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Redeeming Community Leadership for Inclusive Development in fragile regions

Traditional leadership to overcome violent conflict arising from environmental degradation, adverse climate and land grabs in Horn of Africa

Photo of Simon Thuo
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The devastating violent conflict started in Darfur when adverse climate climate forced pastoralists to save their livestock through the invasion of farmers land. As the military government had continuously  suppressed traditional leadership, issues that could have been negotiated and resolved from the grassroots escalated to the international conflict that sucked in neighbouring countries and tribes. The situation is replaying itself in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda  and other countries in Africa, as government efforts to modernise agriculture through irrigation and inviting foreign investors to take up community land. In all these countries, the governments have called in their military as police and other security organs failed to contain the violence. Traditional leadership if restored and nurtured offers a long term solution to resolving conflicts between pastoralists, farmers and government, and can be harnessed to improve land stewardship to restore watersheds and reforest degraded lands 

Explain your idea

Accelerated by the ongoing devastating drought that has resulted in famine affecting over 3 million people and killed millions of livestock in 23 counties of Kenya, the latest land invasions by pastoralists from semi-arid counties in search of pasture and water into Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia counties have taken a deadly turn with the government sending in Kenya’s army as the regular police and paramilitary forces failed to dislodge the invadors. But the root causes of the conflict and invasion are much deeper and more complex than response to adverse climate impacts. At the core lies festering grievances from communities forcibly displaced from their grazing and agricultural lands by the colonial authorities, the “historic injustice” aggravated by the expropriation of these lands by powerful individuals abetted by internal settlement of non-indigenous tribes, and failure by successive governments to redress the injustice meted particularly to pastoralists. The issues have been exacerbated by rapid growth of human population and livestock in confined pockets of land, rapid land degradation from overgrazing, poor agricultural practices and deforestation, which have further depleted water and pasture for the rising human and livestock populations. Traditional leaders from the different tribes have been identified as the key social force that can not only negotiate on behalf of their communities but have respected soft power to declare taboo certain practices and hold members of their communities to implement agreed measures. Working with government, Faith Based and NGOs that have technical knowledge these traditional leaders can give moral and practical effect to resolve peacefully the violent conflitcs while enhancing land and water management through different seasons, and ensuring equitable use of water, pasture and forest resources for the benefit of all

Who Benefits?

1. climate stressed communities. By conserving certain lands for water, pasture and forest regeneration, they avoid destroying the source of their livelihoods that arises when common pool resources are ravaged through a "tragedy of the commons" 2. Women and children who are most affected by violent conflict, subjected to insecurity, rape and cannot go to school or undertake normal family activities. 3. Government authorities that no longer have to deploy at great expense military forces to occupy contested lands. 4. Technical officers from government and non-state actors who can undertake their development activities 5. Traders and farmers who can now undertake their work safely, boosting commerce and food security

How is your idea unique?

There are many organisations undertaking conflict management projects in Africa, mainly working with government authorities or communities but hardly any that has thought of promoting traditional leaders or community elders as the key negotiators and custodians of intertribal agreements. This project will first address the social dimensions that underlie restoration of peaceful communities and environmental restoration. It will involve parallel initiatives on peacebuilding, disaster reduction and agricultural transformation to ensure a network of expert agencies is engaged at different levels of sustainable activities that communities need for theiir daily lives and livelihoods even as the search for peace continue.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about you

