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Youth and Agriculture: Pastoralist Youth as Agents of Peace

The watering hole: cattle drinking

Willis Okumu highlights how young educated pastoralists are bringing a new paradigm of governance and peace building  to Northern Kenya.

Several pastoralist groups inhabit the semiarid areas of Northern Kenya: the Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Borana and Rendille. Since its independence in 1963, this part of the country and its people have been marginalised and routinely denied access to public services. As a result, pastoralist territories have become highly insecure. For years now, inter-communal cattle raids have been taking place, terrorising the civilian population and killing hundreds of people. Not surprisingly, a common notion has emerged that pastoralists are inherently violent people. Youth have been key to violent relations among Kenyan pastoralists.

Traditionally, young men of warrior age are expected to raid neighbouring groups to obtain cattle to pay bridewealth or to replace decimated herds after periods of drought. Yet, the escalation of violence in Northern Kenya is, above all, a result of the increasing presence of arms and ammunition, which youth use to protect communal herds. With pastoralist landscapes becoming violent environments, the movement of cattle from one place to the other requires a ‘security’ plan between groups of youth to prevent cases of ambush and loss of animals.

But there is hope. The peacebuilding efforts of local, educated and young pastoralist men and women have become increasingly prominent since 2009. One of the most notable is the Laikipia Peace Caravan. This was a platform that involved young people from different ethnic groups travelling as a group to areas of high tension and working together towards peace. They arranged peace meetings in markets, churches and schools. The convergence of educated pastoralist youth speaking with a common voice has been critical in bringing previously warring communities together. They were able to obtain community and governmental support to implement several key projects at inter-communal boundaries, including schools, water pans, markets and a public library.

As a result of the efforts of pastoralist youth, incidences of cattle raiding have reduced significantly. Moreover, the role of educated youth as change agents to stem violence goes further. It shows that violent relations among pastoralists in Northern Kenya has more to do with the structural challenges resulting from more than half a century of state marginalisation. Education not only gives youth alternative livelihood options but enables them to seek a new paradigm in governance, development, and peacebuilding. This is paying dividends after decades of failed state ‘peacebuilding’ policies.

Willis Okumu ( is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne.

Photo credit: Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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