07.- 11.06.

P 26: Lands of the Future – Futuremaking with Pastoralists in Africa


Lands of the Future - Futuremaking with Pastoralists in Africa

Echi Christina Gabbert, Institut für Ethnologie, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Günther Schlee, Max Planck Institut für ethnologische Forschung, Halle/Saale


Short Abstract:

The panel will discuss the future role of agro-pastoralists in the 21rst century within the rapidly changing challenges around land use, land investment, state-building, high modernism, biodiversity loss, and climate change.


Long Abstract

Positive futuremaking starts when space, time and land with its inhabitants are brought and thought together, when diverse forms of life on, with and off the land can be accepted as valid elements of futuremaking; when unnecessary distinctions among livelihoods and forms of existence are overcome; and when all members of society are trusted to cooperate to build states on peaceful terms. Furthermore, when social, ecological and economic factors are not construed as antagonistic but as integral parts of futuremaking, then knowledge about the land fosters knowledge about the world. While there is sufficient evidence that pastoralism is a rather sophisticated way of life in certain areas of the world, state policies for pastoral territories in Africa, continue to ignore inclusive solutions that challenge ‘modernist‘ preconceptions of progress that by definition exclude pastoralists. The ties between pastoralists and states have been stressed and ruptured for centuries. Divisions are created between those who consider themselves modern, or open to modernity and progress, and those who are denigrated as backward and uninformed. Yet, mutual futuremaking by states and pastoralists is possible if differences beyond the modern/backward divide are also regarded as opportunities. To address these challenges, misconceptions about pastoralists need to be corrected to foster more holistic discourses about food providers, well-being, sustainability and peaceful futures. This is crucial for a peaceful living together that cannot be built upon or sustained by way of stigmatization and exclusion of pastoralists. What then can pastoralism contribute to peaceful futuremaking?

We are looking for theoretical and empirical contributions that discuss the role that
pastoralists in Africa can play in the search for alternatives and deep transformation in the
fields of land use, livestock and crisis management, innovation, change and democratic
egalitarian principles, state-building, land rights, human rights and peace formation,
alternative economies and sustainability.


INTRODUCTION: Echi Gabbert, Günther Schlee, Asebe Regassa und Fana Gebresenbet: Setting the Space Futuremaking with Pastoralists. Our Ongoing Journey

To prepare for the panel, we will reflect on our collaborative research and engagement with pastoralists.

Asebe Regassa is currently a senior research and teaching fellow at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research foci are the politics of large-scale development projects, human-nature relations, conflict and peace building and indigenous peoples’ rights with particular focus on East Africa.

Fana Gebresenbet is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies of Addis Ababa University. He wrote his PhD on ‘The Political Economy of Land Investments: Dispossession, Resistance and Territory-Making in Gam- bella, Western Ethiopia’. He has been researching state-building and develop- ment in Ethiopia’s lowlands for more than a decade.

Echi Christina Gabbert is an anthropologist at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at Göttingen University, Germany. Her research foci are political ecology, peace and conflict studies, collaborative research methods and dimensions of sustainability in the anthropocene. She is coordinating the Lands of the Future Initiative, an interdisciplinary project about pastoral livelihoods in the twenty-first century.

Günther Schlee is Professor of Social Anthropology at Arba Minch University, Ethiopia. He is Director emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany, co-founded by him in 1999. He conducted fieldwork in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.


01 Asebe Regassa: Confronting Insecurity: Pastoralist Communities’ Resilience to Climate Change and State Intervention in South Omo, Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s pastoralist communities grapple with climate change and state intervention – both of which threaten their existence as a group. Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its effect is shaped by national political and economic policies and practices. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Lower Omo became a resource frontier for the Ethiopian government and multinational companies whereby high-modernist discourses and practices have been used in legitimating displacement, resource appropriation and dispossession of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. These actions have been legitimated by narratives such as “civilizing the backward societies”, “transforming the life of pastoralists”, “modernizing the backward natives” and so on. Based on data drawn from fieldwork in Lower Omo Valley for over four years, this paper argues that high-modernist development intervention threatens the security of the pastoral and agro-pastoral communities by restricting their access to resources. Insecurity also constitutes detachment and disconnection of the people from their home in the form of villagization, displacement and enclosure but glossed in the buzzwords – development and improvement of “their” life. On the other hand, these communities withstand natural and manmade hazards/risks through their indigenous knowledge, social institutions, values and practices, which state institutions denigrate as backward practices. The pastoral and agro-pastoral communities resilience is also built on the notion of respect, reciprocity and responsibility – entailing interconnectedness between nature and culture. The paper underlines that neglecting the wisdom, perspectives and interests of these communities would be detrimental to successful state building process.


