Freedom of movement to help pastoralist lifestyles

NAIROBI, 30 June 2010 (IRIN) - Pastoralists across East Africa are set to benefit as the region’s national borders are relaxed amid joint efforts to mitigate the risks associated with their migration.

"With the coming into effect [on 1 July] of the common market protocol, pastoralists like the Maasai, the Pokot and the Somali who do not believe in borders as they have kin in more than one country will enjoy better freedom of movement across the borders," Augustine Lotodo, a member of parliament in the East African Legislative Assembly, told IRIN on 30 June.

The protocol allows free movement of people, goods, services and capital across the East African Community’s five members: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.

On 29 June, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA Kenya), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) launched Security in Mobility (SIM), a regional initiative aimed at reconciling pastoralist livelihoods and security needs with broader regional security priorities.

Lotodo, who attended the SIM launch, said: "This Security in Mobility initiative is one of the best things to happen to pastoralists in a long time. During colonial times, pastoralism was respected and they were allowed to move around freely but after independence, border restrictions hampered their way of life.

"Security in Mobility ensures that pastoralist communities can continue their traditions and culture while at the same time integrating modern aspects such as health and education."

Jeanine Cooper, head of OCHA Kenya, said pastoralists and their livelihoods were under threat due to a combination of factors, including environmental degradation, resource-based conflicts, changing land tenures, poor governance and restrictive cross-border policies.

Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said many pastoralists were no longer safe during their migration and stay in "foreign territory" and that there was no formal framework to guarantee their security.

Access to markets

Choice Okoro, OCHA Kenya's Advocacy and Outreach Officer, told IRIN: "Through the two years of the Security in Mobility consultations with pastoralists across Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia and Sudan border areas, access to markets was highlighted as one of the major challenges pastoralists face.

"Included in our SIM approach is the call for better support and facilitation of pastoralism across borders. This will require facilitation of pastoralists’ access to markets."

The protocol “covers three countries of interest to the SIM process: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We are looking at similar processes that will begin to facilitate the reconciliation of pastoralists’ markets and mobility to regional economic priorities in the other countries that border Kenya in the Horn of Africa - Somalia and Ethiopia and Sudan," Okoro said.

Climate change

SIM officials say that in 2009, almost 10 million people in the region, including three million pastoralists, were at risk of starvation due to drought.

According to SIM, the effects of climate change and its impact on pastoral communities are now more conspicuous than ever, with evidence pointing to increasing levels of migration and conflict over often scarce resources.

"Vulnerability, a lack of preparedness and appropriate, timely and relevant responses to natural disasters has left millions in need of humanitarian assistance," the agencies said.

The process calls for national and cross-border action to help pastoralists cope with the rising impacts of climate change and urges governments to facilitate safe passage across the borders in the Horn and East Africa regions.

"The Security in Mobility approach for intervention calls for response to pastoralist issues through a joined-up approach that captures provision of humanitarian assistance; provision of basic services such as water and sanitation; facilitated migration and comprehensive security initiatives," the agencies said.

"Mobility is usually associated with conflict and this risk needs to be recognized and managed down," the organizations recommended. "Pastoralists are frustrated with current humanitarian aid policies and want sustainable and transformational solutions."