Simon Thuo has been a member of the Reference Group that advised Global Water Partnership on climate change issues; a Director: Water, Nature & Livelihoods at The Resilience Centre, Nairobi; a member of African Union’s Technical Committee on Climate Change. He has most recently been reviewing Water Security and regional cooperation on shared waters in the IGAD (Greater Horn of Africa) region; Country Team Leader on identifying opportunities and constraints of institutional and social systems on climate resilience in Tana and Ewaso Ngiro Basins of Kenya; preparing options for impact investment (including revolving funds) to enhance access to WASH, and identifying PPP opportunities for sewerage infrastructure and management for Nairobi City. With a background in civil engineering and water resources management, he has been consultant and lead facilitator to government, regional agencies, donor and non-state actors on water resources development, institutional reforms as well as intersectoral coordination across different ministries that have major impacts on water and food. Based on his knowledge of Africa’s water, climate and demographic challenges he was invited to represent WRM issues by the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), culminating in an MoU between AMCOW and GWPO that saw a significant increase in work programs on water resources development and management issues as opposed to a previous agenda dominated by WASH. In turn, this triggered the Heads of State Summit at Sharm el Sheikh that was dedicated to water, including climate challenges, DRR and the contentious transboundary water issues. Simon was part of the team that assessed knowledge management in the GWP system under PEM that resultd in the “Final Report KM and Organisational Review of GWP” of September 2015 that has informthe recent GWP’s Knowledge Management Approach. Between 2003 and 2012, Simon was the Regional Coordinator for GWP Eastern Africa, supporting countries in the Nile Basin/ Greater Horn of Africa prepare and implement sustainable water resource development programs to meet social and economic needs while reducing vulnerability to climate related disasters. Through the Rwanda Integrated Water Security Program (RIWSP) a development cooperation program between Governments of Rwanda and United States, he was Advisor attached to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MINIRENA) and especially the Water Resources Management Department of the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority. During this period he prepared the water related components of the 5–year Rwanda National Development Plan in 2002, focusing on disaster risk reduction, and coordinated infrastructure development for water, agriculture and hydropower through multi-purpose infrastructure. He was also on the Technical Committee supervising the Rwanda Water Masterplan. In 2013-2014, as part of the multi-disciplinary team formulating a program for climate Resilience program for Mt Elgon

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.


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Traditional leadership if reestablished and supported propositions an extensive haul answer for settling clashes among pastoralists, ranchers and management, and know how to tackled to enhance arrive stewardship to reestablish divisions and afforest debased grounds

Photo of Tom Kruer

Nice work, Simon! I would like to talk sometime about a water conservation device that may be of interest. (it is in the public domain and could be made there).
Tom Kruer

Photo of Simon Thuo

Hi Tom.
We are talking about vast landscapes here, like the 2 million square miles in the Horn of Africa where livestock herders subsist by following seasonal rains across regional borders. However, we still have many more people living without adequate water for household and to grow their food, so a scalable cheap device that secures water (even dirty water) is highly welcome

Photo of Carolina

I believe it is very important to look at the root of a problem and come up with solutions that make sense for the people in conflict. I love your idea and believe that you have found the political power within this issue, as well as cultural issues that many have missed.

Photo of Simon Thuo

Dear Carolina
You may be familiar with the "perfect storm" concept,where a combination of unrelated factors aggregate to produce extraordinary effects. Take the Sub-Saharan Africa´s drylands for instance.
In the bio-physical sphere: Population growth, environmental degradation and droughts induced by climate change.
In the social dimension: bad laws, corrupt politics and ineffective institutions undermine traditional leadership and social order that determined negotiated settlements within and between different communities
In the economic arena: demographic change shifted consumption towards water-intensive foods such as meat and cereals that demand more blue water and thus take up more land for irrigation. This demand for meat drives the cattle rustling exacerbated by proliferation of guns across porous borders, while demand for cereals privatises large tracts of common land.
The confluence of adverse factors from these three spheres has made it impossible for governments in the regional to find simple solutions especially through legislation, security measures or even through normal development projects.
Thus, observing that even in regions (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen...Chad, Nigeria..Mali...the immense firepower, political process and development assistance offered has failed to work, is it not intuitive that the process should start with restoring the authority of the custodians of community values- the elders and traditional leaders that have soft but binding power, respected for their wisdom and community interests?
Even for such complex array of issues like climate change, contested land/water, reversing degradation will not be resolved unless a process rooted in social order is nourished