A young Dinka protecting his family’s Zebu cattle against cattle raiders with an AK-47 rifle.
Photo: J. Boethling


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Pastoralism – the predominant form of livestock keeping in the Horn of Africa – has always been a source of disputes and tensions in the region. So it is maybe no coincidence that precisely those countries with the largest cattle and camel herds should be the ones that have been suffering from prolonged armed conflict for years. This article takes a look at the closely interwoven aspects influencing conflicts in the Horn of Africa in general and South Sudan more specifically.

More than 20 million people live as nomadic pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. Pastoralism is a form of animal husbandry that is ideally suited to the dry, desert-like climate and has proved its worth in these areas for centuries. However, this traditional mode of life is becoming increasingly endangered by a wide range of developments. Moreover, owing to political marginalisation and poor accessibility, pastoralists often belong to the poorest sections of the population. Their situation is aggravated by armed conflicts that have become more frequent over the last few years.

The dispute over the natural resources

The link between pastoralist livelihoods and potential conflict over natural resources in particular is multi-layered. More than ever, secure access to grazing land and water facilities has become one of the main causes for tension in the Horn of Africa during the last decade. As pastoralism is the predominant form of livestock keeping, this entails a varying degree of mobility for the search of adequate pastures and access to water.

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