Centring knowledge democracy within policy-making for sustainability and resilience: A discussion of the Kenyan drylands

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Nkatha Mercy


Culture, environment and, therefore, knowledge of socioeconomic constructs are intricately interwoven. Over the past decade or two, pastoralists without formal education in Kenyan drylands have increasingly found themselves on the receiving end of community empowerment trainings that lean towards human–wildlife conflict and environmental conservation. Why would research entities set aside mega budgets to teach the pastoralist about human–wildlife conflict? A pastoralist who has long roamed drylands with his livestock grazing alongside elephants and lions, and whose major life transition ceremonies, celebrations, songs, riddles, proverbs, sayings, poetry and jokes fundamentally feature wildlife. What makes these trainings in ‘imparting knowledge’ superior to the ‘indigenous knowledge’ already in the custody of the Borana or the Turkana or the Rendile?

This article explores the relevance of community-based knowledges in addressing sustainable development and climate resilience, as articulated by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The specific setting for this discussion is the Kenyan drylands, which are central to the achievement of the SDG agenda given that they constitute 84 percent of Kenya’s total land surface. They also host up to 75 percent of  Kenya’s wildlife population, account for more than 80 percent of the country’s eco-tourism interests and support about 9.9 million Kenyans, or approximately 34 percent of the Kenyan population.

Today, the drylands are impoverished, deficient for both humans and nature. Their vulnerability to disasters is amplified, while their resilience to shocks is greatly weakened, a situation made worse by climate change. To understand the importance of community-based knowledges within policy making for sustainability and resilience, this article examines in detail epistemological, social, historical, political and environmental factors converging on the Kenyan drylands, as well as the opportunity to address this complexity that the SDGs represent.

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Knowledge democracy for a transforming world