Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Cain V. Abel Again

 France 24 cable news outlet carries a report on the farmer-herder conflicts in Nigeria. 

Clashes between farmers and herders have killed more than 10,000 people in the last decade and forced the displacement of 300,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group. Nigeria’s Middle Belt has been struck this year by a spike in farmer-herder violence, which in 2018 was six times deadlier than the Boko Haram insurgency, killing more than 2,000 people according to the International Crisis Group.

Salihu Musa Umar, a member of one of the biggest pastoralists’ associations in Africa and the founder of The Farmers and Herders Initiative for Peace and Development, explains:

"The herdsmen are often portrayed by farmers as evil. This gives rise to suspicion and anger when they arrive but actually, they are just as often victims in this conflict. Pastoralists are being killed by farming communities on a daily basis. The herders have to move from point A to point B in search of greener pasture. But their cattle route is often blocked by farmers, who get angry and attack the herders. When these attacks take place, there is no justice, and so the herders feel cheated and begin reprisal attacks. It is an endless spiral. The nature of the pastoralists’ livelihoods makes them very vulnerable. The majority of them are poor, uneducated, and they are very rarely given a voice in public discourse. It is easy to scapegoat them."

Many farmers are losing their source of income as their crops are being burned by herders. 

Finding a resolution to Nigeria’s cattle-grazing crisis is also essential for the country’s economy and food security. Almost sixty percent of Nigeria’s protein originates from Fulani herders, according to Salihu Musa Umar. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of farmers are smallholders that produce most of the country’s farm output, which accounts for almost 27 percent of gross domestic product. 

“Food is becoming very expensive because farmers no longer have access to their farms,” Isaac Olawale Albert, Director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan told the Observers team told the reporters.  “If we don’t achieve peace in rural areas, we won’t be able to grow food anymore. So the conflict has become an existential problem for Nigeria. Either we find a solution to the conflict, or we will no longer have enough food to feed ourselves.”

Climate-induced desertification in recent years has escalated tensions, forcing the northern herders further south into the farmers' territory, creating one of the conflicts, as both sides compete for scarce resources. Farmers and herders have crossed paths for decades, as pastoralist Fulanis from the north have a long tradition of migrating south during the dry season in search of water and grazing land for their cattle. The two groups usually managed to reach a mutual accommodation and overall, they coexisted peacefully. However, in recent years, climate change has altered that order. Increased drought and desertification have forced herders even further south and into conflict with farmers, whose numbers have increased in line with Nigeria’s booming population. 

“Climate change is the most important variable in the analysis,” Isaac Olawale Albert, explained. “Droughts and desertification are the root cause of the herders’ increased movement. It has become more difficult to find fertile land, so competition has increased. The Middle Belt is often referred to as the country’s ‘food basket’ – it is very fertile land and so farmers want it for their crops and herdsmen for their cattle.” 

 As killings persist, the clashes have increasingly been framed as a religious problem, since the majority of Fulaniherders are Muslim and most of the farmers are Christian. Charges and counter-charges of ethnic cleansing have gained momentum.

This situation was depicted by a 2018 article in the Socialist Standard, using the biblical analogy of the Cain versus Abel story 

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