Cattle Rustling, the New Conflict

By Siollun, Max | New African, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Cattle Rustling, the New Conflict


Siollun, Max, New African


Just as Nigeria and other West African countries seem to have made progress against the Boko Haram militants that have killed over 15,000 people during the last six years, another regional security threat has emerged.

Conflict between nomadic cattle herders and farmers has killed more people this year than Boko Haram, and poses a growing trans-national security threat in West Africa (especially in Ghana, Nigeria, and Mali).

In March, herders attacked and killed 300 people in Agatu, Benue State in Nigeria. Then last month they killed over 40 people in Enugu State. They have also attacked the Agogo community in Ghana twice this year and shot several farmers dead. The herders state that they are acting in self-defence and revenge against farmers who attack them and kill or steal their cattle.

The non-human catalyst for the conflict is ecology. The Sahara desert's southward expansion at nearly 50km a year has dried up grazing areas, causing nomadic cattle herders to head further south and west in search of new grazing and water sources for their cattle. Desertification has simultaneously shrunk farmers' crops and herders' grazing sources; making green land more scarce and valuable to both.

Farmers have accused herders of cutting down trees, and allowing their cattle to eat their crops and destroy farmland. Farmers also bitterly complain about herders' marauding attacks during which they murder farmers, and rape their wives and daughters. Herders contend that farmers plant crops on established grazing routes, steal, and kill their cattle.

The fact that the herders are mostly Muslims of Fulani or Tuareg ethnicity, and that farmers in the areas they migrate to are mostly Christians of other ethnic groups, introduces a lethal sectarian context to the conflict.

The herders' nomadic lifestyle and the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria have dispersed the conflict across West Africa. Four years ago, Boko Haram attacked and destroyed the biggest cattle market in north-eastern Nigeria, killed over 100 people, and stole and killed cattle. In order to avoid the insecurity in Nigeria's northeast, herders from Niger and Mali adopted new cattle grazing routes, and migrated further to southern areas of Nigeria and to Ghana; which brought them into contact with communities that are not accustomed to their presence. …

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