02 Addiswork Tilahun Teklemariam: How Ethiopia’s new expropriation proclamation measure up in protecting the rights and participation of the pastoral society in the country’s developmental agenda

Enter Ethiopia’s economic growth and the commitment of the government to pursue this desire has generated unprecedented demand for land for manufacturing, commercial farming, mining, infrastructure, and urban expansion. The state believes that the country has plenty of unused lands which can be efficiently operated by large scale investors, thus contributing to the overall growth of the economy. Consequently, it has been invoking the ‘unoccupied’ land narrative that designates communal lands as government-owned land to avoid compensation procedures for land expropriation and exercising the power of expropriation for those lands which are under private occupation. Although Ethiopia lacks comprehensive data on the frequency, amount and purpose of land expropriation, studies estimate that millions of hectares of land have been expropriated. Thus, this trend implies that the state is reordering and redefining the agrarian structure of the country in favor of capital by compromising and in some cases sacrificing the land rights and livelihood of smallholding peasants and pastoralists. The unoccupied land narrative the state employs in the land taking process has been detrimental to a large extent to the pastoralist society and has resulted in the displacement and permanent livelihood disruption of these societies. Furthermore, it has contributed to increased vulnerability to food insecurity, poverty, and land-related disputes. In response, on September 23, 2019, the current government amended the expropriation law and enacted a new proclamation under the title ‘Expropriation of land holdings for public purposes, payment of compensation and resettlement of displaced people proclamation’ ( No. 1161, 2019). Thus, this study, by way of comparison, will evaluate and analyze to what extent the new amendment has rectified the problems that were peculiar to the previous ‘Expropriation of landholding for public purpose and payment of compensation proclamation’, (No. 455/2005, 2005) with regard to protecting the land rights of communal landholders by providing principles and responsible practices of expropriation and compensation. Furthermore, evaluate the extent to which the new law has incorporated enabling grounds for the pastoralist community to actively and efficiently participate in the country’s developmental endeavors. To do so, the study will employ a desk review method to review and analyze land policies and legal frameworks dealing with communal landholders with special emphasis on the pastoral communities. here.

Addiswork Tilahun, Institute for Policy and Development Research, Hawassa University, Ethiopia.


03 Winny Chepkemoi: Community Land Rights: An Opportunity for Maasai pastoralist women to restore the Mau ecosystem in Kenya

After years of public consultations and negotiations with the Kenyan  Government to promote community land rights and interests, the Community Land Act was finally enacted on 31st August 2016. The Act gives effect to Article 63 (5) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 by providing for the recognition, protection and registration of community land rights; management and administration of community land; and the role of County Governments in the management of unregistered community land. It is worth noting that of 47 counties in Kenya,24 Counties are under community land tenure,14 of them being held by pastoral communities.

The roll out of the act started  in October 2019,expressing the pressure on pastoral and indigenous women’s past and existing rights to community land and pointing out that it is still impinged by patriarchal customary practices.  The Community Land Act 2016 brings a fresh start for the pastoral women.Section 15 (1) of the Act states that registered community shall have a community assembly, which shall consist of all adult members of the community. This provision presents a point of transformation; the importance of ensuring that both men and women are part of decision-making processes in the community.Hence, the democratic governance and administration of community land is critical in the quest to secure land rights for pastoral women.

The paper specifically focuses on Narok County,the home of  Maasai pastoral community.It is biodiversity rich yet increasingly a threatened County. The Area under forest cover in the County is 25,445 km2, with another 6 per cent  under aggro-forestry. The County is home to the Maasai Mau forest, - one of the big  five water towers in Kenya. The Forest spurns an area of about 46,278 hectares and is been acknowledged as the lifeline of most (if not all) livelihoods production activities within the County. Besides providing ecosystems related services such as favorable micro-climatic conditions for farming (wheat, maize, barley, potatoes and other vegetables); livestock grazing, and non-timber forest products, including medicinal plants, wild honey and fruits; the forest also serves as a cultural heritage site for local Maasai communities who carry out their traditional activities there.

