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The Crisis In The Horn Of Africa: Nomads With No Future
Herdsmen from 60 tribes gathered in Ethiopia, united by the battle to preserve their way of life. By Steve Bloomfield
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 08, 2006 – Sitting on grass mats, under the shade of acacia trees in Ethiopia's Borana rangelands, more than 350 nomadic herdsmen and women from 60 tribes in 18 countries gathered to discuss their future.
Their way of life in the Horn of Africa is under threat. Drought, unfair trade laws and the growth of tourism in the region have all played their part. For the nomadic herdsmen of east Africa, this was an opportunity for their voice - so often ignored by their own governments - to finally be heard.
In a report, based on the gathering in Ethiopia, the region's pastoralists laid out the changes they believe are needed if they are to survive. Trade barriers should be brought down, local communities should be involved in the management of tourism sites, and pastoralists themselves must try to resolve their disputes with each other through dialogue rather than force.
There are some 20 million pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, with many living with the constant threat of violence, often from fellow herdsmen fighting over scarce resources. Those resources are becoming all the more meager as global warming takes its toll. Pastoralists do not drive SUVs or work in factories that pump out gallons of CO2 every second. But the effect of global warming is felt here. Desertification has caused the semi-arid Sahel region, just below the Sahara, to spread south, encroaching on previously fertile land. During the recent drought, Masai from north-east Kenya were forced to move as far south as Nairobi in search of land for their cattle to graze.
The drought cycle is shrinking; the next major crisis is expected in just two years. This has led some regional analysts to suggest that the pastoralists' way of life may have to change if they are to survive. In most areas where pastoralists live, their nomadic lifestyle is the only way of making a living from the land. They tend to inhabit land not suited for agriculture that relies on predictable or plentiful rainfall. Instead, they are constantly moving their herds in search of water and grazing.
Oxfam's Richard Grahn said that the greatest problem pastoralists face was a lack of political representation. "They don't tend to vote, don't have IDs, and are not included in censuses. Governments do not know much about them at all, or make much effort to find out."
If they did, east African governments would discover that restrictive trade rules and a lack of infrastructure prevent pastoralists from making a potentially lucrative trade in livestock, a trade that would ease hunger and dependence on aid.
Saudi Arabia banned live exports from the Horn of Africa in 1997 after an outbreak of Rift Valley fever which affected cattle in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Those countries once exported several million animals to the Middle East every year, but although the disease is long gone, the ban remains. Fu'ad Adan Adde, Somaliland's minister for pastoralist development said the ban is "political".
Mr. Grahn added: "There is systematic under-investment in any pastoral area you care to name. You can count the number of schools and Tarmac roads on your fingers. People can't get livestock to market because there are no roads and often government policies don't allow cattle to be moved across the country."
But although many of the challenges faced by pastoralists can be solved by government, others can be sorted out among themselves. Nomadic clans tend not to come into contact with each other, and when they do fighting is not uncommon. Pastoralists wander across the plains of the Horn searching for fertile land with adequate water supply. If two clans are vying for the same plot they often come to blows.
The gathering, in July, allowed tribes who had only ever met in the heat of battle to finally sit down and talk. After 14 years of fighting, which has brought thousands of deaths, elders from the Lou and Jikany Nuer tribes
Source: The Independent