Building peace through climate action in Kenya

Young Pokot tribe boys with bows and arrows herd camels near a small hamlet in Alale, northwest of Nairobi, in September 2014. (Keystone/Dai Kurokawa)

Climate change has become one of the most prominent threats to the horn of Africa. Erratic rain cycles, frequent floods and landslides, prolonged droughts, and stronger than ever cyclones are putting pressure in a region already dealing with poverty and violent conflict. With countries forced to adapt, officials in Kenya found that  addressing the climate emergency is also crucial to ensuring peace and security.

“Communities can only be at peace when they are at peace with nature,” says Mukhtar Abdi Ogle, secretary of the strategic initiatives department at the cabinet of affairs of the executive office of the Presidency of Kenya. He has worked for years in countering violent extremism among radicalised youth through peacebuilding and community resilience. Since 2014, he has included the climate perspective into this work.

GS: Climate change is having an impact on the horn of Africa, prompting more frequent and more severe floods and droughts. What are the main security implications of this?

MO: Over the years, the ravages of climate change have wreaked serious havoc in the horn of Africa through drought and floods, which in turn have instigated communal and tribal clashes. Many of the nomadic communities depend on livestock which need pasture and water. When these resources are scarce, there is competition between groups and that can trigger conflict.

These extreme weather events also cause the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, making communities vulnerable to hunger and poverty. This leads to population displacement, meaning that communities have to leave behind their systems of existence. Beyond the poverty and other challenges that they face, this is truly dehumanising.

GS: How is Kenya dealing with these climate-related issues from a security policy perspective?

MO: We focus on communities’ access to and use of the environment as a way to mitigate climate impact. Communities can only be at peace when they are at peace with nature. So as part of our programme, we seek to explain to communities what the environmental conflicts are, especially with regard to the struggles around water and pasture, through dialogue, understanding and exchange of ideas and knowledge. Through these dialogues, we reach a consensus and decide on a collective community action for climate mitigation. Such engagement also helps to remove distrust and competition among groups.

Part of that training we give includes innovative farming, environmental conservation and wildlife management. We build community capacity though model demonstration farms that transfer livestock to herders to create alternative dignified livelihoods. We also empower herders in communities as well as youth and women leaders through leadership training and mentoring to show them the power of traditional environmental knowledge and the existing resourcefulness within the community.

GS: How do you see the situation within the next 30 years in the horn of Africa? What worries you the most?

MO: What worries me the most is unregulated population growth and communities’ extreme expectations of governments and international partners to face the challenges, without necessarily building their own grassroots capabilities. We need to prepare them adequately to be able to manage and preserve the planet. This is how sustainable development can be achieved, with foresight and a true community leadership with which we can build institutions.

GS: How can climate justice help mitigate the impact of climate change in Africa?

MO: This is a critical question. We have to look at how climate change affects the fortunes of vulnerable groups particularly those who are in the frontline of climate ravages. Climate justice is rooted in social justice. Fixing concrete social problems such as unemployment, income levels, wealth and job gaps for struggling communities, education opportunities and so on is critical to achieving climate justice. For this, governments have to look at the role of policy analysis and good practices, such as distribution of socio-economic resources and preparing and mentoring of communities.

GS: As one of the countries that will be mostly affected by climate change, what is your message to readers?

MO: If we are to secure our future, laying the foundation for the next generation is crucial. Leaders must step up and look at the bigger picture and deploy a language that not only organises but also mobilises an understanding of the forces and the interrelationships that are leading to the ravages of climate change. It takes time for communities to develop the right set of skills and reclaim nature. There must be bold and courageous policy measures in order to unleash the creativity needed to redesign our systems and address the issues of climate change.