Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The nomads go to war

The 2015 Global Terrorism Index named Fulani (herdsmen) militants as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world.
Herdsmen militancy has been ongoing in Nigeria for a long time but in recent years the incidents have become a lot more organised, sophisticated and complicated. With security compromised due to the Boko Haram insurgency, attacks have increased. From 2010 to 2013 Fulani militants killed around 80 people in total. In 2014 alone they killed 1229. Herdsmen militancy has also exploited the existing fault lines of religion and ethnicity in Nigeria. It’s evolving into a complex identity conflict that is sowing seeds of destabilisation throughout the Middle Belt, which runs through central Nigeria.
The conflict between herdsmen and farmers isn’t an exclusively Nigerian problem. It’s prevalent in a number of countries across the West and East Africa regions, taking on a transnational character in some places.
At first glance, these conflicts seem to be fuelled by the quest for grazing land by Fulani herdsmen. Conflict between herdsmen and farmers are often triggered by attempts to prevent the cattle of nomadic herdsmen from grazing on crop farms.
But they are escalated by other factors. A closer look shows a complex mix of politics, identity, religion, terrorism and criminality. All flourish because of a weak political and security environment.
Nomadic herdsmen are largely found among the nomadic tribes of Central, East, North and West Africa, particularly in countries like Central African Republic, Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Gambia, South Sudan, Mali and Nigeria.
In West Africa, nomadic herding is almost exclusively associated with the Fulani ethnic group. There are about 20 million Fulanis living across West Africa. Some are nomads who specialise in traditional animal husbandry, feeding their cattle by itinerant grazing.
Nomadic herders are struggling due to political and environmental changes. Their livelihoods are being threatened by changes in weather patterns as well as modern land-use policies and urbanisation. Most African countries don’t support their itinerant herding and nomadic lifestyle.
What this means is that the average nomadic herder lives in an environment he considers hostile and indifferent to his needs, where he must struggle to fend for himself and to survive. This struggle for survival has become a way of life for herders who are ready to defend or redeem their endangered livelihood with their blood.
The military capability of the militant herdsmen has become increasingly sophisticated. They use modern weaponry as well as mercenary fighters. Some of the attacks now include military style operations, sometimes with the use of supply helicopters and machine guns mounted on vehicles. The attacks often take a “scorched earth” approach that level entire communities, and sustain offensives that last for months.
In West and Central Africa, herdsmen violence has assumed a dreadful transnational dimension. For instance, hired attackers recruited from Mali and Central African Republic have often been fingered in Fulani herdsmen attacks in other parts of Nigeria. Bands of mercenary fighters have also been involved in similar incidents in parts of Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, and Niger.

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