1 November 2006

Kenya: Severe Competition for Natural Resources the Cause of Conflicts


Bomet — The recent so-called tribal clashes in Laikipia District and other areas in the Rift Valley are, in fact, a vicious struggle over the dwindling natural resources - land, pastures or water. That these conflicts have pitted different communities against one another is just a coincidence.

What we have been witnessing is only the latent phase of a major conflict. All the clashes so far have been over one natural resource or the other. Politicians have only been the match that ignites the fire. And to start a fire, surely you need more than a match.

The potential of more than 85 per cent of our country - that is largely fragile arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) - remains largely untapped. Consequently, the pressure on the remaining 15 per cent that supports 80 per cent of the population has been steadily rising with the national population rising from 5 million at Independence in 1963 to more than 30 million today. As more productive land is taken up by settlements, food production has been declining.

With regard to Asals, it is a well-documented fact that both water and grazing land have been declining steady decline due to rapid human and animal population increase. In Laikipia alone, the human population is estimated to have grown tenfold in the last four decades.

Reduced productivity of lands has caused serious encroachment on fragile ecosystems like the arid and semi-arid lands, wetlands, and hilltops. This has been a major contributing factor to the clashes when previously uncultivated lands used for grazing are suddenly turned into farms.

Pastoral communities are increasingly being forced to abandon their way of life to venture into farming, often with serious consequences such as exposing them to abject poverty.

Poverty is already a serious threat to the livelihoods of more than half of our population. This has been largely caused by the failure of previous development initiatives to promote sustainable production and consumption practices. As a result, the productive capacity of our economy has been severely compromised.

As poverty increases, direct dependence on natural resources also increases. This explains why most of the charcoal produced today comes from the marginal areas, as communities seek alternative survival options.

Kenya is already classified as a water deficit country. It is further projected that by 2025, the population will have risen to 60 million. The present water ratio of 650M3 per capita/year will have dropped to 250M3; far below the globally recommended 1000M3. This is clearly evident from the number of water sources that have either dried up.

Our national forest cover stands at about 1.7 per cent against the globally recommended 10 per cent. Our rivers and lakes are slowly drying up and the remaining waters are heavily polluted. To be able to realise our vision 2030, we must urgently reverse this trend.

We need to pursue the conservation of our natural resources if we are to avoid an escalation of the conflicts. We, therefore, need to boost food security. We need to curb the pollution of our waters, protect water catchments and encourage use of alternative sources of water - like roof catchment - to reassure communities on continued availability of safe water.

We must seek environmentally sustainable options to prevent ethnic clashes.

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