This paper discusses the ecological gradient as an organizing framework to assist understanding the complex interactions between societal and ecological processes underlying land-use change in East Africa. Detailed case studies on the gradients of the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, Kenya show how land-use change is responsive to the dynamics of both local and external driving forces. The study has shown that the distinct ecological conditions at the extremities of gradients are associated with specific land uses which may be different within livelihood systems such as for wet and dry season grazing. Access to water for cultivation, domestic use, livestock and wildlife is critical in determining the nature and distribution of livelihood systems. Land-use systems interact across the different ecological zones of the gradients characterized by vigorous spatial, cultural and economic interactions. Sometime conflicts occur between or within land-use/livelihood systems. There is strong evidence that the areas of higher economic potential remain advantaged compared with areas lower on the gradient. The ecological characteristics have been found to influence human activities and distribution. Interactions between societies are important in terms of trade, social relations and access to resources.