KIRUKU: Want to have lasting peace? Take care of pastoralists
The implementation of the Common Market Protocol among pastoralist communities should be done with urgency if peaceful coexistence is to be assured, as demonstrated in a report presented to the East African Legislative Assembly.
Pastoralists interact on a daily basis along the region’s common borders. Many of them are also related by blood and intermarriages. Naturally, therefore, there should be no barriers that hinder the free movement of goods and persons.
To ensure peaceful coexistence, the region must have proper dispute resolution mechanisms. Providing rapid responses and speedy investigations during times of conflict is key to cultivating peace within our borders.
For there to be harmony among herders, the region must focus on solving the myriad challenges facing pastoralist communities in the region. This is in recognition of the fact that nomadic pastoralism provides a viable livelihood for large sections of the population in East Africa. The plight of the affected communities should not be underrated.
Sadly, pastoralists have suffered discrimination and many state policies have worked against them.
Currently, the region is undergoing one of the worst water crises ever – with the water shortage quickly escalating into conflict in some areas as herders fight over water for their livestock.
Moreover, regions occupied by pastoralists invariably have a poor transport network. More often than not, therefore, they have to traverse long distances to access passable roads and other forms of modern transportation.
Availability of social amenities like schools and hospitals is a nightmare in pastoralist communities. As a result, illiteracy, poor health, and deaths from curable diseases are prevalent among these communities.
Due to the low literacy levels, retrogressive cultural practices have affected pastoralist communities to a larger extent than other people groups in the region. Such cultural practices such as early marriages, female genital mutilation, and wife inheritance are commonplace among some of these communities.
For decades now, subsequent governments across the EAC partner states have perpetuated the discrimination against pastoralist communities. Many development projects in pastoral areas have failed due to stereotypical views held by those in authority – especially development agencies, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.
It is unfortunate that pastoralists have faced the worst consequences of harsh climatic changes, considering their large herds of livestock. The death of livestock due to prolonged drought has rendered many families destitute.
Most armed inter-clan and inter-ethnic conflicts are witnessed in the expansive regions occupied by pastoralists. There has been a steady increase in so-called banditry attacks and cattle-rustling incidents in these areas.
In the past, during times of drought, the prices of cows were distorted as middlemen acted as a blessing in disguise to the pastoralists, who sought to dispose of their livestock before they were ravaged by drought. This has led to increased poverty, food insecurity and poverty.
It is unfortunate, too, that most agricultural policies passed by the region’s partner states have favoured farmers so as to boost agricultural production, while forgetting that a sizeable chunk of the population was engaged in pastoralism.
If peace and cross-border trade are to be enhanced, the region must now soberly solve the numerous challenges facing pastoralists in the region.
Educating the masses on the dangers of retrogressive cultural practices is not an option. Developing social amenities like schools and hospitals is also paramount in ensuring that these marginalised communities are integrated into the mainstream of the development agenda.
The region must invest in effective risk management strategies – including affordable livestock insurance – to cushion pastoralists against drought and unscrupulous middlemen.
The ongoing upgrading of the transport network across the region must ensure that the vast regions occupied by herders are taken into account and opened up to enhance trade and promote integration.
It is commendable that some insurance companies are already developing policies to cushion herders from the effects of drought. Such efforts should be formally supported by governments.
If cross-border trade is to be viable across the region, herders cannot be left behind. The integration agenda needs to move from boardrooms to the ground where the citizens are, and pastoralists form a significant population that needs to be brought on board in this effort.
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