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African Pastoralism by M. A. Mohamed Salih

Although many countries in Africa are devastated by poverty and famine, and are desperately in need of aid, it is generally recognized that programs of aid and development in Africa are imposed upon local communities with little regard for their traditional values and way of life. This is true of development schemes imposed by national African governments, just as it is true of international aid schemes.This book provides a fresh look at these intricate issues, and explores the way in which farming and traditional pastoral livelihoods have strengthened rather than weakened in the face of government reforms. It reveals how traditional institutions and resource management strategies within local African communities continue to endure, in spite of the enormous pressure the development programs exert. Revealing the link between the structure of power relations in pastoral societies and the shrinking of environmental space, the contributors demonstrate the intractable problems of the sustainability of pastoral development in situations characterized by increasing land appropriation and conflicts over resources. The book introduces thirteen case studies from Botswana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda and various other parts of the African continent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745317878
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 08/01/2001
Series: Ossrea Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

M. A. Mohamed Salih is Professor of Politics of Development at both the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague and the Department of Political Science, University of Leiden, The Netherlands His most recent books include African Pastoralism: Conflict, Institutions and Government (Pluto Press, 2001), Environmental Planning, Policies and Politics in Eastern and Southern Africa (1999), Environmental Politics and Liberation in Contemporary Africa (1999) and Local Environmental Change and Society in Africa (2000).

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Towards Security, Stability and Sustainability Oriented Strategies of Development in Eastern Africa

J. B. Opschoor

It was with great pleasure and a sense of honour that I delivered the opening keynote address at OSSREA's important conference involving pastoralists, researchers, educationalists and policy makers.

OSSREA was created in Nazareth, Ethiopia in April 1980, by a number of social scientists from institutes and universities in eastern and southern Africa. The University of Botswana was one of these universities, and at the time I had the honour to represent it in Nazareth, thereby making me one of OSSREA's founding fathers. Now, almost 20 years later, I have returned to Addis to find that OSSREA has become a competent and internationally recognised leading research organisation, hosting such interesting conferences as this one on the subject of resource competition and sustainable development in eastern Africa. It gives me even more pleasure to add that this particular conference had been organised both by OSSREA and the ISS, the institute of which I have the honour to be Rector.

But that is not all. A workshop on a very closely related topic, 'The developmental problems and prospects of semi-arid areas in Eastern Africa' (9-13 April 1980, Nazareth) gave birth to OSSREA. Essentially, we discussed topics that would continue to preoccupy us here: desertification, environmental degradation in semi-arid areas in general, and the role of the state and other institutions addressing these problems. Actually, resource scarcity is the heading under which they all fall. And the fact that scarcity gives rise to resource competition, and even to interethnic and international strife, was the rationale for bringing us together, then as well as now. In the 1980 workshop I presented a paper on the links between institutional structures and environmental change in Botswana (Opschoor, 1980). I will resist the temptation of reviewing that paper here. Allow me rather to quote from the summary of the 1980 workshop as a whole, and to relate the contents of that summary to our conference in 1999 (Kiros, 1980).

The workshop observed and documented that semi-aridity, and the resource scarcity it gives rise to, affects the lives of millions of people, their economies, their cultures and their livelihoods. The associated developmental problems were recognised as being aggravated by humankind: by indifferent or ill-advised policies, by predatory forms of resource exploitation, and so on. The proceedings pointed towards the need for an integrated development approach, in semi-arid regions perhaps even more than elsewhere. At the time we still had the confidence to say out loud that this implied a need for planned development. And when in 1980, the workshop, after reviewing quite a bit of interesting and at that time absolutely original research results, came to the conclusion that there were wide gaps in our knowledge base preventing our full understanding of these issues and our better handling of the ensuing problems.

I was therefore delighted that a few years later, the Netherlands Ministry of International Cooperation gave OSSREA and the ISS the opportunity to implement a joint research project on Pastoral Resource Competition in Eastern Africa. The research facilities made available through this project were designed in such a way that they were capable of influencing policy formulation and decision making. As a matter of course, the project objectives aimed at capacity building in the interface between academic understanding and policy, taking into consideration pastoral resource management and resource competition under increasing resource scarcity.

This chapter emanates from the keynote address that I gave at the workshop. It responds to the objectives of this workshop dealing with the broader context of two timely and highly relevant themes: resource conflicts and sustainable development. I would further like to elaborate on the notion of institutional failures as causes of resource insecurity and resource conflicts, and on political-economic approaches to these failures.


We are all aware, and eastern Africans in particular, that resource scarcity often generates conflicts between different resource users such as between pastoralists and peasants, between modern agrarian activities and mining, and so on. Glancing at the region, one is immediately confronted with the unfortunate reality that eastern Africa is a conflict-ridden region. These conflicts range from inter-state conflicts, such as the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, civil wars such as in the Sudan, northern Uganda and the former Republic of Somalia, to localised conflicts. In many cases the increasingly shrinking resource base is one of the factors giving rise to, or aggravating, these conflicts. Pastoral groups such as the Somali, Room, Afar, Dinkier, Pokot and others continued to play a special role in these conflicts. Yet, the relationship between conflicts and resources does not get the attention it should. There are several reasons which indicate the political and economic marginalisation of pastoralism:

• pastoralists' contribution to the national wealth is very scant – less than 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and less than 5 per cent of foreign export earnings for many east African countries

• pastoralists constitute a political minority of less than 10 per cent of the total population of eastern Africa.

