HotSpots H2O, April 30: Spotlight on Herder-Farmer Conflict in West Africa

The Rundown

An ongoing wave of deadly clashes in Nigeria is being perpetrated by “killer herdsmen.” These herders, a group of pastoralists mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, are terrorizing farming communities across the country. Armed with AK-47s, the herdsmen raze villages and kill residents. The violence seems to be rooted in scarce resources.

A shortage of water and pasture is triggering similar conflicts across West Africa. Formerly fertile land is turning to desert, the result of prolonged drought and changing weather patterns. No longer able to graze their typical pastures, herders are venturing into the southern part of the region. As they journey south, they encounter swathes of farmland, put in place to feed an ever-growing population. With no other options, the cattle graze on farm crops, sparking clashes between herders and farmers. As resources dwindle, the conflict is becoming more complex, underpinned by ethnic, religious, and political grievances.  

“The immediate driver of the rising violence is of course the increasing competition for land and water, which are themselves negatively impacted by the effects of climate change and related environmental factors…The violence threatens to tip us over the edge into the realm of catastrophe.” –Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of Nigeria, in reference to the violence between herders and farmers in the country. Although herder-farmer conflict is an issue throughout West Africa, it has been especially violent in Nigeria in recent weeks.

By The Numbers

60 million Number of cattle in West Africa and the Sahel. There has been an increase in clashes over water and pasture throughout the region, according to Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a UN representative for West Africa and the Sahel.

50-75 percent Amount of land in northern Nigeria that is turning to desert, forcing herders to the south.

371 Number of incidents in central Nigeria involving herders and farming communities between 2011 and 2015, compared to 18 incidents between 1997 and 2010.

2,500 Number of people killed in Nigeria in herder-farmer conflicts in 2016, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.

18 Number of people killed in a church attack on April 24 near Makurdi, Nigeria. The attack was blamed on herders. 

On The Radar

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met on April 26 to discuss lasting solutions to the escalating conflicts between herders and farmers in West Africa. Leaders of the meeting emphasized the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict, including land and water issues and climate change. At their next session, ECOWAS plans to review proposals and recommendations for peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Resources and Further Reading

Criminal networks escalating herders, farmers clashes, says Osinbajo (The Guardian)
Finding lasting solutions to resolve conflicts between farmers and herders in West Africa (ReliefWeb)
Growing herdsmen militancy is adding to West Africa’s security threats (The Conservation)
‘Killer herdsmen’ blamed for wave of deadly Nigeria clashes (Financial Times)
W Africa faces security threat from herders-farmers violence: UN (News24)

Kayla Ritter is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied International Relations and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is currently based in Manton, Michigan. Kayla enjoys running, writing, and traveling. Contact Kayla Ritter

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