Recent droughts have revived debates about the viability of pastoralist livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. Responding to a perceived crisis of pastoralist reproduction, the Ethiopian government is advocating sedentarisation, but critics argue that this is an opportunistic attempt to extend the regime’s control over an insubordinate minority.
Pastoralists in Somali Region are in the paradoxical position of being wealthier than highland farmers but politically excluded, geographically isolated and intensely vulnerable to livelihood shocks – natural (droughts), economic (livestock import bans by the Gulf States, government crackdowns on ‘contraband’ trade) or socio-political (conflict between clans, or between militia groups and the state).
In this highly politicised context, the voices of pastoralists themselves are often ignored. Based on fieldwork in Somali Region in 2005, this article argues that ‘living on the margins’ – excluded by and beyond the reach of the state, yet resisting incorporation – is the source of both pastoralist wealth and pastoralist vulnerability.