Governance & Rule of Law
Far from urban centers of decision-making, pastoralists and the rural populations with whom they share the landscape often have little voice in State government. These populations face barriers to participation in public institutions, formulating their concerns... Read More
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Far from urban centers of decision-making, pastoralists and the rural populations with whom they share the landscape often have little voice in State government. These populations face barriers to participation in public institutions, formulating their concerns in policy-ready language, and ensuring these interests are represented. However, pastoralists seeking to protect their freedoms from central authorities may not see policy measures as a solution, see the government as their ally, or see a lack of civic participation as a problem. Most pastoralists find their interests better served through long-standing peer networks or customary institutions, rather than the centralized governments found in many states of the Sudano-Sahel. Interventions that strengthen state institutions at the local or national level that are known to neglect pastoralist concerns risk inciting further polarization.

The tensions between pastoral communities and central authorities have a long historical legacy, beginning in colonial land management and continuing through post-independence. While land tenure policies and border controls in some states have been revised or superseded by legislation that protects pastoral livelihoods, this legacy of state hostility is not quickly forgotten. These suspicions are confirmed when states impose fees on border crossings, restrict pastoral movements, or privatize public lands. Circumventing state control by avoiding border checkpoints or rejecting cattle licensing systems are common practices. This non-compliance, in turn, feeds stereotypes of pastoralists as criminals.

Increasing the representation of pastoralist communities in state institutions can help assuage these tensions but is not always feasible. Malian pastoralists who migrate into Nigeria are directly affected by Nigerian policies but will not have the same opportunities to affect political decision-making as Nigerian citizens. In many regions, pastoral groups are an extreme demographic minority who face the same obstacles to inclusion as any minority group but compounded by their lifestyle that keeps them distant from political centers.

Yet the problem of exclusion varies between contexts. In some sub-regions, pastoralist ethnic groups comprise large and influential political constituencies that dominate local politics, even if they are a minority at the national level. This is a concern of farming communities in central Mali, for example, who decry that they have been marginalized by pastoralist influence in policy circles. This favoritism is reportedly due to the political elites who own large herds that are serviced by paid pastoralists, a common phenomenon across the Sudano-Sahel.

Questions to Consider
Intervention Strategies
Collective Advocacy

Operating in remote areas and at the margins of state authority, pastoralists are rarely in a position to advocate effectively or to challenge state policy through official channels. They often lack direct experience with legislative process and familiarity with participatory governance. Supporting the formation of representative bodies to help pastoralists defend their interests is a starting point. Trade associations for pastoralists are present already in most Sudano-Sahelian countries. However, they, and other civil society networks, may lack the technical knowledge to pursue legislative reforms on complex issues such as land tenure or may serve primarily as a platform for traditional leaders rather than representing the diverse voices of all pastoralists in their network.

What Makes Programs to Strengthen Collective Advocacy Succeed?
What Makes Programs to Strengthen Collective Representation Fail?
Case Study
Civil Society Networks Engage in Joint Advocacy
Raising Awareness of Rights and Policies

Pastoralists, who have limited access to information and low levels of trust in central authorities, are often unfamiliar with the policies that govern their livelihoods. Local customs are generally far more important, as the State has limited capacity to enforce official policies in peripheral territory. However, low levels of familiarity with state policy can leave pastoralists vulnerable to being penalized for violations that they are unaware of, further exacerbating tensions. It also limits pastoralists’ ability to hold duty-bearers accountable for upholding their established rights, such as the right to move livestock freely across borders, which is enshrined in regional agreements like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Transhumance Protocol. Awareness-raising initiatives tailored to pastoralist populations can help prevent real or perceived abuses by government authorities. Connecting pastoralist communities with mobile paralegal services is one way to bridge this gap.

What Makes Raising Awareness of Pastoralist Rights Succeed?
What Makes Raising Awareness of Pastoralist Rights Fail?
Case Study
Pastoralist Paralegals in Kenya Resist Privatization
Case Study
Pastoralists and Officials along the Chad-CAR Border Build a Shared Understanding of Regulations
Access to Justice

While pastoralists and farmers have long maintained customary or informal practices for mediating disputes, these practices are not always appropriate or adequate for providing justice in pastoralism-related conflicts.  In South Sudan, for example, some have argued that traditional compensation mechanisms for acts of theft or homicide have broken down as elites have accumulated such large herds that the usual cattle payments no longer have the same impact. Customary justice systems may also be ill-suited to assist traditionally marginalized populations, as is the case for victims of sexual and gender-based violence (see Module 5 – Gender and Women’s Empowerment ). Yet without trusted third parties to address complaints over crop damage, livestock theft, or assault, pastoralists and farmers increasingly seek restitution through violence.

Access to formal justice mechanisms is often limited in the rural and remote areas where pastoralists live and operate. State justice institutions may not be present, their procedures may be unfamiliar, and they may have limited capacity to enforce their decisions. Where the State does exercise control, pastoralism-related crimes may be referred to a wide range of authorities (security forces, municipal government, customary courts) that don’t work in concert and don’t follow the same procedures. In the short term, external interventions can help address these gaps through mobile courts or programs to build consensus among the various local authorities.

What Makes Access to Justice Initiatives Succeed?
What Makes Access to Justice Initiatives Fail?

Decentralization has been a public sector reform strategy employed by some Sudano-Sahelian states to increase autonomy for local communities who have been frustrated by years of systematic exclusion from political authority. Devolving administrative authority over natural resources from federal to local government ideally creates more accountability to local interests. Vesting control over migration corridors or grazing reserves to local village councils, though, does not automatically result in more inclusive governance of these resources. Interventions that support decentralization should be designed to help reconcile competing rules and customs in resource governance and set into motion participatory governance practices that are accessible to mobile populations.

What Makes Decentralization of Resource Governance Succeed?
What Makes Decentralization of Resource Governance Fail?
Case Study
Mali Devolves Control Over Land to Local Institutions