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“Banditry, robberies, infiltration of small arms, poaching in the region’s game reserves and national parks and frequent outbreak of livestock diseases are now being attributed to the uncontrolled movement of pastoralists and their animals.”
This sentence, from a 2006 article in Kenya’s The Nation newspaper, encapsulates the way the country’s nomadic herders have been — and continue to be — portrayed in the media there. It echoes the dominant policy narrative, which says pastoralism is a backward system that takes place a harsh, unproductive environment and that when herders move to seek water and pasture they create problems for other people.
But this, say researchers, is a dangerous narrative, one that is blind to the true nature of the lands the pastoralists move across and to the knowledge they draw upon to take advantage of resources that are distributed there in an unpredictable way.
Today, the meat and milk pastoralists provide help to feed a nation. As the climate grows more variable, these people could become even more important cornerstones of Kenya’s economy and food security.
But, in the pages of newspapers there, the herders are not heroes — they are harbingers of conflict and other problems. In short, Kenya’s pastoralists have an image problem. This much became clear when I analysed 100 stories about pastoralists that Kenyan newspapers published between 2000 and 2012.
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