SIMPLY... Perils of privatization
1. ‘Them’ and ‘us’
All through history nomads have been looked down on by both farmers and city dwellers. They have little respect for national borders and they’re hard to tax because they keep moving around. There has always been pressure to make them like us, to force them to settle down, put up fences and raise their cattle on ranches. Otherwise, the theory goes, their mania for large herds would lead to overgrazing and then famine.
2. Development Dogma
This prejudice was given theoretical form in the late 1960s by US ecologist Garrett Hardin. The focus was Africa, and Hardin called it the ‘tragedy of the commons’.
The real problem with nomadic pastoralists, Hardin argued, was a lack of private ownership of grazing land: since the land was owned by everyone, it was in reality owned by no-one. As a result, herders would follow their own self-interest by adding as many animals as possible to their herds. Individuals would benefit while the cost to the depleted resource base would be borne by everyone. The inevitable result? A ‘tragic’ movement towards overgrazing and desertification.
3. Private Property
The direct result of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ theory was that governments attempted to settle nomads ‘for their own good’. One way was to sell off communal lands to private owners through enforced land registration and titling programmes. Seeing private property as the ‘solution’ to the nomad problem conveniently fitted the free-market ideology of big aid agencies like USAID, the FAO and the World Bank. Millions of dollars were poured into these schemes – with dire results. In Botswana privatization has led to a new wealthy élite monopolizing water sources, increasing their share of the national herd and controlling the best grazing areas.
Most African governments nationalized land during colonial times to make parcels available to white settlers. After independence (with encouragement from foreign funders and their own Western-trained bureaucrats) governments initiated grandiose schemes to bring large chunks of grazing land under direct state control.
These efforts have proved disastrous. In Mali the Government nationalized the inland delta of the Niger River in the early 1960s – ignoring the sophisticated pastoral tenure system which already existed. Before nationalization some 30 areas were managed by various sub-clans of the Fulani people. There were reciprocal grazing rights allowing each group access to pastures as yearly floodwaters fell. And there were clear rules for strangers wanting to use the area. After nationalization the traditional system collapsed into a kind of free-for-all. Now, any citizen can graze cattle on the delta and government managers are easily bribed. As a result pastures are constantly over-grazed. Having lost control of lands which they traditionally managed the nomads have no choice but to increase their herds and graze them whenever and wherever they can.
5. Parks versus People
Nomads also lose grazing lands when governments carve out national parks and game reserves. Local people are kept out on the grounds that they will destroy the wildlife and annoy the tourists.
Creating protected islands for wildlife has meant wholesale relocation of some communities. When the Ik, nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Kidepo Valley in Uganda, were evicted to make Queen Elizabeth National Park they were forced to become farmers in a region where both the land and the climate were completely unfamiliar.
The result? The community is now in tatters and disease and starvation are widespread. When Zakouma National Park was created in Chad in the early 1960s, thousands of Sahelian nomads were prevented from using key dry season pastures, thus putting more pressure on delicate grazing lands to the north.
6. Settling Down
Most governments around the world are still trying to turn nomads into farmers – with dismal results. Part of Tanzania’s infamous ujamaa experiment was the attempt to force nomads into villages attached to particular communal grazing areas. By creating rigid boundaries and ignoring customary arrangements herders are cut off from distant pastures and waterholes they might need to use during times of drought.
New land tenure arrangements have also resulted in nomads losing traditional lands to powerful outsiders: wealthy élites, officials and government agencies.
7. Learn from the Locals
We know today that Hardin was wrong. Far from destroying the land, nomads had worked out an ideal way of maximizing yields from scarce resources in an environmentally-sustainable manner.
The traditional approach to land ownership of most nomadic pastoralists in Africa was both complex and creative, a direct result of the unpredictability of rainfall.
In general nomadic peoples did not own the land as individuals. Instead pastureland was a community-controlled resource where individuals were entitled to use common land for their own benefit as long as the overall interests and survival of the community were not endangered.
This was a tremendously flexible system that allowed maximum use of the land at the same time as protecting the environment. Animal numbers were closely matched to available forage and water.
Mobility is critical to the nomads’ productive and non-destructive use of the land. It is when this is impeded that the real problems start.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995