Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Seasonal Migration of Drought Affected Kenyan Nomads
to Moyale District of the Ethiopian Somali National Regional State
Field Trip Report: 6-13 September

By Dr. Ahmed Yusuf Farah, Anthropologist, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, September 1996

Arrival of Drought Affected Kenyan Nomads in Moyale District

In August 1996, the Moyale district administration office of the Ethiopian Somali National Regional State requested UNHCR to organise a joint mission to investigate reported migration of Kenyan nomads to this wereda. Upon confirmation of reports the UNDP Emergencies Unit sent an anthropologist for a short field trip to examine the situation and to obtain an overview of the migrations. The following short report is based on the findings of the anthropologist.

Over the last two months Moyale district has received a new influx of drought-affected pastoralist fleeing from harsh dry season conditions in the Somali populated north-east region of Kenya. These seasonal nomadic migrants come from the predominantly pastoral districts of Wajer, Garissa and Mandhera. The new arrivals largely consist of Ogadeni herdsmen from Garrisa and Wajer districts and Garri pastoralists from Mandhera. In addition to the pastoralists from Kenya, who form the bulk of the migrants, a small number of Mareexaan pastoralists originating from Eil Waq area in Gedo region of Somalia also arrived in Moyale.

Shortage of essential nomadic resources resulting from insufficient rains in the main gu' season (April-June) in north-eastern Kenya and the Gedo region in south-western Somalia represent the primary factor in the current exodus. Leaving behind members of the nucleus family and some animals, adult herdsmen drove the primary stock of mainly cattle and camels to Moyale district, entering Ethiopia at the following border points: Dokiso, Kadaduma, Jarra, Chelanko, and El Dher, among others.

In their long trek to reach permanent sources of water in Moyale district, the nomads had to follow a route defined by the location of seasonal water points suitable for both livestock and humans and therefore their entry points were selected for this purpose. For example, Kadaduma, a border village 90 kilometers north-east of Moyale town, contains 225 hand-dug shallow wells. Less than 51 of these traditional sources were supplying water in early September when UNHCR and the wereda administration visited. As the dry season continues in the region, and if the small rains which start in October are delayed, most of the wells currently supplying water can be expected to dry up, forcing the population in these villages to travel far in search of a nearest permanent source of water. At the time of the visit livestock of the local agro-pastoralists and pastoralists had already been driven to a close proximity to permanent sources of water.

The following factors explain why the Kenyan nomads relocating as a result of the current drought have been attracted to Moyale district. First, this predominantly nomadic wereda is socially linked to the drought affected nomadic parts on the Kenyan side of the border. The local clan, Garri, is "transnational" and has clansmen living on both sides of the porous international border. Therefore, migrating Kenyan Garri are welcomed into Moyale not as outsiders but as distressed kinsmen entitled to share in the existing resources of their local clansmen. Second, given the semi-arid condition prevailing in this economically and culturally linked region, nomadic traditions regulate a wider sharing of often scarce pastoral resources across clan and international boundaries. Thus, the Ogadenis are allowed to share resources with the local Garri not as kinsmen but as neighbours with whom they have been consistently cooperating.

Third, Moyale district is commercially linked to north-east Kenya. Important livestock markets for this area include: the Kenyan Moyale and Mandhera. Thus, Garri nomads in Moyale district sell their animals in the markets on the Kenyan side and in return purchase essential goods. The Kenyan Shilling is the most commonly used currency in Moyale district even though multi-currency is the norm, with the Ethiopian Birr also used as a medium of exchange.

The most important ‘pull-factor’, however, for the nomadic populations from Kenya, is environmental. Plenty of rainfall in the gu' season has made grass and water abundant in Moyale district, thus rendering the area a most favourable location.

Conditions of the Livestock of Incoming Nomads

As previously mentioned, most of the adult herdsmen bringing livestock to Moyale have left their nuclear families in their nomadic areas of origin. Therefore, the exodus largely consists of adult herdsmen strong enough to withstand the rigors of a long trek to the guest area. In general, cattle and camels that managed to arrive at a close proximity to the permanent water sources at El Ley and El Kalu, found sufficient pasturage and water and therefore are not under threat from starvation. Livestock that arrived early and have stayed for about one month seem to be recovering well from their initial weakened state. Conversely, the latest arrivals look emaciated but are not dying.

Arriving adult herdsmen observed around El Ley and El Kalu also seem healthy and not at all malnourished. This leads to the conclusion that the immediate concern is not starvation of adult herdsmen and their stocks, but rather a discrepancy in market value of livestock affected by drought and their local livestock. An adult male sheep from the local area fetched Birr 140 in Kenyan Moyale at the time of the visit, but the best sheep in the herd of the Mareexaan fetched just Birr 30. The price of the local adult camel was Birr 1,800, while the best male camel of the Mareexaan was sold Birr 280 in the same market at the same time.

The Mareexaan case, of course, represents an extreme example, since their stocks were more emaciated compared to herds of the Garri and Ogadeni from Kenya. The low price of drought-affected animals stands as the most crucial constrain facing the migrating nomads. Until their stocks properly recover from the rigors of drought and the long journey, they will suffer a hungry period. Therefore, more of their weak animals would have to be sold to raise enough cash for purchase of sufficient grains to feed both the herdsmen and members of the nucleus family left behind.


Seasonal sources of water have already dried up or will become exhausted soon. Therefore, the local nomads and the incoming pastoralists will eventually congregate around the permanent sources of water at El Ley, El Kalu, and El Gof which supplies clean water to Moyale Town. According to the local authorities, about 8,000 Kenyan and Mareexaan pastoralists have already arrived around El Kalu. Others are said to be dispersed between the water points and the border.

