Comparative social responses to development initiatives

Walter Goldschmidt'1 presented a proposal on how development interventions influenced changes in cultural adaptations of selected African societies. The societies were sampled across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The communities showed a continuum of livelihoods, on the one extreme, hoe- cultivating farmers, and on the opposite economic gradient, pastoralists who adopted agriculture. The farming societies maintained small herds in mixed farming systems, while pastoralists occasionally fell back on crop cultivation when disasters decimated their herds. Conversely, agro- pastoralists adopted new agricultural technologies to expand economic opportunities. We are interested in how and why development changes were accepted or rejected by African societies. We will use some examples.

Colonial development initiatives had introduced cotton as a cash crop as early as 1908. By 1914, the Teso community on the Kenya-Uganda border was harvesting 8,000 tons of cotton annually. They had traditionally practiced a mixed economy dominated by indigenous agriculture. They represent a community that rapidly accepted newly introduced crops and were eager to try them out. This may be compared with the responses by the Nandi and the Kipsigis to development initiatives. From the middle of the 1920s, the European settlers—and later the colonial governments—observed that squatting on European farms by African peasants was a barrier to progress. The excuse was that the herds kept by the squatters overgrazed and caused soil erosion. The policy was therefore to eliminate African livestock squat- ting on European farms, but this left them without any other options.'2 The Nandi had resented the loss of their land to European settlers, but the pressure forced them to transform their indigenous economy into one of cash crops.7® The Kipsigis and Nandi, after losing their land to European settlements, changed their economies from mixed agriculture/animal husbandry to one driven by market demands.'4 The traditional value of cattle had changed among this group to become a commoditized economy; cattle products such as milk were sold to creameries as an alternative to building up capital in terms of cattle alone.

In Kigezi in southwestern Uganda, there were concerns from the 1930s that indigenous farming systems were contributing to soil erosion. The peasants combined crop cultivation and animal husbandry, with cattle grazing on communal lands, while crops were cultivated on private plots.'1 The colonial officials claimed that the problem had been exacerbated by high human population density. The local peasants then combined indigenous and modern technical methods of soil conservation, and by 1949 it was reported that the soil had been stabilized and the conservation program had been a spectacular success.'6

During the 1950s, social responses to government programs exhibited two trends, which we illustrate with two contrasting examples. The first trend was serious political agitation against colonial policies in East Africa—the Mau Mau rebellion was active in Muranga (part of the Kikuyu land), where people were utterly opposed to land terracing after the communities had been displaced from their lands. By comparison, the second trend was that this period witnessed governments winning over some of the societies to the idea of practicing soil conservation." The Akarnba of Kitui and Machakos who, before the Second World War had resisted government forced soil conservation programs, had been swayed by government propaganda. The Akarnba set aside some 30,000 acres of hillsides for protection against grazing and crop cultivation. '8

In Sukumaland (in Tanganyika), the society incorporated their indigenous institution of collective action into cooperatives for growing cotton, where indigenous rules were applied to promote participation in the schemes. Individual members who failed to cooperate were fined or ostracized. Thus, it was pressure from within that influenced participation in the schemes, rather than coercive action by colonial officials.'9 By 1954, the soil conservation program in Sukumaland had become highly politicized, which forced the government to abandon its coercive policy.80

In Kenya, some communities adjusted their traditional systems of land use in response to colonial government development programs. The Elgeyo traditionally grazed communal pastures, but following changes in land tenure, they allowed their members to enclose plots and plant crops. The proximity of this community to European farms transformed their systems of land use, and they demonstrated far greater adaptations to economic transformation than many others. Internally, too, their land-use systems were altered. Traditionally, they had used different landscapes in their territories for different purposes—the highlands were allocated to crop cultivation and the lowlands to grazing. And, by moving the stock between different ecological zones during different seasons, they avoided putting pressure on the grazing lands. However, following the establishment of colonial land borders which divided land-use types, the movement of livestock between different ecological zones was curtailed. The first casualty was the breakdown of livestock grazing movements between the highland and lowlands. The Elgeyo were forced to subdivide the highland areas into cultivated plots, where they were introduced to planting potatoes as a cash crop and were organized into cooperatives to grow pyrethrum. They also purchased European breeds of dairy cattle to supply milk to local creameries.81

