‘Uncertainty is part of life’ for Kenya’s pastoralists

In this short video, part of a forthcoming series to be featured on the PASTRES blog, Dr Hussein Abdullahi Mahmoud introduces the PASTRES work in northern Kenya by responding to two questions.

Dr Mahmoud is the country lead for PASTRES work in Kenya, based at the Technical University of Mombasa. He is an expert on the social, political and economic dynamics of livestock marketing in dry areas. Coming from northern Kenya himself, he says that “uncertainty is part of life”.

Interacting ecological, economic and political uncertainties dominate dry areas. In answer to the question “in what ways is uncertainty an important lens for looking at pastoralism?” he argues that, whether because of drought or conflict, “we live with uncertainty on a daily basis”.

Through detailed field research in Isiolo county in northern Kenya, PASTRES will be unravelling the intersections of different types of uncertainty, and the responses of pastoralist populations to these. We are currently recruiting PhD students to work in our three study areas, including Kenya (deadline 20 July), and they will each be engaging in detailed fieldwork to explore the complex dynamics of and responses to uncertainty in pastoral areas.

Responding to the question, “how do you think PASTRES can influence the global debates around pastoralism?”, Dr Mahmoud argues that, compared to the ways policy is often thought about in policy circles, “the reality on the ground is quite different”.

How life is changing for pastoralists in Kenya

In the context of decentralisation in Kenya, the responsibilities of county governments to support local economies has increased; and in northern Kenya this means pastoralism. Large infrastructure projects, including marketing facilities, abbatoirs, roads, airports and more are being developed in the region, linked to minerals extraction (including oil) and alternative energy investments.

In Kenya, the major LAPSSET corridor investment is centre-stage. (For background on LAPSSET and other agricultural growth corridor developments in eastern Africa, see a recent paper produced by the APRA Consortium.) Such investments are changing the face of the drylands, and Isiolo is at the epicentre of such developments in Kenya. These investments bring opportunities but also new uncertainties, and new politics of the margins.

PASTRES is associated with ongoing work on this theme, including a stream of multiple panels to be held at the UK African Studies Association in September.

As Dr Mahmoud explains, PASTRES will be engaging with policymakers and development practitioners around these issues, bringing perspectives from pastoral communities to the national debate about pastoralism in Kenya.


Keep posted on new developments with the project by following us on Twitter (@PASTRES_erc), signing up to this blog, as well as the PASTRES mailing list. Forthcoming blogs will share videos with other country leads, and introduce the other two study sites in Qinghai/Sichuan, China and Sardinia, Italy.

Photo credit: Mateo Caravani

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