By Maureen Chigbo*, Realnews Magazine Online
Agriculture has contributed much to economic growth, food security and peace in many African countries. Both crop and livestock farmers are responsible for more than 90 percent of Africa’s agricultural production. However, the World Bank warns that insecurity and insurgency are threatening the sustainability of Africa’s food production. Underlying this threat is the perennial crisis between the herdsmen and farmers in some parts of Africa.
Conflicts between herdsmen and farmers are increasingly leading to wanton destruction of lives and property; this concern should attract the attention of African leaders and decision makers who will gather at the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa from 16-17 April 2016 in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. This problem ought to be looked at dispassionately by African decision makers and peace and security stakeholders with a view to finding lasting solutions to the intractable clashes between herdsmen and farmers in West and Central Africa, which have existed since the 19th and 20th centuries.
Previously, herdsmen utilised machetes and bows and arrows however, today they carry sophisticated weapons with which they unleash violence on farmers and host communities at the least provocation, particurlary in response to allegations of cattle rustling.
This trend is dangerous and should no longer be ignored by African leaders. If they do, chances are that it will become something worse than Boko Haram ravaging Nigeria and its neighbouring countries. Consequently, food production will drop as the clashes increase. According to a recent report published by SMB Intelligence, more than 2,000 people have been killed in conflicts between herdsmen and different host communities in 2015 alone. In comparison, the Boko Haram insurgency that has attracted the attention of the Nigerian government and global community, killing 2,500 people annually, the report states.
Nowhere in Africa is the tale of havoc being wrecked by herdsmen more glaringly than in Nigeria where Boko Haram has also greatly damaged life, property and the economy of states in northeast Nigeria. The violence unleashed by the pastoralists, popularly called the Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, has spread across the 36 states in Nigeria, including the federal capital of Abuja. Their nefarious activities attracted a nationwide outcry when the herdsmen abducted Olu Falae, elder statesman and former presidential candidate, from his farm in September 2015. They later released the 77–year old after receiving an undisclosed amount as ransom.
In a brazen display of total disregard for the authorities, herdsmen reportedly ambushed the Burukutu Divisional Police Officer (DPO), the Area Commander and the Council Caretaker Chairman, who were on an assessment tour of the communities. In 2013, herdsmen audaciously attacked the convoy of Gabriel Suswam, former Benue State Governor. The Governor had led a security team comprising the army, police, civil defence, and Department of State Security Service to undertake an assessment of the destruction caused in the area by the Fulani herdsmen.
The worst hit took place in the Agatu community in Benue State. In just one day, roughly 500 people were killed and a whole community set ablaze on 5 March 2016. Ardo Boderi, spokesman of the Fulani community, earlier alleged that the people of the area killed more than 10,000 of their cattle. In return, the villagers alleged that the herdsmen wanted to take over their area. The killings in Agatu have been going on for two years. As I write, there is still tension in Agatu as more killings are reported, with the authorities dithering on how to best handle the problem.
The incessant attacks by herdsmen that have sent several persons to their early graves is increasingly becoming a worrisome phenomenon for government at all levels and Nigerians at large. The herdsmen, who allegedly fled their home towns due to Boko Haram activities in some northern parts of the country, have reportedly diversified into banditry, rape and other nefarious activities in their host communities, with security agencies accused of looking the other way.
Another reason the herdsmen move south is in search of greener pastures for their flock due to desertification occasioned by climate change. Munsuru Arilesere wrote that as grazing regions become hotter and drier, pastoralists are left with no option but to migrate southward if their cattle would have any chance of survival. He also thinks that urbanisation has opened up more villages and towns, making it easier for pastoralists to penetrate previously remote areas. The present security challenges being experienced in parts of the country have prompted pastoralists, like any other Nigerians, to migrate from crisis-prone areas; and cultivated areas have witnessed significant expansion, making resources scarcer and more competitive.
The solution to this lies in governments across Africa emulating what western and eastern countries have done by providing ranches and grazing grounds to meet the needs of the herdsmen and to prevent their cattle from damaging crops planted by farmers.
As Arilesere opines, “We cannot afford to ignore incessant violence related to pastoralism because it poses a threat to national security. The dimension these conflicts are assuming lately suggests deep-rooted issues degenerating into bloody conflicts and targeted killings.”
It is hoped that by the time the 5th Tana Forum winds up, African leaders will, at the minimum, weave an implementable strategy to end the perennial problems between herdsmen and farmers to ensure peace, food security and economic progress on the continent.
*Maureen Chigbo, Publisher/Editor of Realnews Magazine Online