Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Transformed Livelihoods in the Lower Atbara Area: Pastoral Rashayda Responses to Crisis

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Transformed Livelihoods in the Lower Atbara Area: Pastoral Rashayda Responses to Crisis

Article excerpt


External dynamics and processes have long affected the Lower Atbara area of Sudan, and have irreversibly transformed nomadic pastoral livelihood systems. In the context of resource scarcity and recurring conflicts, this paper analyses how Rashayda pastoralists from Um Sayala responded to challenges to their pastoral production. As relative newcomers to Sudan, the Rashayda represent a peculiar case because their access to pastoral resources has been challenged since their arrival in Sudan. But in times of crisis, such as the drought of 1985, their traditionally strong ties to the Gulf States served them as a buffer, mitigating the negative effects of the crisis. This paper highlights five biographies, which reveal individual responses to the catastrophic drought and their outcomes. It concludes by discussing how the Rashayda tackled the competition for sparse resources and resource contractions in times of crisis, and reveals some internal and external consequences for the group.

Keywords: Livelihood strategies, pasture contraction, Rashayda, resource conflicts

Approaching the problem

In past decades the rural population in Sudan, like other North African countries, was subject to watershed changes in political and socio-economic contexts such as land and agricultural reforms, the institution of mega-irrigation projects, the introduction of new technologies, altered marketing conditions and a new dimension of environmental disasters (Muller-Mahn 2001:71, Breuer 2007a: 165-179, 2007b: 11-15, 37ff, Gertel 2007: 15-30). Livestock producers and farmers had to cope with novel challenges, which often limited their access to natural resources. The reaction to such pressures is far from uniform. This article focuses on a group of Rashayda pastoralists from the encampment at Umm Sayala in the Lower Atbara area, where dozens of biographical and key informant interviews were carried out. (1) Starting with the Rashayda's unique role as late arriving immigrants, the research sheds light on the group's specific responses to a major drought crisis. This is contextualized by an introduction to Northern Sudan and the Lower Atbara area, as well as to intertribal resource conflicts and processes of pasture contraction. A brief section will then offer some background information on the Rashayda people and recent political reconfigurations within the framework of the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement. Embedded in this setting, a selection of biographies reveals the transformations of the main livelihood strategies in response to crises. Building on the strategies employed on an individual and group-specific basis, the paper will end by assessing some internal and external consequences of the Rashayda's reaction to a drought crisis in a setting of resource competition. It will argue that externally, through various strategic alliances, clever tactics and transnational connections, the Rashayda managed to gain ground and bring about a shift of power in the regional tribal canvas, while internally, processes of social differentiation are intensifying.

The Lower Atbara area: introduction to a peripheral region

Northern Sudan is commonly described as the area between the border to Egypt and Khartoum and is marked by two dominant features: the Nile and its narrow cultivable strip, as well as the desert. The Nile and its tributaries provide the main water source for the predominantly riverside, agrarian population (Nohlen 2002: 751). The arid and semi-arid hinterlands are dominated by mobile pastoralism and/or subsistence agriculture (Nohlen 2002: 751, UNDAF and CCA 2002, FAO 2005). The Lower Atbara area is a peripheral sub-region of Northern Sudan, lying in the River Nile State. Thus far, it has received little academic or other interest. Following Abdel Ati (1985), the Lower Atbara area refers to the territory extending between the village of Al-Mogren at the confluence of the Nile and Atbara in the northwest, the village of Ba'aluk in the southeast and the Wadi Mukabrab in the south. …

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