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Rural-Urban Dynamics in the East African Mountains

Sylvain Racaud
Bob R. Nakileza
François Bart
et al.


Bernard Charlery de la Masselière

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1This book is the result of a long-term cooperation between French and East African scholars and universities under the aegis of the French Institute of Research in Africa (IFRA-Nairobi), which has been the key player in bringing scientists together and in supporting financially and logistically the research activities.

2The first research project was on Mount Kilimanjaro, carried out between 1996 and 1999, involving eighteen researchers: from the University of Bordeaux 3, the University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour, and INALCO-Paris in France; from IFRA in Nairobi; from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; from Michigan State University in the United States.

  • 1 Bart F, Mbonile MJ, Devenne F. (eds) 2003. Kilimandjaro: montagne, mémoire, modernité. Pessac, Pres (...)

3The project covered a large range of themes aimed at defining the natural, social, economic and political conditions of the development of mountains: history, representations, social identities, mobility, natural resources, and agricultural systems, trading systems, borders and limits, the role of medium towns… The project showed the far-reaching changes of the mountain and, in particular, the introduction of modernity in the areas often considered traditional. Movements intensified between altitude stages, between the mountain and the plain, between the mountain and the town. There were still marginal zones of poverty and the issue of resource management between the national park and cultural areas remained a source of conflict. Mount Kilimanjaro was undergoing a generation change with the increase in importance of the number of young people who do not find a means of livelihood and plans. At the end of this first study, it appeared clearly that the development of the mountain could not be implemented through simple management of resources and natural eco-systems. It should be integrated in the modernization of territories, which were more and more open to other resources. The project gave rise to an important publication in French and in English1.

4The second stage of this cooperation process was the submission of the DREAM project to the 6th EU Framework programme. The objective of DREAM, which meant “Development of Research on East-African Mountains”, was to redefine the conditions of sustainable and universal development in mountainous areas, increasingly dependent on a certain level of exchange of multiple resources, and to understand the interactions between the mountainous and other areas to which the mountain could be linked at all other geographical levels. As a “specific support action”, the DREAM project was not a research programme per se. Its objective was to discuss the following societal and environmental issues to pave the way for setting up a research programme aimed at addressing proposals to solve them. The mountains’ resources have long been the source of conflicts between local community and outsiders, including nation-states and commercial interests. As local communities possess long-standing rules and institutions for the management of the resources (forest, water, land), bureaucratic control by technically trained experts denigrates these local users, disregarding local knowledge of, and rights or access to resources. As control over land conveys economic and political power, it is always difficult for the national or even international institutions to recognize community control over commercially valued resources. That is why those communities are often accused of destroying the environment. Do indigenous land tenure, religious beliefs and farming practices contribute to the conservation of the environment? If so, how do they do this? What relationship can we find with the contemporary western notion of conservation? Can local strategies for managing mountain resources and supporting local economic development combine global conservationist strategies for “saving” biodiversity, glaciers, forest…? Is it possible to find negotiation platforms to reduce conflicts over scarce natural resources? These were the main questions of the DREAM project, which was not funded but was ranked second on the EU FP6 additional list.

5The third stage ofthis cooperation process was the EUFP7 CREATING project (2008-2010), a coordinating support action. CREATING was the acronym of “Collaborative Research on East-African Territorial INtegration under Globalisation”. This project sought to improve research capacity and to develop collaboration amongst researchers in Europe and East Africa, and by doing so to contribute to the larger objective of regional integration. The project wanted to enhance integration in the research community in both Europe and East Africa through bringing researchers together in a series of training activities. These activities focused on two kinds of cross-border environment: mountains and Lake Tanganyika. The project was organized around four themes, all of which related to human use and management of these cross-border resources: resource management and livelihood sustainability, environmental and climate change, migration and identity and the role of small and medium cities. At the core of the project, four European universities were linked to the Interuniversity Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the main East-African community’s body for research and Higher Education, based in Kampala.

6This CREATING project dealt with mountains issues, among others. East Africa’s mountains also straddle boundaries: political boundaries in some cases (Kenya/Uganda, Kenya/Tanzania, Tanzania/Zambia) but also ecological and economic ones. What was at stake was still the means of managing natural resources of generous but complex, diversified, fragile and coveted mountains. For a long time, these mountains were studied as rather isolated units from the angle of natural resources, of their reclamation, exploitation, degradation and their mode of management. But in reality these are ‘open’ mountains, included in exchange systems integrating multi-scalar geographic dimensions: highland and lowland systems, humid and arid systems, rural-urban mobility, long-term fluctuations (tourism, business sectors), etc. Then, in this project, we had to consider in particular the role of towns as a link between localities and the world.

7This specific issue was at the core of a CORUS (Cooperation for University and Scientific Research) French funded research project, on “Mountains and small and medium cities in East Africa: Environmental management, Flows of people and resources”. This project went over again the objectives of the non-implemented DREAM project, to rethink the development of the East African Mountains through their interactions with the fast growing towns and cities. Then we had to redefine concepts and methods taking more specifically into account the urban networks, the urban-rural relationships, at short and long distances, the flow of resources, etc. This book is the direct product of this CORUS project even if it has also been fuelled by the previous research activities. Three East African mountains were chosen: Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon (Ugandan side) and Uporoto Mountains. For each site, two towns or cities were selected, a medium city at the foot of the mountain and a small town in the mountain itself, and analysed through different topics such as rural development projects, services to the farmers, mobility and commuting.

8I could say that this cooperating process has been successful and has built an intercontinental and friendly research community at an individual level of time if not at an institutional one. All of the researchers who contributed to it in any way, are very much concerned by the future of these densely populated African Mountains within a context of globalisation, in which three main questions haunt the international debate: the sustainability of our environment, the persistence of inequalities between persons, regions, nations, and a certain anxiety about the pursuit of economic growth and technological progress. Africa continues to face some of the world’s greatest development challenges, and careful resource management will be essential to ensure economic value for present and future generations and to help avoid conflict, especially in the light of the scientific evidence for the rapid escalation of global climate change and its potential to generate large scale population migrations and ensuing conflict. The most significant of Africa’s challenges is that of local and regional cohesion and integration, which presents special problems in a continent cut across by colonial boundaries. Those are exacerbated by the effects of increased globalization, demographic change, migration, ecological issues, urbanization, resources scarcity, instability and conflicts in neighbouring countries. East Africa, like other regions of the continent, comprises a diverse mosaic of natural resources and environments, which require trans-boundary cooperation for their management. Instruments for such cooperation have been neither strong nor successful. The case of EAC illustrates the importance of connecting generalized explanations linked to the dynamics of globalization and the embedded specificity of localized conditions at a variety of levels.

9 In particular, the East African Mountains face contradictory challenges, between economic development and environmental management, between the strengthening of the identities and geographical mobility, between integration and increase of social and spatial inequalities, etc. As quoted by the FP7 Work Programme SSH, the challenge is “how economic, social and environmental objectives might be successfully combined”, in order to advance the state of the art of - and reinforce - regional cohesion at different spatial levels. This is what this book aims to contribute to.


1 Bart F, Mbonile MJ, Devenne F. (eds) 2003. Kilimandjaro: montagne, mémoire, modernité. Pessac, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux. Translated in English: Bart F, Mbonile MJ, Devenne F. (eds) 2006, Kilimanjaro, Mountain, Memory, Modernity. Dar es Salaam, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers.

© Africae, 2016

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