The Tugen lowlands in Kenya had previously been shared for livestock grazing among various communities. However, due to increased demand for land, the grazing blocks broke down and were subdivided into individual plots by 1958. Despite their small sizes (varying between 45 and 120 acres), the government used the ranches to promote high-grade cattle to replace indigenous breeds. Within a period of less than two decades, the community had shifted from subsistence to a commercial pastoral economy.82 Thus in the long-term, these changes transformed indigenous land use into private systems of production.8

Among the Karamojong in Uganda, who were branded by the colonial administration as being the most conservative, development focused on livestock disease control and livestock marketing, both of which were supported by the pastoralists. Prior to the colonial period, the Karamojong had had contact in the late nineteenth century with European and Ethiopian game hunters who visited their country to barter firearms for cattle and ivory. The Karamojong’s positive responses to colonial intervention did not refute their view that cattle served as their source of wealth, which they used as a medium of exchange with their agro-pastoral neighbors to purchase grain.84 The evidence shows that the Karamojong responded to external demands by making internal adjustments to accommodate changes as new opportunities became available.8

We may compare the Karamojong with the agro-pastoral Pokot community in northwestern Kenya. The Pokot utilized both the highlands and the lowlands, which also corresponded with different economic systems. During the wet season, people and livestock moved into the lowlands and during the dry season they returned to the highlands.86 The highlands were cultivated, while the lowlands were allocated to pastoralism. The Pokot of the lowlands depended on the grains obtained from the highlands.8' The colonial government campaigned to establish new agricultural methods, accompanied by orders to cull livestock in the highlands—this forceful destocking was justified on the basis of environmental conservation. The policy was further influenced by pressure from the adjacent European settlers, demanding the quarantining of pastoralists’ herds to avoid the spread of diseases. In 1941 after the quarantine was broken, the Pokot protested the forced sales, accusing the colonial government of having the intention to render them poorer. The Pokot violently resisted the imposition of bylaws that restricted their livestock numbers in what they considered to be unacceptable methods of stock population control. The administration justified their actions as aiming to ‘improve the conditions of the range.’88 In the Iraqwi highlands of Mbulu in Tanganyika, where the community had also traditionally combined crop cultivation on the highlands with grazing on the lowlands, development schemes attempted to rehabilitate the hilly areas by forcing the population to the lowlands. The families who were pushed into the lowlands responded by clearing the vegetation to grow crops and make new homesteads. Regarding stocking regulations, the Iraqwi found ways to short-change the directives of colonial officials—such as hoarding stock or tricking the officials through multiple uses of grazing certificates. Others, accordingly, by using destocking certificates of their friends, showed that they had complied with the orders and returned the excess stock into the scheme. In terms of soil conservation, the colonial officials used propaganda about environmental degradation to emphasize the benefits of protecting the environment. The Iraqwi representatives were taken to demonstration sites in other parts of East Africa, such as Kondoa in Tanzania and the Kamba districts in Kenya, where extreme levels of environmental degradation had been witnessed. The Iraqwi were warned that their country would suffer similar consequences if they did not act soon.89

Among the Chaga, who practiced mixed farming of coffee and bananas, indigenous land-use systems played complementary roles.90 In the case of the Maasai who relied principally on livestock, the loss of grazing lands was a disaster. Previously, the Maasai had been blamed for overstocking their land, risking problems of land degradation.91 Part of the development intervention was experimentation with group ranches, which titled a few individuals under specific rules of management.92

In summing up, we return to the question, which was whether the responses of African peasants and herders to development initiatives were predetermined by some aspects of their environment and culture. Our conclusion is that this was not the case. The African communities showed varied responses to development programs. Chapter 7 discusses dialogue between official colonial personnel regarding African people’s participation in development.

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