoralist’s population exhibit some of the lowest human development indicators in terms of illiteracy, health and the general infrastructure in the world. For example, Kotido, Moroto and Nakapirity districts of Karamoja in Uganda are inhabited by pastoralists. The enrolment to primary schools in the three districts is 12, 9 and 9 % respectively. This by far is the lowest in the whole of Uganda when compared with other primary schools enrolment which is estimated to be 64.6%. Furthermore, illiteracy level for the entire Karamoja region is estimated to be 79% while dropout at primary school level is said to be 86%.
In Southern Sudan where pastoralist communities such as the Neur, Toposa, Dinka, Dindinga and the Shilluk live, infant mortality rate is 82/1000 as compared to 62/1000 in the northern and less than 10/1000 in the western world, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
The infrastructure as a whole in these regions is also wanting. Most of the places can not be accessed due to poor road network. Communication is also a problem. A good example is West pokot in the Rift Valley and North Eastern provinces of Kenya where communication under normal circumstances is not possible. This was witnessed recently during the animosity between the Borana and the Gabra of North Eastern Kenya when the officers who went to the ground could not communicate.
Negative attitudes towards patoralists by policy makers, governments and surprisingly the international development aid community are part of the problem. These cultures are still perceived as backward, brutish and are largely looked upon as illiterate pursuing an illogical lifestyle in the 21st century. Some organizations thrive on the pretext that they are trying to redeem these people who are at war and in need of food yet it is their joy that these people may remain in their pathetic state so that they may have a reason to solicit for funds from well wishers on behalf of the affected communities. Most of these funds end up benefiting the lords of these organizations and not the poor people. This has reduced many pastoralists to beggars as they basically rely on relief food. It is time most of these organizations realized that over-reliance on aid to relieve the suffering becomes tenuous at the best of time. Hence, they should come up with long term and practical solutions to the problems that these people face so that they can work and earn their living.
The sorry state that the pastoralists find themselves in and with nearly no government presence in most of these regions leads to constant raids either for livestock or to seek revenge for previous raids carried by the other communities. These acts retard development in these regions as a lot of wealth and lives are lost in the process. Despite all these, most African governments have failed or are unwilling to address the pertinent issues that continue to affect these communities yet if addressed, it is not only the communities that will benefit but the whole continent and the world at large.
With nearly no government on the ground and the security of these people and their wealth being in danger, most people have to look for ways of defending themselves from any attack. This has led to the proliferation of light weapons in these areas. According to Small Arms Survey (2003), it is estimated that there are about 30 million light firearms in the hands of Sub- Saharan Africa. Over 5 million of these are possessed by the pastoralists in the horn of Africa alone. Such weapons are cheap, portable, high tech, durable and require little training to use. Thus many young boys have had access to them and have taken advantage of this hence terrorizing innocent people and fleeing with their animals.
The price of firearms has plummeted so much that it is easy for one to own a gun today than it was in the 1960s. According to Karl Vick of the Washington post in the article ‘Small arms global reach uproots tribal traditions’ that was published in 2001, he says that the prices for guns had declined so much that in 2001, one could own a gun with as little as 5 cows compared to 60 cows that one was to pay in 1967 for the same gun. In the same article, he says that in northern Uganda, one needs a huge bull and a couple of cows to own an AK47 rifle. Kennedy Mkutu in Pastoral Conflicts and Small Arms: The Kenya Uganda Border Region points out the possibility of one owning a firearm. He says one needs between 5-10 cows to own an AK47 rifle in west Pokot while with one or two cows, one will get a Chinese made gun. He also points out that with one cow, one will get a full bucket of ammunitions.
With the access to the firearms being there and with the near absence of governments in these regions, conflicts will continue to be witnessed. Thus, there is need to come up with relevant solutions. Firstly, the relevant government’s agencies, civil societies and the communities in these regions should form positive partnerships between them so that they can be reading from the same manuscript on the issues affecting these communities. They should recognize the role that traditional institutes and governance systems play in managing conflict and enforcing law at the local level.
The partnership should advise the local people to come up with alternative economic livelihoods for these people. They should be encouraged to practice commercial livestock rearing as opposed to keeping livestock just as a way of life. With this, many entrepreneurs should be encouraged to establish industries in the regions so as to offer ready market for the livestock products such as meat, hides, horns, hooves and other derivatives. In the areas of Karamoja where the soils are said to be good for farming, the communities should be advised to venture into farming since the area receives relatively good rains.
If the security issues for these regions are addressed, most of the resources that are used by the people to acquire weapons for their own security and the governments for trying to settle disputes whenever they occur can be used in other needy areas and this will boost development. Moreover, the organizations that work in these regions can help the residents of these places to look at pastoralism as an economic entity and not just a way of life. They can also provide more education facilities and this will help them view their activities differently. All in all, for development to be realized in these regions, there is need for a concerted effort from the governments, civil organizations, NGOs and the communities that live in these regions.
By Hillary Irungu
Inter Region Economic Network
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