22.- 25.9

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


24/09/20 2 - 3.30 pm

4 - 5.30 pm

Room 457 (main building)


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.

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.


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.

Keywords: Conflict, Pastoralism, Climate Change, Resilience, Lower Omo

The past century has been the most consequential in Ethiopia’s history. Within this period, Ethiopia experienced three major foundational changes in the dominant mode of state-society relations. In 1974, the imperial system was toppled and its political and economic base was demolished through the 1975 land reform. In 1991, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front came to control state power, and re-structured the country along ethno-linguistic lines. As of early 2018, Ethiopia appears to be making a transition towards democratization. Despite these massive changes in the basic social, economic and political fabric of the Ethiopian state and society, the fate of the country’s agro-pastoral communities was largely unchanged. Seen from the lowland periphery, while a lot has changed, the continuities in state-pastoralist relations persist. This paper inquires why that was the case, by adopting a cultural political economy perspective. It argues that if Ethiopia’s agro-pastoralist populations are going to benefit from the current transition and to take the driver’s seat in carving their own future, the cultural attitude of the center should be transformed. As such, the question is political, and the solution lies on empowering pastoralists and making pastoralists' concerns and voices be seriously considered in policy making process. To this end, the paper highlights the importance of scholar activism and civil societies to level the power field between the state and experts on the one side and pastoralists’ on the other, thereby helping pastoralist communities articulate a future and negotiate it with an Ethiopian future advanced from the center.

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.

In 2014, GDC started to implement a geothermal energy project in northern Baringo County with the construction of roads in 2015, and a network of pipelines and geothermal wells in 2018/19. The pipelines will supply the geothermal wells in Korossi, Paka and Silali with water, and furthermore will enable the pastoralists to access water and develop new income strategies over time.

The pastoral Pokot in northern Baringo County are dealing with environmental changes and social transformations since their formation in the early 19th century, after the desiccation and replenishment of Lake Baringo. While they specialised in cattle husbandry until the early 20th century, in the second half of the 20th century the pastoral livelihoods came under pressure due to environmental changes, human population growth, decreasing human to livestock ratios, and violent conflicts. However, pastoral Pokot and their focus on livestock husbandry remained the main livelihood strategy in the region and they responded successfully to external (e.g. war) and internal (environmental change) pressures, especially through livelihood diversification.

The recent changes in their environment, such as the construction of pipelines and geothermal wells all over East Pokot, pose new challenges, but also renders new possibilities for future-making. The plans to produce 5,500 MW of geothermal energy per year by 2030 integrated the formerly rather neglected region into the Kenyan national plans and ‘opened’ East Pokot to new developments. Here, I argue to distinguish between two pathways of future-making that are obtained from people’s choices towards and imagination of their futures. On the one hand, the restorative path describes decisions taken to restore the current livelihoods and pastoral values, aiming to improve living conditions with strategies based on pastoral and farming experiences. Second, the disruptive path describes decision made to improve livelihoods following entirely new income strategies, which are often based on opportunities created through the deep transformation that comes with the GDC project.

I argue that the current transformation process has a new quality. While East Pokot was a marginal region before and pastoralists were able to deal with changes internally, the ‘opening’ of the region has led to an entirely new situation. The Geothermal Development Company establishes new infrastructures and creates new possibilities and challenges for future-making. Therefore, I focus on the pastoralists perceptions and evaluations of the (pastoral) futures in East Pokot and want to answer the question to what extent the pastoralists realign their future visions in the face of the deep transformation of the geothermal project.


Little, Peter D. 1996. “Pastoralism, Biodiversity, and the Shaping of Savanna Landscapes in East Africa.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 66 (1): 37–51.

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.

Key words: Gender equality,Community land,Governance, Climate change.

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.

With the noted rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, it has become necessary to understand carbon cycling on a global level, with a great interest in understanding the role of various carbon sinks (McSherry and Ritchie, 2013). Evidence points towards grassland soils having the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon, with the capacity of storing double the amount of stable carbon than the atmosphere in the form of decomposed plant detritus and residue (Van den Pol-van Dasselaar, 2017; McSherry and Ritchie, 2013; Chapin et al., 2009; Percival et al., 2000). The potential of these grassland soil to maintain carbon balances in the soil has largely been undermined by intensive anthropogenically influenced soil degradation, with the potential for regeneration largely depending on how grasslands are managed for large mammal grazing (Garnett et al, 2017; McSherry and Ritchie, 2013). Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) changes rapidly in response to land use and management change and in many parts of the world, heavy grazing of grasslands has reduced plant growth resulting in carbon losses from the system (Garnett et al, 2017).

A recent high profile attempt to initiate a global response to increasing greenhouse gas levels is The Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030 (Stanturf et al, 2019). Based on various, mostly desktop studies underpinned by remote sensing, degraded land across the world has been identified. This is based on the Forest Landscape Restoration approach, which is defined as the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing
human well-being across deforested or degraded landscapes. The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) is a contributor to The Bonn Challenge, and has the
goal of bringing 100 million ha of land in Africa into restoration by 2030 (Gichuki et al, 2019; Stanturf and Mansourian, 2017). Within this framework, South Africa has committed to restoration of 3.6 million ha. While South Africa’s listed priority interventions do not specify the type of re-vegetation, the underlying theme of AFR100 and the Bonn Challenge revolves around reforestation and afforestation.

Bond et al (2019) highlight the ancient origins of the grassland and savanna biomes in Africa, and point out their role in biodiversity, ecosystem services and the economic benefits derived from these biomes for the local populations. Mesic grasslands and savannas in southern Africa cover a significant part of the surface area, and play a critical role in agriculture, soil conservation and water provision, among other important ecosystem services (Stringer et al. 2012). In order to fully understand the role of grasslands in the global climate change arena, it is necessary to quantify the impacts of grassland management (including fire and livestock) on greenhouse gas emissions (source versus sink) and other environmental parameters that may influence climate.

Pastoralists’ livelihoods in Africa are highly endangered by adverse forces – the climate change being one among those. Against this background, the argument and paper focusses climate change adaptation as strategic agency in the field of risk-laden livelihood environments, i.e. agency in the face of risky options and non-calculable uncertainties regionally manifested in the Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

The presentation conceptualizes pastoralists’ livelihoods exposed to a four-fold hierarchy of environmental forces defining the actors’ arena of strategic decision making: 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 further broken down to the regional scale, which in the presented case is dominated by large-scale investments, which again confront local actors with adverse forces towards villagization and eviction from pasture grounds. Right at the end of this hierarchy and in accordance with discourses on ‘climate services’, the local actors, the pastoralists, are confronted with and offered a product that they can input into their decision making. As of present negotiations with the big national and internationally funded actor, the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation (ESC), they will eventually and on future agreement be offered the sugar cane residues as cattle feed. Bi- and multi-lateral talks have taken place in July 2019.

This perspective and initiative will expose the local actors to some process of irrepealable societal transformation. The presentation will reflect this option in its doubtlessly ambiguous terms: feeding cattle with sugar cane residues can ease the pastoralists’ livelihood constituents and can offer some slightly improved chance of survival. But feeding cattle likewise turns pastoralists towards some situation of sedentism, away from century old customs and believes and towards a situation of newly to be experienced fields and claims of power and meaning, the new ‘dispositives’.