In view of the above situation as well as the multiplicity of problems and economic forces that confront pastoralists, a better understanding of their governance institutions and the way they act, react or interact with these forces of change require pastoralists to play a key role in determining their own future and in shaping the future of the region as a whole. We cannot and should not underestimate their capacity to influence the outcome or their ability to cope with the forces that impinge on their lives. Therefore alternative policies concerning the pastoral question must, to a large extent, come from the pastoralists themselves. Because pastoral societies are not homogeneous it is important that we attempt to comprehend differences and understand the environmental, economic and political problems specific to each group and each context. That is what the project has set out to explore.


The pastoral resource competition project should not be considered an isolated event that deals with some fragmented concerns of a minority of marginalised peoples. In fact, this project is part of a much wider debate on sustainability in developing countries, a theme that has occupied my research interests for several decades.

Unsustainability of environmental use and resource management has been manifested in the form of degradation at spatial levels ranging from local to global. Often such manifestations are the result of causes operating at associated levels, but this should not be taken as the normal situation. On the contrary, unsustainability can also reflect the impact of driving forces that operate at different spatial levels, typically the higher ones, even if the manifest unsustainability is at the local or regional level. Environmental and other problems may also be manifested at the global level whereas their origins may be very local, or region-specific. Their solution may likewise require a sub-global approach because the authority to which these problems should be addressed is usually at lower levels: countries or regional associations of countries, enterprises, NGOs and individuals. Vulnerability to environmental degradation or vulnerability of socio-economic systems associated with degradation or its mitigation may also differ across regions, countries, groups and individuals.

I have been very actively involved in efforts to explore and address the links between globalisation and local or regional environmental degradation. Concerning globalisation I have focused on economic mechanisms and forces: the market, market-driven international trade and capital flow, changing patterns and levels of production and consumption, as well as their environmental repercussions (Opschoor, 1996a).

We have to begin our analysis of globalisation and its impact by realising that the economic system is embedded in a biophysical system: the biosphere. This biospheric environment provides humankind with a certain volume of 'environmental space'. I specifically use the term 'environmental space' in order to get away from one- or twodimensional notions such as 'carrying capacity'. The issue of entitlement to, distribution of and access to the utilisation of this 'environmental space' becomes crucial if environmental security is to be achieved and preserved as a precondition for sustainable global development. I heard an echo of this in Rio de Janeiro at the great UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, when people and organisations from the South called on the economies of the North, to 'make space for the South'. What was meant was that the North, or, in fact, the rich in general, should analyse the levels and the patterns of their claims on the hardly expanding 'environmental space', and compare that with the per capita access to that space by people on the less well-off side of the distribution of income and wealth.

Pastoralism in semi-arid regions is one form of land use and primary ecological production on that land. It provides a livelihood for a significant number of people in an environment that often seems suited for little else unless huge capital investments were made. The importance of pastoralism even goes beyond that; it positively contributes to cultural diversity and, depending on its activities, pastoralism is ambiguously linked to changes in biological diversity and to other environmental problems like climate change. Therefore the pastoral question cannot be isolated from global concerns with the sustainability of the biosphere or the socio-economic and environmental conditions it provides for various resource users. At the lower spatial levels, many of the problems that confront pastoralists today should be explained either as a result of: (i) a limited and even declining 'environmental space' in a context of market inaccessibility, or (ii) the interlocking anomalies of the power structures in (i).

In situations of conflict over natural resources and of environmental insecurity in general, the usual proposal to find a way out of these situations is: technological developments that try to raise productivity levels and/or otherwise push 'environmental space' outward. A second proposal is economic diversification. Very often a response to the latter is not possible due to the marginal aspect of the physical environment and the low degree of economic development of the communities concerned. That leaves intensification. To a degree intensification could be successfully embarked upon, but as my resume of a lot of literature suggests, other difficulties are quickly run into such as failing markets and fixes at the level of power structures.

What has become increasingly clear over the past decades is that situations of insecurity and scarcity entail the need for much more profound reforms, particularly institutional reforms. Regional systems of resource use, such as pastoralism in many parts of the Horn of Africa, the design of new and appropriate institutional forms that allow cultural implementation of access to resources and property rights is required, as well as institutions governing the allocation over present and future stakeholders. At the global level, often regional or even multilateral agreements on these issues should be able to provide the framework for sustainable use of environmental resources while improving the economic position of the countries of the South.

