Foreign Policy Blogs

The Fate of Pastoralists Children in Africa

Pastorial Child in Tanzania (Photo by VetAid)

Pastoralism is a form of farming, or ranching, where one raises and tends to herd animals, including camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas and sheep. Pastoralism, especially in Africa is very nomadic, as one needs to move their herds in search of grazing land and water. Pastoralist, such as the Maasai, an indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania, have been roaming Africa for more than ten thousand years. While pastoralism has been an effective way to use marginalized land, which would be implausible for farming use, urban migration, increasing environmental issues, armed conflict, and poverty have been severely hindering this ancient way of life.

“The most marginalized people, pastoralist and to a lesser extent, agro-pastoralist communities, have become locked into a cycle of poverty and debt. Every day is a struggle for survival; so people here are extremely vulnerable to any change in their economic or physical environment,” Oxfam says. (Reuters)


"Pastoralism needs to be recognized as a way of life that is viable and contributes to the economy. Our livestock is our way of life but we need access to an organized market so we can be sustainable," said Borena elder Nura Dida of Ethiopia in 2006. (UN)

Pastoralists’ number in the millions, accounting for a substantial part of many African nations. Across Africa pastoralists’ account for the use of approximately 40% of the land. Children in pastorial communities, play a vital role in the daily life of the family and community. Children as young as 8 assist in household chores, fetching water, and herding animals, therefore it is vital, that not only is their cultural way of life preserved, but that their rights are ensured and protected.

Earlier this month a three day workshop on pastoralist policy was conducted in Kenya by the African Union's Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, the AU's Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (IBAR), and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Pastoralist Communication Initiative (OCHA-PCI). For those attending it was clear that education tops pastoralists' concerns , as it was stated that it was key understand pastoralism, and it was key that the educational curriculum was correctly established to suit that pastoralist lifestyle.

Ali Wario, Kenya's assistant minister for special programs in the office of the president, said “children in Kenya's pastoralist areas not only lacked access to education but, when available, the curriculum often did not suit pastoral lifestyles. "We must have mobile schools in pastoralist areas if children are to gain from the education system."

Children in pastorial communities often do not receive adequate education, and while a child's educational needs must all the children regardless of where they grow up or what type of community they live. Children have a right to receive a basic education, and this must be ensured jointly by the families, community and the government. "Alternative Basic Education is enabling the emergence of a new generation of educated pastoralists in Ethiopia," "If we are to succeed in providing primary education to all Ethiopian children, including all girls, then the systems we provide must be able to accommodate the lifestyles of the hardest to reach children." said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia (Alternative Basic Education keeps pastoral children's dreams alive).

Following the conference on pastoralist policy, the debate continues, Can pastoralism survive in the 21st century? The reaction is mixed, some claim that it will survive as the need for products derived from livestock will increase with urbanization, while others argue that desertification and globalization will put an end to the pastorial way of life. Millions of pastoralists live across the wide expanses of the African continent, and according to statistical data from 2005 of the ‘314 million poor people…in Africa, half were highly dependent upon livestock for their livelihoods, 80 percent of whom were in pastoral areas’ (IRIN).

Governments in Africa need to work to support, encourage and preserve the pastoral way of life, while also looking to correct misconceptions about the pastorial way of life. Most importantly the needs of pastoral food security need to be addressed, including, providing training in new techniques and alternative sources of income, education and ensuring that pastorialist's benefit from the free trade of their goods. If a unified Pastoral policy can be archived by the governments of Africa, than the future of pastoral children will look better, however with increasing droughts, armed conflict, and food crisis's plaguing much of Africa, pastoralist look to continue down the road of marginalization. According to the UN, “We must look beyond the immediate emergency response and into medium- and long-term solutions. The ad-hoc response of the past is not enough,” Ahunna Eziakonwa, chief of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) African section stated. (UN demands welfare of African pastoralists)

"We want peace to be a reality in Sudan. Often, conflict in most parts of the country boils down to conflict between pastoralists and agriculturalists; if peace were achieved, pastoralists would not be as marginalized as they are now." – Sudanese pastoralist (IRIN)

One can only hope that a clear and sustainable pastoral policy is established and that the millions of pastoral children, and future children, will endure less poverty and marginalization.

Farm Africa
Pastoral Civil Society Newsletter
CSIRO Center for Arid Zone Research
Save the Children

  • Sheila MacIsaac

    Puzzled by the inclusion of a map for the late 19th/early 20th century -first, it is out of date and would have questionable relevance. Secondly it is inaccurate and omits many areas of pastoralist communities including Ethiopia to which the quotation following it applies. Thirdly, when were the Kikuyu ever described as pastoralists? There are many pastoralist communities in the area of the Horn of Africa/East Africa highlighted, but the Kikuyu are not one of them.
    Finally PASTORIALIST?? Surely the common spelling is PASTORALIST. nor isthe commonly accepted spelling of hunger – hungar!

  • lotela kipturu nelson

    i could like to mention on groups of pastoralist in kenya pokot, massai, turkana, samburu, somali of north eastern. those are the pure pastoralist people live in kenya. like in pokot particularly in East pokot District the level of education is not only very low but even schools are very few some location do not even have a pre-school at this time of 2008. people see no value in eduction and cultural values is one of the great obstacle to education and also lack of mobile schools in the area. when people talk about pastoralist education no one even refer to this place ,only massai, karamojong, turkana, samburu or north easternof kenya. i have done my field insertion in the area and i also come from this area i know what more about how children survive when they are going to school a way from home. the parental role immediately end when the child begin to joint school in the area. any way i will publish a essay on this area soon.

  • Time has come for all of us to join hands and help the nomadic society improve on their lives. This is the segment which still lags behind in every aspect of life. Look at their homes, their way of dressing, their foods and worse enough this segment lacks some very important social amenities including proper schools for their children.

  • I donate to a charity in South Africa that really has done amazing things with their children. So maybe they would be interested in helping in the rest of africa. Their website address is


Cassandra Clifford
Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict