Tag Archives: pastoralists

Sustainable but inconvenient – Two more folkways slide closer to the edge

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two feature stories in BBC World help to remind us how we are our own worst enemies. In two very different parts of the world, as we all go about our daily business of accumulating exotic and unsustainable consumer goods and producing carbon and toxic garbage, two traditional, sustainable and harmonious ways of life are quietly being snuffed out by the forces of globalization and politics.

First, BBC reports on the fate of the nomadic reindeer herders of the Yamal peninsula in Siberia. Sound like the kind of implausible lifestyle that sensible people would have thrown over long ago for office jobs? Turns out they have been more stubborn than you might think: Continue reading

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The Lisbon Treaty comes home to roost in Western Sahara

by Rhodri C. Williams

What with all the current speculation over the fate of the Euro, little attention has been given to other EU matters that might make headlines under ordinary circumstances. Last week, however, the European Parliament, long derided as an ineffectual talk-shop stuffed with protest vote populists, got its human rights groove on. By a vote of 326 to 296, the Parliament exercised its right under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty to reject the proposed one year extension of a 2006 EU fishing agreement with Morocco. In doing so, it fired off a belated but significant  shot for the Sahrawis, one of the last remaining colonized peoples that has been denied the right to self-determination.

As described in a rather useful backgrounder from BBC, the Sahrawis formed a resistance movement, the Polisario Front, that succeeded in destabilizing Spanish colonial rule by the early 1970s. However, in their rush for the door, the Spaniards allowed the Sahrawi territory of Western Sahara to be partitioned between neighboring Mauretania and Morocco in 1975. While the former withdrew in 1978, Morocco has pressed its claims, fighting the Polisario Front to a standstill in 1991 while allowing settlers to move to the territory from Morocco and exploiting Western Sahara’s large reserves of phosphates. All this makes Western Sahara a distant cognate to West Papua, which also shook off overseas colonial rule only to be invaded by a more populous (and better armed) neighbor. The parallels with the fate of other North African pastoral peoples slighted by the post-independence uti possedetis lottery, such as the Bedouins and Tuareg, is also striking.

In principle, the Sahrawis enjoy the distinct advantage of having been effectively recognized as a people entitled to self-determination by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled in 1975 that they should be allowed to shape their own political fate through a referendum. However, in practice, the Sahrawis have been marginalized over the course of years of fruitless negotiations over the process of holding a referendum, during which the bulk of their population has lived in wretched refugee camps in neighboring Algeria. All the while, the Moroccan de facto authorities in Western Sahara have consolidated their position and it is now thought that more than half of the population of the territory may consist of settlers from Morocco proper.

In this context, the 2006 fishing agreement has not been a striking economic success for either side but represented something of a political coup for Morocco in its quest for de jure recognition of its authority over Western Sahara. Continue reading

Forced resettlement of Bedouins

by Rhodri C. Williams

There has been a bit more in the press recently about the Israeli plan to forcibly remove the Bedouin population in the Negev desert and parts of the West Bank to planned ‘new towns’. I initially picked up this story when it was reported in the Guardian and have now seen it in the BBC as well. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Bedouins were given a sympathetic hearing in last week’s Economist. All three articles note the centrality of land issues to the Bedouin’s situation, but the Economist picks up on both the potential for regional mobilization and the fact that the Bedouin have already begun making political claims based on the explicit assertion that they are an indigenous people: Continue reading

Week in links – week 44/2011 – restitution in Libya, privatization in Cuba, assimilation in Israel

I’m a little behind this week having been in Cyprus, where I participated in the launch of the paper on property issues I co-wrote with Ayla Gürel for PRIO. The local feedback was very helpful as we are planning to expand the scope of inquiry a bit beyond the fallout of the Demopoulos case in the coming months.

