East African Pastoral Societies

About five million pastoralists, divided into different ethnic groups, live in the vast, dry region of East Africa. Where these pastoralists have been encapsulated in peripheral parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, they share systems of production, society, and culture based on livestock keeping and form a cultural sphere that appears to transcend national borders.

The Ethiopian famine of 1983 alerted the world to the suffering of pastoral societies in East Africa. Since then, international organizations have continuously provided emergency humanitarian assistance, mainly in the form of food aid during times of famine. A report published in 2007 by the IPCC predicted that, because of the effects of global climate change, famines in dry areas could be prolonged. For this reason, there is great concern that the situation in East African pastoral society could become much worse.

As Somalia and Sudan illustrate, civil war has been a frequent occurrence in East African countries since the end of the Cold War. As a consequence, a large quantity of modern weapons (mainly assault rifles) has been, introduced to pastoral society, making conflicts larger and more severe. Many pastoralists live at the periphery of the nation-state, in areas that the state finds difficult to rule effectively. There are also politically unstable areas. As a result of conflict, many pastoralists have become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), and some receive assistance from international organizations.

Recently, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) drafted a special policy framework to address this issue.

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