Accepted paper:

Complex emergencies: the resilience challenge in Northern Kenya Drylands


Greta Semplici (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Turkana drylands disequilibria are considered an obstacle for pastoral production systems and planners’ proposals aim to stabilize its resource base. This paper instead shows pastoralism as an efficient production system which works with its capricious environment, and the associate risks of forced stability.

Paper long abstract:

Nowadays the desert lowlands dividing the Horn of Africa from the high potential areas of Central Kenya, one of the most arid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, represent a crucial node of development plans in the region. This paper looks at nomadic populations living in Turkana County, North Kenya, and at their everyday life with the aim to show their resilience despite the highly variable and uncertain context they live in. "Turkana is anything but an equilibrium ecosystem" (J. E. Ellis & Swift, 1988:454). The Turkana Socio Ecological System (SES) is characterised by a perennial state of disequilibria, symptom of un-equilibrium relations between humans, livestock, pasture, and water, which instead pastoralists are generally blamed for. Conversely, here entire populations live and survive in a way which appears to be valuing the socio-ecological variability against and endangered by notions of stability imposed by development programs. Complex emergencies, repeated or protracted over long periods of time, create un-equilibrium relationships among SES components. Moving beyond linear and equilibrium relations, implies abandoning the "jumping-back" analogy (stability > crisis > recovery > stability), where resilience is conventionally placed as the final turning-point to re-establish initial equilibrium conditions, to adopt a more interactive perspective of SES dynamics which values variability. The analysis of the desert I propose explores the challenges faced by pastoral production systems threatened by global warming impacts, by increased levels of competition over natural resources, and by development or humanitarian programs based on conventional notions of order and stability rather than embracing and exploiting opportunities derived from a complex eco-system.

panel LL-NAS07
< order OR stability > Working with pastoral systems in a 'messy' world [Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the IUAES]