Environmental degradation in the County is mainly as a result of unsuitable Land use, effects of climate change, massive deforestation of Mau ecosystem for charcoal, timber and firewood; land clearing for agricultural use; poor physical planning in urban areas; quarrying and sand harvesting activities; pollution from aggro-chemicals and alien invasive species.

This then draws the questions;is the community land law an opportunity for  sustainable ecosystems? how secure communal land rights can amplify the role of women in sustainable forest covers,will the fragmentation of pastoral land strain communities' relationship with the state?The findings will affirm the need to advocate for responsible community land governance and how men and women can work towards it.

Winny Chepkemoi is a Gender specialist working with the Kenya Land Alliance. She has a wide experience mainstreaming gender justice in agriculture, Climate resilient agriculture, climate justice, land and natural resources.


04 Elisabeth Keuten: The Africa they want. Pastoralist women in Southern Ethiopia and the Agenda 2063

Lived realities of pastoral women from Southern Ethiopia are often represented fragmentarily in international development agendas such as the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. An explanation for this can be Said’s Orientalism theory and complementary approaches of other postcolonial academics like Bhabha and Spivak. They demonstrate the production of power over homogenised regions and the marginalisation which is mirrored in the idea of development and the set-up of its policy frameworks and strategies. Pastoral women are part of this development discourse, but their lifeworlds are nevertheless overlooked, degraded or misinterpreted. In the Agenda 2063, development agents therefore picture a vision of an Africa they want, not necessarily of an Africa wanted by pastoral women.

Elisabeth Keuten is an undergraduate student of anthropology at the University of Göttingen. In her Bachelor Thesis she applies postcolonial theories to examine reasons for the dissonant representation of pastoral women’s lifeworlds from southern Ethiopia in international development strategies.


05 Melinda Kelly and Robert Hitchcock: Land, Livestock, and Livelihoods: The Herero and the State in Southern Africa

The Herero (Ovaherero) of Namibia, Botswana, and Angola are some of the best-known pastoralists in southern Africa.  Numbering some 260,000 people in Namibia and 380,000 people overall, the Herero and their relatives the Mbanderu have had difficult relations with the colonial and post-colonial states in southern Africa. They were subjected to enormous pressures by the German colonial state in the period between 1904-1907, in the first 20th century genocide along with the Nama, another minority group in Namibia.  The Herero and Nama were involved in major conflicts with the Germans, resulting in severe mistreatment, placement in what in effect were concentration camps, and their eventual dispersal into the Omaheke Region and across the border into Botswana.  After Namibian Independence on 21 March 1990, some Botswana Herero began to return to some of their ancestral lands in Namibia.  They were not allowed to bring their cattle across the border, so they expanded their herds through purchase of livestock and through breeding.  Particular attention in this paper is paid to those Herero who chose in April 2009 to cut the red-line veterinary cordon fence in Namibia and to bring 1,100 cattle into what is now known as the Nyae Nyae Conservancy (NNC), an area managed by the Ju/’hoansi San since its establishment in 1998.  The interactions between the Herero and the Ju/’hoansi have been complex, culminating in the filing of a legal case against six illegal grazers in 2016, a case which is on-going in the Namibia High Court.  Both groups are considered ‘historically disadvantaged populations’ in Namibia. The government is thus in a complex position vis a vis the Herero and the Ju/’hoansi, since the Namibian government does not want to be seen as giving ‘special rights’ to one group over another. Both the Herero and the Ju/’hoansi claim that they are using sustainable resource management systems. They also both say that they have long-standing links to the Nyae Nyae area. On the other side of the border, the government of Botswana sees the Herero as being immigrants and would generally prefer to have them return to Namibia.  This is unlikely given the size of the Herero population, their sizable numbers of livestock, and their long-standing ties to people and the land in Botswana.  Both governments would prefer to see the Herero and their neighbors interact in positive ways and to resolve any outstanding conflicts that they may have which involve land, livestock, leadership, and livelihoods.  The Herero and the Ju/’hoansi, for their part, are making efforts to promote peace and community well-being and are seeking to ensure that social, economic, environmental and political rights for all are maintained in the Namibian and Botswana states.