Much of interest from the net this week, including one of the first really good reports on the transitional housing, land and property (HLP) issues in post-revolution Libya from the Guardian. This new article goes well beyond the expensive but relatively tractable reconstruction issues described by BBC last week and enters into the far more fraught territory of what to do about the great transfer of assets that resulted from the Ghaddafi regime’s selective nationalization of property.

Quite a few familiar dilemmas arise, including lurking historical claims (in this case, those of expelled Jews), multiple subsequent purchases by third parties, weak courts, unclear rules, the suspicious 1982 destruction of the land registry, and the fact that the expropriations had (in many cases) a genuinely distributive element, meaning that reversing them would disproportionately worsen the situation of marginalized groups.

In the area of belatedly getting with the times, the New York Times reports that Cuba has now formally adopted a new property law allowing far less restricted transactions in homes than was previously the case (see earlier observations on these developments here). After decades of state control, no one seems to be able to predict where this will go, although some positive economic affects and quick attempts to buy in to the property market by exile Cubans seem like safe bets.

In the area of never getting with the times, the Guardian reports that Israel has proposed a bill to allow the near wholesale resettlement of Bedouin nomads from (what remains of) their traditional territories in the Negev desert to planned new towns. All in the name of modernisation and progress, all undertaken without consulting those affected or paying any heed to the fact that previously forcibly urbanized Bedouins have hardly benefited. Very 1960s. A brief excerpt from the article reads like a compendium of discredited colonial and post-colonial assimilation policies:

Before 1948, the Bedouin tribes lived and grazed their animals on much of the Negev, claiming ancestral rights to the land. In the following decades, the state of Israel took over almost all of the land; the Bedouin lost more than 3,200 land ownership cases in the Israeli courts in the early 1970s, rejected mainly on the grounds there was no proper documentation. Now the Bedouin are claiming ownership of about 5% of the Negev as traditional tribal lands.

Three years ago, the government commissioned a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations for dealing with the Bedouin. He advised that many of their villages should be recognised, acknowledging their “general historic ties” to the land.

A committee chaired by the planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, was tasked with looking at how to implement Goldberg’s recommendations, and proposed the immediate transfer to the state of 50% of the land claimed by the Bedouin, minimal compensation for the remaining land with severe exclusions and the demolition of 35 unrecognised villages. The Bedouin were neither represented on nor consulted by the committee.

As my soapbox is only so big, I’ll leave aside the issue of Israel’s apparently retaliatory expansion of its West Bank settlements this week.

And a last note, the Guardian also reports on the aftermath of the Dale Farm evictions in the UK (see previous WiL)

Web-based education tool aims to mainstream land rights into international development thinking

by Anna Knox and Peter Veit

NB: This guest post was originally posted on Landesa’s Field Focus blog, and is cross-posted on TN with the kind permission of Landesa and the World Resources Institute. TN readers are advised of a number of other interesting recent postings on the Landesa blog, including a critique of the short-term thinking behind large-scale land acquisition in Africa, an analysis of the negative correlation between women’s land rights and domestic violence, and defenses of the virtues of small firms by Robert Mitchell and Bill Gates.

Regardless of what matters to you – access to education, universal food security, strengthening women’s rights, or a healthier environment – land rights plays a key role in achieving these goals.

When people have secure access to land, it can lead to:

  • Economic development through increased agricultural productivity,
  • Improved childhood nutrition,
  • Increased school attendance and investments in basic education,
  • Increased environmental stewardship,
  • Reduced potential for social instability and conflict,
  • Reduce vulnerability to domestic violence.

Focus on Land in Africa, a recently launched web-based tool focused on sub-Saharan Africa, aims to help policymakers and practitioners understand the links between land rights and critical development outcomes. Designed by World Resources Institute and Landesa as an online education tool, the site is interactive and uses slideshows, timelines, maps, videos and more in order to appeal to and engage users. Currently, the tool features lessons drawn from six sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. These lessons were developed with funding support provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More countries will be featured as the tool grows.

