Dr. Elizabeth Cooper (left) with Yussuf (right). All photos courtesy of Yussuf Osman.


MAIS student focuses on peacebuilding amidst climate conflict in northern Kenya

October 04, 2023

For Yussuf Osman, who was born and raised in northern Kenya, turning his passion for activism and his deep-rooted connection to his homeland into the focus of his Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) thesis felt like a natural choice. The heart of his research lies in addressing climate change-induced conflict between livestock pastoralists and agricultural farmers in the region.  

“This era of climate change has disrupted every known pattern, overstretched community-level resilience, driving people into poverty as a result of the loss of livestock, grazing lands, and displacement,” Osman remarks. “Over recent years, inter-community conflicts became frequent and severe.” 

At the same time, however, other community-based actors have developed initiatives aimed at fostering dialogue and peacebuilding among pastoralist and agriculturalist communities in the region. Osman decided he wanted to make those initiatives and their impacts the focus of his MAIS thesis. Following the completion of his MAIS coursework, he journeyed back to Northern Kenya to undertake qualitative research for his thesis.

Yussuf saying hello to a baby camel.

As chance would have it, while Osman was preparing to begin his study, his MAIS supervisor Elizabeth Cooper was also in Kenya for her own project. An Associate Professor with decades of anthropological research experience in East Africa, Cooper welcomed Osman's proposal to meet him in Northern Kenya. Over the span of a few days, they embarked on visits to crucial sites in the region and held introductory meetings with representatives of local NGOs and peace activists.

Cooper says she appreciates Osman’s passion and commitment to the topic of his research, as well as the personal, ecological, political, and economic insights that Osman brings to it. She was happy that the two of them had the chance to collaborate, noting, “There are so many important directions this research could take, but at the end of the day, it needs to be sufficiently focused to make sure it can have academic and practical impact.”

She adds that meeting Osman in northern Kenya was a stimulating opportunity for both of them. “Research can sometimes be a lonely enterprise, but having someone to discuss our emergent reflections with can be really eye-opening.”

Within the 12-month MAIS program, students can customize their experience based on interests, including conducting original research—like Osman—and pursuing co-op placements for practical experience.

Osman was drawn to the program for its personalized attention from leading regional scholars and the chance to tailor his studies to his research interests. Reflecting on his fieldwork discussions with his supervisor, he says it added a dimension of richness to his MAIS degree. 

“Dr. Cooper’s visit not only re-energized my research work and pace but also brought in new insights.”

Community water point in Wajir, Kenya.

Osman is currently studying three community-based peace initiatives, the last of which is an annual camel caravan walk across the region. The goal of the ‘camel caravan’ is to foster peace and sustainable development for communities across the region through raising awareness, and sharing food, games, and other activities. Osman has participated in this annual event for the past three years, and was featured in media coverage of it on KTN News.

Osman encourages students who are considering the MAIS program to take advantage of learning opportunities beyond the classroom, highlighting the enriching nature of a holistic education. Additionally, he extends a warm invitation to the adventurous souls: “As a camel lover, I welcome you all to Northern Kenya for a day at the camel farm.”