By Fiona Flintan
In May this year Kenyan authorities barred the movement of Tanzanian traders from taking livestock and other goods to sell on the Kenyan side of the border. In retaliation residents on the Tanzania side tried to do the same. The state of affairs became so serious with physical violence brewing, that authorities on both sides of the border started putting emergency measures in place.
This situation arose because large numbers of mainly Maasai pastoralists moved into northern Tanzania with their livestock as drought conditions set in across their homelands. Movement of livestock across the border is nothing new as there are strong cultural and trade links between the two countries – the area once being one common Maasailand without boundaries (see Figure 1).
However in this case, not only was the number of livestock in this current movement unusually large, but more importantly the increasing land use changes and pressures on land found on both sides of the border has meant that individuals and communities are less willing to share their resources with their neighbours, even in times of need. As such, many residents of the area supported the local government authorities in evicting the Kenyan pastoralists and sending them back over the border with their cattle, which led to the ban on Tanzanians moving the other way.
Such incidences are becoming increasingly common where once reciprocal resource-sharing and free movement was the norm. For pastoralists in particular, free unrestricted movement across a given landscape (more specifically a rangeland) is a central component of their livestock-based livelihood system. Movement allows livestock to utilise low productivity parts of the rangeland characterised by low fertility, sparsely distributed vegetation, variable rainfall and low availability of permanent water as well as the more resource-rich high-productivity areas which may have a permanent water source and more fertile grazing areas. By careful and planned use of both areas pastoralists can optimise outputs from the rangeland system as a whole. However, if movement from one area to another is restricted or blocked, over use of resources will likely result, leading to rangeland degradation and ultimately reduced productivity and increased vulnerability to drought.
Movement of people and livestock is important for other reasons too. These include trade, accessing services (for livestock and people), communication, and social exchange and relationship building. The sharing of resources across communities, for example, is an important part of the reciprocal collective systems and social capital building that is vital for living in these predominantly arid areas, where shocks and stresses, such as drought, are the norm.
However, as in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, this movement of what have traditionally been mobile communities is increasingly being restricted as livestock routes are blocked due to changes of land use, the putting up of fences and development of ‘no-go’ areas due to conflicts. External actors more often than not drive this land use change. These actors can be governments keen to promote commercial agriculture on seemingly ‘unused’ or ‘wasteland’ or land speculators from urban areas keen to secure their piece of an ever-decreasing resource base.
Different groups in communities (internal actors) also drive land use change. These groups may be seeking to diversify their livelihood, often focused on short-term gains from resource exploitation and/or encouraged by NGOs introducing more individualistic principles as resources are increasingly commodified (e.g. payments for use of what were previously shared water points). Such changes not only have an impact on the land or resource base itself, but also on society, as ‘the community’ breaks down, customary authority weakens, private property rather than common property becomes the norm, and conflicts increasingly occur.
Following the incident on the Tanzania-Kenya border described above, agreement between the two countries now seems to have been reached allowing movement across the border using permits or passes, though some harassment of visiting grazers still continues. This reflects concerns at an East African regional level that seeks to encourage such movement in order to implement principles of free trade that will serve to fulfil targets for economic growth.
However, as this experience has shown, there will increasingly be stronger controls over such movement and it will become more monetised with permits, passes, veterinary and health services to be paid for, and export-import taxes charged. As such there will be less reliance on the social contracts of reciprocal and collective use that have been the foundation of movement in the past. Therefore though the movement of pastoral groups and their livestock will likely continue, it will be a different kind of movement that will compromise the freedom and communality that existed and in most pastoral communities still exists, and rather be increasingly based on economic, individual gain and monetary values. This will, I believe, highly challenge the functionality of the whole pastoral system and we need to think carefully whether the benefits gained are justified, bearing in mind the costs likely to be realised.
Fiona Flintan is an ACTION member based in ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) works on rangelands governance and natural resource management in drylands in the East/Horn of Africa region and beyond. She coordinates and provides technical support to the International Land Coalition’s Global Rangelands Initiative which supports initiatives working with government to make rangelands more secure for local rangelands users. She is author of a number of publications on the subject. For more information contact: email@example.com