Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative
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Taking Pastoralist Voices Global!

By Wario Malicha

A pastoralist leads his cattle home. Photo: Courtesy

For close to 50 years or so, pastoral policy development across the Horn of Africa has been riding on the wave of illusion premised on the move that experts and development practitioners are the best adjudicators of any pastoral well-being. They organize short field assignments to get an impressionistic view of rural lives and livelihoods, when the weather is most pleasant and get back to the high-end office, spin that comfy chair and examine the instruments to derive the finding that will be used for recipients that were never part of the project from the inception.

This development tourisms adds to the complacency by providing a snapshot of ‘better-off’ dusty thatched houses in the villages. Such an approach presumes people as mere objects of development and adopt a ‘blueprint’ to the issues concerned.   The crux of development is transformation of quality of standards including better quality of life, being free from hunger and disease, food security and state of being happy, as explained in Sen’s Capability Approach by Amartya.

Climate change is putting increasing pressure on the Tana Delta’s residents and their surrounding ecosystems, with farmers and herders clashing as they vie for access to land and pasture.
A pastoralist taking care of his livestock. 

In the research for reality and valuable policy approach to the lives of the pastoralist and their future generations, and being the youngster who knows the value of pastoralism by taking care of herds and knowing its commercial and inheritance value, I have come to my conscious that voice of the pastoralists should be brought to the global stage. It should not be through images of herders taking care of their livestock in their tradition attires but rather through co-creation. Shifting from definition of pastoralists are being retrograde and unschooled [yet all those PhD fellows and scientist derived knowledge from them to publish a working paper or policy/ evidence brief] to being vehicle that will be used to cross poverty line.


The perception of pastoralists can be revealed and understood through co-creation, closely linked to participatory epidemiology, to:

  1. Consider indigenous knowledge system as antidote to challenges in drylands. Long before the reality of contemporary development model and flow of aid, pastoralist community face those challenges, however they maybe of lesser magnitude, had own way and resource of overcoming those issues, perhaps, more profound that the present-day approach that is accompanied by multibillion dollar scheme sand investments in the Horn. Just because the stomach is empty it does not mean that the brain is dead. There are reserve in the brain for local knowledge imprinted.

“The voices of the pastoralists should be brought to the global stage  through co-creation.”

  1. Make pastoral communities involved in pursuit of their own lives and livelihood. There is no way you can describe the initiatives that has been designed in high-end apartment as being participatory. Discounting the very recipient of the project should be treated as ‘development transgression’ and that is why it is difficult to put the development partners to visibly account for the dollar spent in dryland. Be part of the voice that brought you to self actualization!!


Wario Malicha is a social development expert and research consultant. He holds Advanced Masters of Science in Governance and Development from Institute of Development Policy, University of Antwerp, Belgium. His is a development practitioner and research consultant with over 8 years of experience in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia on conflict, natural resource management, and climate change adaptation.

He has worked with the United Nations and led drylands management projects at regional, national and local level including tracking policy development at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), assessing impact of social policy in Northern Kenya, mapping stakeholders in the livelihood and resource management, among others. Wario understands pastoral livelihoods, policy research processes, social evaluations, and project management at local, national, and regional levels.