Continue reading

Managing pastureland in Central Asia: the importance of locally legitimate law reform

by Elisa Scalise
This guest post was originally posted on Landesa’s Field Focus blog, which provides expert insight on the issues surrounding land rights and international development. Elisa Scalise is a Landesa attorney & land tenure specialist.

I was recently reminded of the importance, and the potency, of locally legitimate law reform (law reform which is based on what is feasible in practice and which can serve the dual purpose of satisfying a national agenda and reflect local needs).

Landesa recently concluded a project in Kyrgyzstan, which sought to develop and then test a community-driven model for managing conflict over pastureland resources. The pilot ayil okmotus, or municipalities, are located along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border of southern Kyrgyzstan, and contain two Tajik enclaves of Chorkhu and Vorukh.

A bit of background: Relations between ethnic groups in the Kyrgyzstan (and Central Asia) area can be tense, and have erupted into violence on more than one occasion (you might recall the events of June, 2010, in the nearby Jalalabad oblast).

Pastureland is the nexus of interdependence and (sometimes violent) tension between Tajiks and Kyrgyz.  Every Kyrgyz and Tajik household owns livestock, yet there are no pastures in the Tajik enclaves of Vorukh and Chorkhu.  Tajiks rely on Kyrgyz pastures to feed their livestock during the grazing season, and Kyrgyz must cross the Tajik enclaves to access their pastureland.

To address pasture use needs, the Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the pilot area make arrangements for Tajik animals to be grazed on Kyrgyz land.  Yet those arrangements are informal, lack transparency, are not enforceable when breached, and are conducted without the knowledge of national policy-makers and without support of a legal framework at the national level.

Continue reading

Overlapping land uses and indigenous groups – two’s a crowd?

by Rhodri C. Williams

A bit more evidence came this week that even as regional human rights bodies build up indigenous land rights in theory, global warming, population pressure and competing land uses are breaking them down in practice. In a law and society vein, the current situation raises the concern that decisions like that in the recent Endorois case (by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights) risk serving only to raise expectations on the part of threatened indigenous groups in all corners of the world that cannot possibly be met given the resources, attitudes and capacity in many of the states involved.

The most alarming reports are currently coming out of a cluster of Sahel states in Africa where indigenous pastoralist groups are facing severe recurring drought conditions. The FAO reported recently that 9.8 million people are  vulnerable to severe hunger in Niger and Chad, with “thousands more under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and northeast Mali.” Further east, WFP notes that 23 million people remain subject to food insecurity in Ethiopia, and the Famine Early Warning System Network has warned that half the rural population of Djibouti will require humanitarian aid through the remainder of this year.

The news for pastoralists in Africa is not entirely bleak, however. Most of the above reports highlight new or existing aid programs meant to provide for both short-term food distribution and longer-term resumption of food security through measures such as seed improvement for animal feed, cash for work programs to improve pastureland, and stocking or de-stocking, as need be. In some countries, such as Mali, there is evidence of both improved government response and local resilience. Other hopeful signs come in the way of innovations such as the development of rain calendars meant to both serve the narrow purpose of helping communities understand changing precipitation patterns and the broader purpose of supporting more informed local risk management strategies.

However, as if it was not enough that Sahel pastoralists must contend with recurrent drought and food insecurity, other factors such as population pressure and competing land uses appear to compound these threats in many regions. In its above-cited press release, the FAO notes that food security for both farmers and herders in Chad is impacted by the “influx of refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic, estimated at over 300 000 people”.

At least in the case of Darfur, it is already well known that displacement, both internal and across the border to Chad, has been fueled by competition between agricultural villagers and pastoral nomads for land. In light of the fraught conditions for agrarian livelihoods throughout the Sahel, displacement from open land conflict in any one part of the region risks intensifying land competition elsewhere and creating a cascade effect. Well away from all the publicity around Darfur, for instance, IRIN reports that land disputes in Burkina Faso between pastoralists and farmers have been aggravated by development projects and “threaten to spill into neighbouring countries as herders seek grazing pastures”:

Communities – mostly in the south – with no formal land rights have been pushed out by hydro-agricultural irrigation projects and migrants from other parts of the country that have formed sedentary farming communities, [Livestock Ministry director] Guissou told IRIN. “Indigenous groups are often left to their own resources in this [development] process and there has been no systematic effort to involve them, which frustrates them and leads to conflicts.”