Water in the permanent sources is thought to be sufficient for both the local population and the newcomers, given the installed pumps are run efficiently. Nevertheless, if the small rains are delayed or totally fail, the water contained in the permanent sources will decrease and may not be able to satisfy the demand of both groups for very long. Under such circumstances, pasture land around the permanent sources of water will also diminish and, if current conditions deteriorate the nomads will have to move to remaining dry season resources or shallow wells along the banks of the Dawa River.

Under the present circumstances, availability of water and pasture is not the immediate concern of the district administration, the local populations and the incoming groups. However, concentration of livestock around permanent water points creates conditions conducive for the spread of communicable livestock diseases. This possibility is given relevance by the uncertain health condition of the drought-affected livestock belonging to the migrants. Absence of veterinary and livestock health services in the affected area underlines the problem. The only veterinarian in the area is with the Oromo administration and therefore not authorized to offer urgently needed assistance to the affected Somali controlled area.

Camels, sheep and goats of the Mareexaan group camping around El Ley village at the time of the field visit looked weak and sick. This suggests an urgent need for livestock health service in the affected area.

The price of maize, the local staple food, has doubled since the nomads arrived at El Ley. A kilogramme of maize was Kenyan Shilling 6 in El Ley before their arrival, but increased to 12 at the time of visit. This was the major concern raised by the local Garri at El Ley. Another issue raised by the locals concerned exhaustion of their hospitality due to the large number of hungry migrants, although the one-time offer of maize to the newcomers did solve the hunger faced by the most needy nomads who were begging for food in El Ley village.

UNDP Emergencies Unit has passed the findings of their field trip to South Eastern Rangelands Project (SERP) in Jigjiga. In collaboration with the Ministry of the Agriculture, SERP provides veterinary service to the all of the predominantly nomadic zones in former Killil 5, except Liban and Afdher zones in south-western Ethiopia. The South Western Rangelands Project used to provide similar veterinary service to the latter zones and neighbouring Oromo nomadic areas prior to the decentralisation process. Following the decentralisation the South Western Rangelands Project left the Somali zones and work only in the Oromo areas.

Repatriation of Kenyan and Ajuran Refugees

Since 1993, UNHCR has been assisting Kenyan refugees displaced by a civil strife affecting two predominantly nomadic clans in Wajer district, the Ajuran and Digodia. The immediate cause of conflict was a shift in the balance of power between the combatants following the 1993 Kenyan elections, when the Ajurans lost their traditional constituency in west Wajer to the Digodians. The triumph of the Digodia was due to their support of the ruling KANU party, while the despondent Ajuran supported the opposition FORD party which did badly in the election.

Kenyan Refugees in Moyale:

Number of beneficiaries
7471 (HOF-1867)
1200 (HOF-371)
The Ajuran had been dispersed in different sites in Moyale district before the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs and UNHCR brought them together in 1994 at the current site of Dokiso. This site falls in the traditional territory of the local Somali clan, the Garri, while Arbelle, the site of the smaller Digodia group, is located in the part of Moyale controlled by the rival Oromo Borana.

The Ajuran refugees have confirmed that the circumstances which led to their displacement in 1993 have long elapsed and no fighting is currently ongoing between them and the rival Digodia in Wajer district. Therefore, they expressed a unanimous desire for repatriation. Curiously, however, they have requested to be repatriated not to their areas of origin but just across the border to a settlement known as Godoma, about two hours walk from Dokiso.

Despite its distance from the original home area of the refugees, Godoma falls in the traditional territory of the Ajuran clan. Although the refugees sound confident that they can secure the approval of the local Ajurans to be settled at Godoma, there is still a need to confirm that the Ajurans are willing to accommodate their kinsmen. The close proximity of the favoured site of repatriation to the present site is in itself a logistic advantage. Godoma is about 30 kilometers from Moyale town and could be reached by a road.

The close proximity of the favoured repatriation site suggests that the Ajuran refugees have developed an economic interest in the current site. Some of them may have invested in land just as the Garri returnees in Dokiso area have spontaneously settled with negligible external assistance to engage in cultivation and raising supplementary flocks of cattle, sheep and goats. However limited, the regular assistance the refugees have been receiving certainly subsidises their establishment in Dokiso.

The local Garri returnees in the area have also self-settled though with some difficulty. UNHCR assistance to this refugee impacted area in terms of development of basic facilities had been subject to misuse. Since 1994, the school constructed with the UN funds has remained incomplete and is not used, and the village school was abandoned in its initial stage of construction by the contractor.

The recent reduction of refugee rations (from 15 kg per person per month to 11.5) may have also contributed to the desire of the Ajuran refugees to be repatriated.

The circumstances faced the smaller Digodia refugees are not very different from those of the Ajurans. Nevertheless, the Digodians have said they are not ready for repatriation and prefer the continuation of regular assistance, however limited it may be. They have cited two main reasons for their reluctance to return home. First, both refugee groups rightly suggested that immediate repatriation is not feasible given the current drought affecting their home areas. Second, they report that security in their home area is not good. Moreover, the Digodians claim that the Ajurans and Garri recently launched collective raids against them and robbed them of their livestock in Wajer.

It is very difficult to verify allegations of recent livestock raids affecting the Digodians, as such raids commonly take place among the nomadic groups in north-eastern Kenya; This situation should therefore be further investigated and clarified. On the other hand, a series of livestock raids have taken place by the Borana and Somali against the Samburu. The Borana and Somali clans are usually rivals on both sides of the border, but have coordinated raids against the Samburu due to mutual interest, an fact that portrays the fluidity of the social situation on the Kenyan side of the border.


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