The African deserts have from time immemorial represented a huge challenge to populations and their societies. The lack of water, the insufficient supply of other natural resources, frequent periods of drought - often lasting for several years - and the vulnerability of the ecosystem when exposed to excessive exploitation, have imposed radical limits on human activity and cast doubt on the ability of populations to survive in arid zones.
Mobility, flexibility and solidarity are strategies providing protection against often hostile conditions. The handing down of personal experience, knowledge of local conditions and oral traditions is of paramount importance. The same is true of information about the environment, the caravan routes, markets and peoples in far flung regions. This knowledge, accumulated over many generations, helps to decipher the numerous traces preserved in the desert sands.
Since colonial times, the cultures of the peoples living in the deserts of Africa have been systematically attacked or unintentionally undermined – nomads were made to lead a sedentary life, caravan routes were bisected by national frontiers and their few pastures turned into arable land to be settled by farmers. The military power of these peoples was crushed in the course of prolonged campaigns. Present-day African nations tend to continue a policy clearly directed against the nomadic herdsmen cultures.
The knowledge of the peoples living in these deserts is hardly ever appreciated, and their life-style - despite the many compromises with modern life - is looked down upon as old-fashioned and primitive. Attempts to regain a certain degree of cultural autonomy are often nipped in the bud. For these reasons, global alliances are more important than ever for the peoples affected. The Jutta Vogel Foundation seeks to contribute to this endeavour and to play an active part in preserving cultures in the African deserts.