The paper is based largely on a desk review of existing policy documents and targeted interviews of key individuals within the MNKOAL as well as other actors perceived to be critical in determining the content and direction of national development and climate change policy. These include the Ministry of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Livestock Development, Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, Agricultural Sector Coordination Unity (ASCU), the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council (KLMC) and Pastoralists Parliamentary Group (PPG). Also included in the interviews were development partners and civil society organizations engaged in ASALs-related policy work.
The place and role of the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya in national development, and lately, climate change adaptation, has been a matter of significant debate. The debate has revolved around the contribution of these lands to the national economy and development on the one hand, and the extent to which the populations living in these lands have benefitted from processes of national development to-date on the other hand. With the emergence of climate change as a major development concern, the ASALs have come to the centre of discussions about climate change adaptation. For one, they are seen on the one hand as the epicenter of climate change in the country. For another, since the populations in the ASALs have always lived with climate variability and adapted to extremes of weather patterns, their practices are seen as providing a basis for the design of climate adaptation initiatives.
It is generally acknowledged that the ASALs have not been properly integrated into national development planning and action, that the full potential of these lands have not been exploited for the benefit of the development of the populations resident therein or of the national economy, and that the ASAL populations have not enjoyed the benefits of national development. In recent years, this acknowledgement has underpinned the design of policy and institutional interventions aimed at remedying the situation. The climax of those interventions was the establishment in 2008 of the Ministry of State for Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands (MNKOAL). Over the past four years, the Ministry has spearheaded significant policy and institutional reforms to address the development challenges facing the ASALs. It has also in partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and local communities initiated a process aimed at integrating local knowledge and institutions of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities into planning for climate adaptation.
In Conclusion: challenges of the persistence of the dominant narrative
This paper has reviewed the evolution and content of policy narratives about the ASALs and pastoralists in Kenya. It has shown how the situation has changed, especially since 2003 when the long ruling KANU lost the general elections, NARC came into power, and promptly published the ERS as its blueprint for economic transformation of the country. The policy changes introduced by the ERS were consolidated by the creation 2008 of MNKOAL, which has spearheaded a shift in policy narratives about the ASALs and raised the profile of the ASALs in national policy discourse. The shift has now been entrenched in the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
The paper shows that there is no single policy narrative about the ASALs. Different, even conflicting narratives subsist at any given time. The following major narratives have been identified as informing policy actions and priorities in the ASALs since independence:
security/insecurity and conflict narrative: by virtue of which government resources into the ASALs are focused on dealing with security, and which depicts local people as conflict prone and these areas as embroiled in pervasive conflict that leaves little opportunity for development;
crop agriculture is the foundation of the national economy: which justified government focusing investments in crop producing areas, characterized as high potential, and paying little or no attention to livestock production;
narrative of trickle-down economics; by which government justified investing in the so-called high potential areas, arguing that the high returns on such investments would be used to subsidize ASALs which were deemed to be non-productive and thus not a worthy investment;
mobile pastoralism is irrational, unproductive and environmentally destructive (or ASALs are degraded and pastoralism is the cause of it all): which justified the drive to transform pastoralists into crop producers and convert rangelands into crop farms through irrigation;
ASALs, pastoralism and pastoralists contribute little to the national economy: which justified the failure to invest in promoting the economies of the ASALs in the same manner as was done with crop production;
narrative of ASALs as areas characterized by disasters and always in need of food aid: which justified a project and emergency approach to government interactions with the ASALs;
narrative of mainstreaming the ASALs into the national economy as a means of promoting national integration, which also posited that the failure to do so amounted to a lost opportunity for the entire national economy;
ASALs are an integral part of the national economy, but require special treatment in order to play their rightful role in national development: which acknowledges and pushes for affirmative action to reduce the developmental gap between the ASALs and the rest of the country arising from historical marginalization;
ASALs are part and parcel of Kenya, but they have unique constraints and attributes by reason of history and ecology that must be taken into account in designing strategies and interventions for their development. This is the narrative fronted by MNKOAL and which has now been entrenched in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
the ASALs are resilient and mobile pastoralism the most appropriate livelihood and land use system there: which is the narrative being used to push for appropriate climate change adaptation strategies for the ASALs