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Has a 'policy space' for pastoralism been opened up in Kenya?

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ASAL-sKenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (known as ‘ASALs’, highlighted on the map - click for large version) have never enjoyed the kind of policy attention that takes account of their unique capacities and challenges. Pastoralism, the dominant production system in much of the region, has been especially misunderstood.  Pastoralists and livestock move around; there is low population density but high population growth. Customary practices and indigenous knowledge play a strong role. National policy and practice has rarely taken account of these factors. The area is chronically marginalised and isolated, and literacy and vaccination rates are low.

The Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands was set up to address these challenges. A new working paper by Izzy Birch and Mohamed Elmi, Creating Policy Space for Pastoralism in Kenya (pdf), tells the story of how and why the Ministry was created, and some of the lessons learned.

You can watch the authors explaining the story in this seminar at the Institute of Development Studies in May 2013:

Formed in April 2008, the Ministry picked up on a growing recognition that the region’s economic potential had been overlooked. Its creation could be seen as opening a ‘policy space’, where new opportunities, relationships and directions are possible.

Pastoralism in Kenya has long faced policy and institutional challenges. A historical neglect of development in the ASALs, and repeated cycles of drought and conflict, reinforced the idea that pastoralism was unviable. But the region’s problems were as much a product, if not more, of political choices than of ecology. This framing began to be challenged by emerging narratives during the 2000s, including economic potential, diversity and equality, and resilience.

Priorities

In this context, the Ministry had to choose its priorities carefully. From the early days the Ministry saw itself as time-bound, with a long list of expectations and demands. It concentrating its efforts on measures to re-balance policy and institutional priorities in the long-term interests of the region. In part because of a limited budget and timeframe, the Ministry decided to focus on strategic and systemic change: co-ordination, implementing selected programmes, looking to reform policy and institutions, and regional interaction across national borders.

The working paper also discusses the Ministry’s relationships with NGOs, development partners, parliament, the research community, the private sector and individuals. In the area of policy reform, the Ministry looked for strong evidence to back up its claims, and offered an alternative storyline – of opportunity and potential – to counter the dominant negative view of the region.

Progress

Progress in co-ordination efforts was variable. Some strides forward were made in the energy, education and health sectors, but road provision and security were less successful. In terms of the policy process, the Ministry broadened the focus of ASAL policy from food security to take in a wider range of sectors, putting the social, cultural, legal and institutional impediments to development on the table.

The ASAL Policy, approved by Parliament in December 2012, represented the end of a decade-long struggle. It was important for its symbolism as well as its content. Among other things, the policy established an institutional framework to oversee its interpretation and implementation, which provided dedicated and specialist attention to ASAL issues within government.

What next?

What future for pastoral development in Kenya? It is still early days, and the progress made so far needs follow up and support. Policy spaces close as well as open. Ahead lies a period of institutional change and uncertainty. As the ASALs are brought further into the heart of government they will become implicated in different power struggles.  But some shifts have taken place. The challenge now will be to sustain the process of policy reform and continue to learn from this experience.

Download the paper

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