Pastoralists, Politics and Development Projects. Understanding the Layers of Armed Conflict in Isiolo County, Kenya

Pastoral counties of northern Kenya are expected to undergo massive change in the  coming years due to the government’s ambitious infrastructural development agenda.  However, the area frequently experiences violence as a result of conflict between pastoralist communities, and also due to ethno-political contestations. Isiolo County is one  such place where planned development projects and conflict risks coincide, making it  an important case study for understanding how the future may unfold.

This Working Paper is written in the framework of a larger project called “Future Rural  Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation” by the Universities of  Bonn and Cologne and BICC (Bonn International Center for Conversion). BICC is interested in the kinds of claims that are being made on land and its resources and how  these may change the existing dynamics of organised violence. The author, Kennedy Mkutu, United States International University, Nairobi, explores the  complexity of existing conflict in Isiolo and the emerging effects of new plans and land  claims. At its most basic level, conflict between pastoral groups, or between pastoralists  and farmers is motivated both by survival (pastoral mobility and access to water and  pasture in a climatically challenging area) and the accumulation of livestock wealth.  Politics, which is generally extended along ethnic lines, adds another layer to the inter-communal conflict through the need for political survival and the accumulation of  personal wealth.