Voinovich School April 18, 2014
It would be reasonable to suspect that mobile phones would help Kenyan pastoralists adapt to drought and anticipated climate change in central Kenya. That was the hypothesis MSES student Jeremiah Asaka investigated as part of his Master’s of Science in Environmental Studies at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. In the droughts of 1999-2000, Kenyans did not have widespread access to mobile phones. When drought returned in 2009, many pastoralists had mobile phones to help decide when and where to move livestock to drought refuge areas.
After two years of research and a summer conducting interviews in the Samburu region of Kenya, Jeremiah found that mobile phones were not a transformational technology for Samburu pastoralists and their livestock mobility drought adaptation strategies. He mapped changes in the geography of drought refuge areas between the 1999-2000 and 2009 drought periods and investigated the role of mobile phone technology in causing such changes. Asaka found that, other over-arching factors such as inter-ethnic conflict, livelihood diversification, and declining herd size contributed significantly to the observed change in location of drought refuge areas.
He found that the potential impact of mobile phones was limited because of a lack of trust beyond the immediate family and group network. This shortage of trust of people outside the immediate social networks meant that pastoralists often continued to rely on traditional methods for adapting to drought.
Asaka says his surprising finding suggests practitioners should take a closer look at the widely held assumption that mobile phones will be transformational in development and anti-poverty efforts. His research suggests that some key factors may inhibit the realization of this transformational potential.
Jeremiah conducted his research under the direction of Tom Smucker and Edna Wangui in the Department of Geography and Geoff Dabelko in Environmental Studies at the Voinovich School. He will be building on his research in East Africa and his native Kenya next year as he pursues his Ph.D. in theGlobal Governance and Human Security Program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.