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Kenya: Displaced pastoralists

The Boran, Gabra and Orma pastoralist communities share a common ancestry, having gradually moved from southern Ethiopia to Kenya’s Eastern and Coast provinces. Over the last few decades, many of these pastoralists have experienced resettlement and a change of lifestyle.

The causes are varied but irrigation schemes and other development projects, as well as conflict and drought, are the primary reasons.

Together with Panos Eastern Africa, we worked with the Kenya Pastoralist Forum during 1999 and 2001 to collect these testimonies. The narrators speak of some of the cultural, social and economic impacts of resettlement. They describe the impacts of the shift from a pastoralist way of life working with livestock to one which is settled and based on agriculture and enterprise.

The men and women talk about changes in their gender roles, culture, sense of identity, religious practices, occupation, diet and health. Some women are taking on the role of breadwinner, herders are turning to farming- still seen by some as a low status activity – and many young people are finding it hard to follow the teachings and example of their elders when their way of life is so different. All are trying to meet the challenges of resettlement and change.

Their stories are told in a booklet, Being helpless is something you cannot forget, published by Panos Eastern Africa in 2005. The Kenyan Oral Literature Association is holding a series of community meetings with pastoralists to debate the issues raised by the testimonies and in the booklet.

Extracts from the testimonies

“…I started doing something contrary to my culture to be able to earn a living. I started digging the soil to look for food… I became a farmer…This made me become a very inferior person in my community because I had violated the community’s norms and culture… no cattle owner comes to my home [now].”
Roba (male), 50 years old

“Why we did not ask for compensation is because we are already seen just like wild animals on that land, because our community is not educated, and there is nobody to lead us to the necessary offices. Because we all fear the government, we did not ask for any compensation, and of course none of us knew that we were entitled to any compensation.”
Elema (male), elderly

“[Women] were taken as inferiors in the homes, they had no say in front of men; they were not even given the proper respect. They have now improved because even the women are working so they are now the same [as men]. They share decision-making… Men did activities like digging wells, looking after animals and the whole family. After losing their property there is no proper job except charcoal burning, gathering firewood and water fetching, which women mostly do.”
Amina (female), 21 years old

See also

Panos Eastern Africa


Kenya: Displaced pastoralists is produced as part of the Displaced for development oral testimony project.


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Being helpless is something you cannot forget - English (630kb)