Global environmental problems can be aggregates of local environmental problems. Pastoral societies in semi-arid areas have been the subject of much debate focusing on erosion and desertification with local manifestations and consequences (famine, drought, civil strife, etc.). But, as I have noted above, it is also linked to major concerns with the loss of biodiversity and climate change, which are globally relevant in terms of their consequences. The consequences of erosion and desertification are linked to larger global concerns such as the loss of biodiversity and climate change. If small pastoral communities are to squander the biodiversity resources available in their localities, they will undermine vital genetic resources necessary for the production of high-yielding varieties, medicines and other natural riches. In the long run these vital genetic resources could provide a base for the option of the seemingly unattainable economic diversification, now and in the near future. Moreover, such resources are not only the property of pastoral communities; they are also part of the human heritage that should be conserved for future generations.


A myriad of constraints must be confronted in the search for sustainable human development, not least the constraints of market failure and government failure. Especially in the neo-classical economic approach to economic development, there is a tendency to reduce every issue of concern to failures in market performance or the absence of markets. The social desirability of the outcome of the economic process is to be sought by improving existing markets and/or by creating new markets where until now they did not yet exist. In these days of classical economics market failures were seen as entry points for governments to ensure they were being taken care of. But in the course of the development of economics, especially in the latter part of the twentieth century, governments themselves were regarded as key sources of failure to realise the social optima that people and markets could or at least should be able to realise. Governments nowadays are often regarded as impotent or ineffective, even as counter-productive obstacles to achieving a maximum of social welfare. The prevailing patterns of globalisation reinforce privatisation and the reduction of state powers to intervene in the economic process by almost imposing liberalisation. If markets sometimes fail, the mainstream thinking seems to be, governments would fail more often. Governments should abstain from doing anything but to ensure the existence of a sound macro-economic environment and should be subjected to orthodox monetary views on what to do in the case of macro-economic imbalances. I do not myself adhere to such views. Such views are too shallow because they are reductionist, and often do not regard as important the historical or the contextual processes.

I would like to go beyond simple market failure and government failure and analyse these cases from a much wider and richer point of view: institutional failure. There are at least three categories of institutional failure (Opschoor, 1996b):

• transactional failure

• empowerment failure

• governance failure.

These three types of failure are relevant to the manner in which the sustainability of pastoral societies can be achieved and represent institution-based causes of social problems.

To begin with, we have at least three kinds of transactional failure:

• market system failure, which includes both inefficient markets (or market failure in the strict sense) and absence of markets (as in the case of many environmental goods/products)

• failures in the negotiation of non-market transactions or agreements covering the situation where not all stakeholders are represented and where they suffer from bargaining power imbalances

• preference failures, due to inadequate knowledge and information, or in relation to a divergence between the socially desirable and individual preferences (for example, the use of drugs).

The first subcategory here corresponds to the traditional type of market failure discussed in mainstream economics, as something to be amended by improving the market system. The second one corresponds inversely to the Coasian bargaining approach of societal problems (Coase, 1960) and the literature that addressed that approach. The third one is an extension of notions put forward earlier by Musgrave (1959, 1969) on so-called merit and demerit goods. What this typology implies is a set of notions relevant to the understanding of social behaviour and social systems beyond the narrow economist view, including: the notion that individuals should not always be regarded as the sole and sovereign agents that homo economicus assumes them to be; and the idea that 'transactions' may go far beyond market-based interrelationships.

Secondly, empowerment failure may occur between the nongovernmental and the governmental level:

• social mobilisation may be inadequate to enable optimal negotiation or demand-side market manipulation; countervailing power at the non-governmental level is then inadequate

• mandates by societies to governments may be sub-optimal for governments to be able to exert countervailing influences through policies. There may be too little interaction, often out of fear for governance failure, or too much, in terms of power imbalance vis-à-vis civil society or in terms of democratic control of the state.


Excerpted from "African Pastoralism"
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Copyright © 2001 OSSREA.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of Contents

M. A. Mohamed Salih

1 Towards Security, Stability and Sustainability Oriented Strategies of Development in Eastern Africa
J.B. Opschoor

2 Sustainable Development and Resource Conflicts in Botswana
M.B.K. Darkoh and J.E. Mbaiwa

3 Participation and Governance in the Development of Borana, Southern Ethiopia
Johan Helland

4 Conflict Management, Resolution and Institutions Among the Karrayu and their Neighbours
Ayelew Gebre

6 Ranchers and Pastoralists: Restructuring of Government Ranching, Uganda
Frank Emmanuel Muhereza

8 Resource Competition and Conflict: Herder-Farmer or Pastoralism-Agriculture?
Mustafa Babiker

9 Resource Conflicts among the Afar of Northeast Ethiopia
Getachew Kassa

10 Livelihood and Resource Competition, Sudan
Abdel Ghaffar Mohamed Ahmed

11 Pastoral Commercialisation: On Caloric Terms of Trade and Related Issues
Ton Dietz, Abdirizak A. Nunow, Adano W. Roba and Fred Zaal

12 Immediate Problems: A View From A Distance
P.T.W. Baxter

13 Changing Gender Roles and Pastoral Adaptation In Omdurman, Sudan
Samia El Hadi El Nagar

14 Research-Led Policy Deliberation in Eritrea and Somalia: Searching to Overcome Institutional Gaps
Martin Doornbos

Notes on Contributors

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