Natural resources and conflicts: theoretical flaws and empirical evidence from Northern Kenya

TitleNatural resources and conflicts: theoretical flaws and empirical evidence from Northern Kenya
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsW.R. Adano, A.J. Dietz, and K. Witsenburg
EditorK. Witsenburg, and F. Zaal
Secondary TitleSpaces of insecurity: human agency in violent conflicts in Kenya
Pagination141 - 166
Date Published2012///
PublisherAfrican Studies Centre
Place PublishedLeiden
Publication Languageeng

The Horn of Africa is viewed as a battleground of violent conflicts which are prompted by growing resource scarcity and population increase. Such conflicts are argued to be particularly violent in poor regions where many ethnic groups have to compete for scarce natural resources and where people lack capacity to develop adaptable and ingenuous approaches to avoid or resolve conflicts. This paper tests the validity of such claims using a long-term data of inter-ethnic conflicts and as-sociated incidents such as raids, banditry attacks and killings between pastoral communities in Marsabit District, Northern Kenya. The analysis is strengthened us-ing case studies of access to a severely scarce water resources in rural Kenya. Ac-cording to the herders, it is more rational to cooperate with people from different ethnic groups in times of drought in order to share the scarce water resources than it is to fight over them. This view was also supported by the yearly statistics on violence which show that twice as many deaths occurred in wet years than in drought years. We find no evidence that violence is increasing in relative terms, nor that ethnic violence is related to environmental scarcity. On the whole, the study cannot verify the assumption that increasing competition over scarce re-sources on Marsabit Mountain results in more ethnic violence. In particular, water resources seem to play a vital role in social interaction, reconciliation, sharing and cooperation in survival strategies. The result shows how important conflict-avoid-ing institutions are in societies which have learned how to deal with scarcity by century-old experiences in hardship areas. These conflict-avoiding institutions are shaped and reshaped through time, subjected as they are to natural hardship, exter-nal stress, modernity and technological change.

Citation Key5914