A Comment on the 'Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa' Adopted by the African Union in January 2011

By Schlee, Gunther | Nomadic Peoples, December 2010 | Go to article overview

A Comment on the 'Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa' Adopted by the African Union in January 2011


Schlee, Gunther, Nomadic Peoples


The present issue of NP is about the disarmament-with-development exercise in Karamoja, which substantially operates on the premise that pastoralism is a problem. The sooner it is eradicated, the better. Kratli (2006) describes vividly the wide gap between the perceptions of the Ugandan (and Kenyan) state and the realities of the lives of pastoralists. Pastoralists are either ignored or caricatured by the wider public. Even African cows do not find their way into schoolbooks. Karimojong children, if they went to school (only a proportion of them do), would learn about Jersey cows and zero grazing. The research-based understanding of pastoral mobility as a key strategy for the optimal and sustainable exploitation of the drylands for animal production is ignored; rather, it is sedentarization that, against all contextual evidence, remains depicted as the first step of development. (1) Such perceptions of nomads by African states can be described as being part of the 'ages old history of stereotypes produced to express sedentary people's mistrust of nomads' (Leder and Streck 2005: XI). Cultural perceptions of this kind have been combined with scientific opinions (also part of culture in the wider sense) that attributed harmful ecological effects and economic inefficiency to pastoralism. In the research community, nowadays these views are regarded as a matter of a rather distant past. Three decades of work have thoroughly done away with these positions. A re-evaluation of pastoralism has taken place from the early works of Sandford (1983), Ellis and Swift (1988), and Behnke and Scoones (1993), to the recent developments by Kratli and Schareika (2010), which have even found their way into a publication specifically aimed at policy makers: IIED and SOS Sahel (2009).

It is against this background of anti-pastoralist biases, the revisions of which have not really penetrated the wider public, that the new AU policy framework (African Union 2010) is a quite remarkable document. It proposes to develop pastoralism, rather than defining development as pastoralists quitting pastoralism to become something else. The document acknowledges that 'pastoral areas occupy about 40 per cent of Africa's land mass' and that 'pastoralists help to protect and safeguard' the resources found in these arid and semi-arid areas' ([section] 1.1.1). This is a far cry from the alarmist reports from the 1970s in which 'overgrazing' was depicted as the cause of 'desertification' which still form the public image of pastoralists in many parts of the world. The insight that pastoral mobility is 'strategic' (rather than 'wandering in search of water and pasture' as still commonly described in many African primary school books) and good for sustainable resource use, is well known to scholars and has even found its way into official publications (e.g. the Range Management Handbook of Kenya, Republic of Kenya 1991, 1992), but it has so far never had much of an effect on actual policies.

A key issue addressed in the context of mobility is land rights. The collective land rights of pastoralists need to be protected against infringement by claims to private property and alternative forms of land use ([section] 1.1.2). These alternative forms of land use comprise sedentary crop production. As crop production in rangelands tends to be possible only in certain favourable spots, it is these prime cuts of pasture which are taken out of the pastoralist cycle of migration, reducing the productivity of the remaining pastoralist economy greatly. The pastoral land, which is 'allocated to private companies for commercial agriculture', frequently lies 'in riverine areas which are often critical dry season resources for pastoralists'. The document also mentions large-scale irrigation schemes in this context ([section] 3.2.1). It is to be hoped that this will inspire a critical look at what happens now in Ethiopia where the Government declares huge chunks of pastoral land to be unoccupied, or simply expropriates pastoralists and agropastoralists and leases their land to foreign investors. …

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