Natural Resource Scarcity and Conflicts: A comparative inquiry focusing on pastoralists in the northern region of Kenya

The Horn of Africa is today seen as a battleground for violent conflicts attributed to competition over natural resources resulting from scarcity. A huge literature in this field blames the problem of ethnic raids and violent conflicts mainly on increases in populations, ecological stress and a dwindling resource-base in the past years. In support of this, recent studies consistently show pastoralists’ losses of dry season fallback grazing areas to other land uses and a decline in livestock wealth in pastoral regions of Africa. In spite of weak ecological and economic positions of pastoralists, evidence from a recent case study analysis of inter-ethnic conflicts among pastoralists shows that the validity of the natural resources scarcity-conflicts connection is seriously flawed (Adano and Witsenburg, 2004). This research project aims to empirically test the ‘natural resource scarcity induces conflicts’ claim in East Africa, with a wider focus on pastoral groups in northern Kenya region. To address this question a broad range of methodologies will be used, including long-term archival information and secondary sources, individual interviews and local leaders. The project will also examine how inter-ethnic raids and violent conflicts might influence, or are influenced by related issues such as food security of the pastoralists. This extension would broaden the scope of the research and ensures better understanding of the multitude of factors that lie behind inter-ethnic tensions and eruption of conflicts. The project will combine qualitative studies and quantitative data analysis to answer the research questions. The expected research results will have implications for the ways in which natural resource related inter-ethnic conflicts between East African pastoralists are being viewed at the moment. The results of the project will also be of practical relevance for conflict resolution and reactive responses aimed at rooting out the causes of the problem.

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