Pastoralists pushed off the land are forced to travel farther across borders to find suitable pastures, Guissou added. “What were yesterday’s pastures have become hydro-agriculture projects in the south, which are not taking into consideration pastoralists,” the Ministry of Livestock director told IRIN.

There are eight million cows and 19 million other smaller cattle nationwide. Following the droughts of the 1970s, the government designated 185 pastoral zones covering two million hectares – which is more than one million hectares short of what is needed now, Guissou told IRIN.

He added: “Our herding and farming methods are still traditional and take up a lot of land. Since the 1970s drought, and [ongoing] climate change, there has been an increase of humans and animals on limited space with limited resources.”

To minimize the risk of conflicts between farmers and herders, the Ministry of Livestock has outlined a land clearing plan that takes into account herders’ migration patterns and animals’ water needs, but only a fraction of the millions of dollars needed to finance the plan has been raised by the government, said Guissou.

Meanwhile, in the other hemisphere, the New York Times reports on a brewing conflict between the Pemón indigenous group in Venezuela, which practices a form of ‘prairie swidden’, periodically burning patches of savanna for hunting and agricultural purposes, and an increasingly assertive non-indigenous population that has followed roads and economic opportunities into their territory. The article describes a scientific debate over whether traditional burning practices reduce or increase the risk of larger fires spreading to nearby cloud forests crucial to Venezuela’s important hydro-electric energy sector. While arguments against burning raise shades of similar assertions that have severely impacted on indigenous groups in Southeast Asia (see the final section of a report on Cambodia I wrote for COHRE a few years back, for instance), the scientific debate appears at risk of being overtaken by facts on the ground:

The Pemón face a backlash over the fires beyond the realm of scientific debate. Nonindigenous Venezuelans here often call them “quemones,” a play on the Spanish word for someone who burns a lot. “The Pemón are pyromaniacs by nature, and this year we’ve seen some of the worst fires in memory,” said Raúl Arias, 54, who operates a helicopter service in the area.

Some Pemón chafe at such statements. “Outsiders come here and leave their excrement and trash on the tepuis [local rock formations], then complain to us about fires that spoil their view,” said Miguel Lezama, 46, a leader near Mount Roraima.

New motivations for some Pemón to light fires complicate matters further. Scholars have seen an increase in fires to protest the installation of electrical towers and the opening of the satellite-monitoring base. Other Pemón sometimes start fires to harass the government into meeting demands for services.

Few experts know how these fires will affect the Gran Sabana, aside from sowing dissent.

“The government is wrong if it thinks the Pemón are its docile sheep in the savannas,” said Demetrio Gómez, 36, a Pemón leader who took part in a violent protest near Santa Elena de Uairén this year to dislodge squatters from Pemón land. “We burned these lands long before anyone else arrived,” he said, “and we’ll keep burning them into eternity.”

The article notes that the increasingly violent confrontation over traditional savanna burning in Venezuela “is part of a broader debate over the sovereignty and proper management of indigenous lands” and that much of the area in question has not been recognized as belonging to the Pemón but is rather “cordoned off as either national park or military territory”.

In fact, the failure of the Venezuelan authorities to recognize the land rights of the Pemón flies directly in the face of rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that were, in turn, heavily relied upon by the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights in their recent ruling in favor of the Endorois pastoralists in Kenya. However, the truly disconcerting question human and indigenous rights advocates must ask themselves is whether these hopeful but infrequent episodes of jurisprudential progress fly in the face of current reality – and if so, what can be done.