West African representatives to discuss rural transborder conflicts

West African representatives to discuss rural transborder conflicts

Ministers from the several West African states are expected to convene in Nigeria for a conference on the deadly clashes

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Photo: The Nation

Ministers from the several West African states are expected to convene in Nigeria for a conference on the deadly clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the region.

For centuries in the Sahel region of West Africa, herdsmen have moved animals annually across the rural landscape to graze them. Today, some 50 million people in the region continue to be economically dependent on raising livestock.

However, in the past decade, thanks to armed conflict, trafficking, terrorism and desertification, many of the traditional transhumance corridors no longer exist, resulting in territorial clashes between farmers and herdsmen. Between 2011 and 2016, more than 2,000 have been killed annually over such conflicts.

Prolonged or worsening clashes pose a significant risk to regional stability. Pastoralists are the only major food-producing group in the region. Additionally, their superior knowledge of the terrain and local communities has been co-opted by governments to keep order beyond their capitals. With the region becoming an increasing target of Islamic militant groups, further destabilisation could open the door to such groups establishing greater influence. Indeed, pastoralists may turn to Islamic militancy for support if governments do not meet their needs.