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Environmental Management

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 817–835 | Cite as

Adaptation as a Political Process: Adjusting to Drought and Conflict in Kenya’s Drylands

  • Siri Eriksen
  • Jeremy Lind
Article

Abstract

In this article, we argue that people’s adjustments to multiple shocks and changes, such as conflict and drought, are intrinsically political processes that have uneven outcomes. Strengthening local adaptive capacity is a critical component of adapting to climate change. Based on fieldwork in two areas in Kenya, we investigate how people seek to access livelihood adjustment options and promote particular adaptation interests through forming social relations and political alliances to influence collective decision-making. First, we find that, in the face of drought and conflict, relations are formed among individuals, politicians, customary institutions, and government administration aimed at retaining or strengthening power bases in addition to securing material means of survival. Second, national economic and political structures and processes affect local adaptive capacity in fundamental ways, such as through the unequal allocation of resources across regions, development policy biased against pastoralism, and competition for elected political positions. Third, conflict is part and parcel of the adaptation process, not just an external factor inhibiting local adaptation strategies. Fourth, there are relative winners and losers of adaptation, but whether or not local adjustments to drought and conflict compound existing inequalities depends on power relations at multiple geographic scales that shape how conflicting interests are negotiated locally. Climate change adaptation policies are unlikely to be successful or minimize inequity unless the political dimensions of local adaptation are considered; however, existing power structures and conflicts of interests represent political obstacles to developing such policies.

Keywords

Climate change Conflict Drought Multiple stressors Adaptive capacity Adaptation Drylands Kenya 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the local administration, community leaders, and ordinary people in Kitui and Turkana districts who agreed to be interviewed for this research. We also thank research assistants in Kitui and Turkana districts. The paper forms part of a research project supported by the Research Council of Norway (2004–2006) and the Global Environmental Change and Human Security Project (2007). The project was carried out in collaboration with Bernard Odit Owuor, Wycliffe Muoka Mauta, Jared Amwatta Mullah, Benard Muok, Abdi Haji, and Samuel Auka (all at Kenya Forestry Research Institute), Kjersti Larsen (Ethnographic Museum at the University of Oslo), and Debby Potts (King’s College London) as well as our collaborating partners The African Centre for Technology Studies, Nairobi, and The Center for International Climate and Environmental Research—Oslo (CICERO). Special thanks go to Tone Veiby and Lars Risan, David Lister, and Ian Harris for assisting with climate data, maps and figures. We are also grateful to Karen O’Brien, Jon Barnett, and three anonymous reviewers for commenting on an early draft of this article.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Human GeographyUniversity of OsloBlindernNorway
  2. 2.Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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