On Sunday, the Ugandan army attacked thousands of Turkana herders
from drought-stricken northern Kenya who had crossed into Uganda seeking water and pasture for their cattle. “This is the second time our people have been attacked and killed,” John Munyes, Kenyan labor minister and Turkana North MP, told The Daily Nation
. In 2005, 60 Turkana herders were killed by the Ugandan army in a similar incident. Yet talks scheduled for last month never occurred, and Munyes complained to The Nation
that “the [Kenyan] Government had not shown any concern” over deaths in his community.
A UNICEF video discusses the hardships facing the Turkana.
According to The Daily Nation, some Turkana have resorted to cattle rustling to make a living. After a raid earlier this week, residents of the Kenyan town of Galole in the North Horr district reported that Turkana raiders stole “more than 20,000 animals,” and that 11 people were killed while pursuing the raiders. According to The Daily Nation, “[s]ince 2005, there have been a series of livestock raids between Turkana herders and their neighbours in North Horr.” At a recent Wilson Center event, Peter Hetz of ARD, Inc. explained that “[i]nsecure land tenure and property rights and the inequitable access to land and natural assets are two of the leading triggers of violent conflict, population displacement, the over-exploitation of natural resources, and political instability throughout eastern Africa.”
Sadly, this type of conflict may become even more prevalent. Survival of the fittest: Pastoralism and climate change in East Africa, a new report by Oxfam International, notes that the risk of conflict “is greatest during times of stress, for example drought or floods.” Drawing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) reports, it points out that some regions are expected to have higher rainfall, which could lead to flooding, and others are likely to face further drought. While more rain could be a boon in some cases, it could also make semi-arid lands attractive to farmers—who are typically more politically enfranchised—pushing out pastoralist communities.
Given this dynamic, the interstate and intrastate conflicts that occurred earlier this week could become more common all over the continent. “Pastoralism enabled people to adapt to an increasingly arid and unpredictable environment by moving livestock according to the shifting availability of water and pasture,” notes the report, but “[t]o be practiced effectively, pastoralism depends on freedom of movement for all herds between pastures and water sources.” It is impossible to attribute the incidents this week directly to climate change, but as the climate in the area shifts and affects local resources, migration will likely become an increasingly attractive adaptive mechanism for pastoralists. Environmentally induced migration is currently being discussed in more detail in an interactive online seminar co-sponsored by the Environmental Change and Security Program and the Population-Environment Research Network.
The problems Survival of the fittest discusses are serious, but the report argues that because they have been adapting to climatic changes for millennia, “pastoralist communities could have a sustainable and productive future in a world affected by climate change, given the right enabling environment.” Mohamed Elmi, Kenya’s minister for the development of Northern Kenya and other arid lands, supported the report’s conclusion, saying that pastoralist adaptability “cannot be realised without government support and investment.” While it is impossible to predict the exact changes the Turkana and other pastoral groups will face, it is certain that without government support, clashes such as the ones earlier this week will continue to occur.