06 Shauna LaTosky and Oliserali Olibui: Wild-food plants and emic views of food shortages in Mun (Mursi), Southern Ethiopia

As many areas of Southern Ethiopia experience rapid development, there has been little discussion about the impact of such large-scale development on the continued access of local agro-pastoral communities to wild-plant foods, especially ‘famine foods’. It is well-known that wild food plants are incorporated into the normal livelihood strategies of most rural Ethiopians, especially agro-pastoralists, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and continuous croppers (FAO), yet two decades after a UNDP report came out by Guinand and Lemessa on “Wild-food Plants in Ethiopia,” there has been little systematic documentation of the socio-economic, cultural, spiritual and nutritional aspects of wild-food plants among agro-pastoralists in Southern Ethiopia” (2000:1). As they argued, “increased consumption of wild-foods enables people to cope better with erratic, untimely rains and drought for several consecutive years without facing severe food shortages, famine and general asset depletion as in other areas of Ethiopia” (2). This is still the case for the agro-pastoral Mun (Mursi) who have long relied on the productivity of wild food plants, made possible through a relationship-based approach with the land that they have maintained for centuries (LaTosky, forthcoming). In this discussion about recent research on the role of wild-plant foods in Mun, I advocate for enhanced policy engagement and the protection of the customary use of wild plants, not only as ‘resources to be managed,’ but in accordance with how the Mun collectively value the landscape, identify food categories, including ‘famine foods’, and emically view the causes of food shortages. As the ethnobotanist Paul Minnis (2021) argues, such crucial cultural knowledge should be made a priority by policymakers engaged in food security issues.

Shauna LaTosky is a lecturer in anthropology at Thompson Rivers University (Canada). Her current research on Mun (Mursi) customary land-use practices and plant knowledge is part of the Guardians of Productive Landscapes initiative and film series. 

Olisarali Olibui is a Mursi agro-pastoralist, filmmaker and educator from Southern Ethiopia. His current interests include indigenous theatre, language digitalization, oral history and customary land management.


07 Sabine Tröger: Just Societal Transformation: Perspectives of Pastoralists in the Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia

The notion of transformation is increasingly promoted in scientific and likewise popular discourses as a solution to unsustainable practices. Correspondingly, transformative response to obviously unsustainable circumstances of life, be these ecologically or socially based, will require engaging with the root causes of inequality and likewise environmental degradation. The named perspective emphasizes the importance of contesting dominant social and political structures. Transformations towards sustainability can only be taken as a success in case social justice (Rawls 1999) is considered a central concern. In consequence, all actions taken to shift towards environmental sustainability can have both positive and negative social implications for different groups relative to the status quo, which means attention is needed to both understanding and realizing social justice during sustainability transformation.

Against the background of these generalizing recognitions with relation to societal transformation in terms of environmental justice the argument aims to explore the implications of present day environmental dynamics, the climate change intertwined with market and governance perspectives exemplified in their concretized meaning for pastoralism and pastoralist livelihoods in the Lower Omo Valley right in the south of Ethiopia. Home to 16 ethnic agro-pastoralist societies, formerly well adapted to the fragile semi-arid environment of the lowlands, the Lower Omo Valley is nowadays highly impacted by irrevocable and fundamental changes in livelihood constellations caused by forces in a four-fold global to local scale gearing towards some ultimate and irrevocable societal transformation, i.e. processes, which hold a strong grip on those ethnicities calling the Lower Omo Valley their home in terms of fundamentally re-defining the constituents of livelihood systems as of at present. From the global scale of ever extending impacts by the climate change imperative, to the national scale of government policies in terms of decentralization, challenging people to govern and define their communal efforts in terms of climate change adaptation, and down to the regional scale, which in the presented case is dominated by a large-scale investment, which confronts local actors with adverse forces towards villagization and eviction from pasture grounds. The argument will pose the question in how far and to which degree processes of transformation are to be taken as sustainable, which includes the perspective of justice with reference to the addressed ethnicities, the pastoral communities in their distinct and unique representation.

Sabine Tröger is professora emerita at the Department of Geography  at the University of Bonn, Germany. She is social geographer and has worked in the Lower Omo Valley/Ethiopia and here especially with the Nyangatom pastoralist community since 2010 in the field of Climate Change Adaptation with the perspective of  Fundamental Societal Transformations. She furthermore is first evaluator in the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in the PostDoc ClimapAfrica project.


June 8 @ 12:30
12:30 — 16:00 (3h 30')

Zoom Room 4

Echi Christina Gabbert, Günther Schlee

Export to private calendarAdd to my timetable

    Your bookmarks
    No bookmarks