International Order & Conflict
Issue Brief

The Erosion of Pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel

Time to Recognize a Growing Security Threat?

From humble beginnings as local-level disputes over land and resources, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has become increasingly intertwined with some of the most pressing security threats facing the world today.

By Madeline Vellturo Author

Pastoralism, or the rearing of livestock, is an important livelihood in the Sudano-Sahel region of Africa, contributing significantly to regional food security and GDP. Yet this critical livelihood is increasingly threatened by a host of modern pressures like climate change, growing extractive industry, and arms proliferation. Moreover, considering pastoralist groups have experienced centuries of political, economic, and social marginalization, many pastoralist communities struggle to access services and assistance from governments as they attempt to manage these disruptions.

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Executive Summary

As pastoralist communities attempt to navigate contemporary challenges, they are coming into increasing conflict with each other and with sedentary communities like farmers. Growing competition over land, resources, and power have triggered retaliatory cycles of violence that are spiraling out of control. In some cases, pastoralism-related violence has sparked atrocities and mass violence against civilians. It is also contributing to growing insurgent and extremist threats in parts of the region. Though often small-scale and local in origin, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has escalated in frequency and intensity—posing significant risks to regional stability and to international peace and security.

The erosion of pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel, and the resulting escalation of pastoralism-related violence, sits at the intersection of the development-security-environmental nexus, overlapping with a complex confluence of economic, social, political, and ecological factors. In order to ensure that development, stabilization, and environmental efforts in the region succeed, policymakers and practitioners need to factor pastoralism-related violence into their calculations. They must develop strategies that incorporate a multidimensional understanding of the context, causes, and consequences of the erosion of pastoralism. They must identify areas where their efforts may neglect, or potentially exacerbate, the drivers of pastoralism-related violence, and work to mitigate any unintended consequences. Only through such a coordinated and interdisciplinary strategic approach can policymakers and practitioners effectively reduce the threats posed by the erosion of pastoralism and the rise in pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel.

Introduction

Pastoralism, or the rearing of livestock, is an important livelihood in the Sudano-Sahel region of Africa, a transcontinental ecological zone that spans from East Africa to the continent’s Atlantic coast (see Figure 1). 1The Sudano-Sahel bioclimatic and ecological zone covers approximately 7.7 million square kilometers, comprising savanna and savanna-forest transition habitats that are critical for pastoral and agricultural livelihoods as well as for wildlife conservation in the region (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Wildlife Threat: Illegal Cattle Grazing in Africa’s Sudano Sahel.” Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/africa/illegal-cattle-grazing-in-africa-sudano-sahel-region.html). Nomadic and transhumant forms of pastoralism 2Mobile pastoralism can take several forms, including nomadic, semi-nomadic, and transhumant, or seasonally mobile. employ tens of millions of people in the Sudano-Sahel and contribute significantly to regional food security and gross domestic product (GDP). Yet this critical industry is increasingly threatened by a host of modern pressures like climate change, growing extractive industry, and arms proliferation. Moreover, considering pastoralist groups have experienced centuries of political, economic, and social marginalization, many pastoralist communities struggle to access services and assistance from governments as they attempt to manage these disruptions.

Image source: Kaamil Ahmed, “From Sudan to Mali, how climate wars are breaking out across the Sahel,” Middle East Eye, September 19, 2019. Accessed January 23, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sudan-mali-conflict-climate-wars-conflict-sahel.

As pastoralist groups attempt to navigate contemporary challenges that have arisen in the past few decades, they are coming into increasing conflict with each other and with sedentary communities, like farmers. Growing competition over land, resources, and power has triggered retaliatory cycles of violence that are spiraling out of control. In some cases, pastoralism-related violence has triggered atrocities and mass violence against civilians. It is also contributing to growing insurgent and extremist threats in parts of the region. Though often small-scale and local in origin, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has escalated in frequency and intensity — posing significant risks to regional stability and to international peace and security.

The complex causes and consequences of the erosion of pastoralism have the potential to jeopardize national, bilateral, and multilateral efforts to develop and stabilize the Sudano-Sahel region of Africa. In order to ensure that current economic, peacebuilding, and environmental efforts succeed, policies and programs must incorporate a multidimensional understanding of the erosion of pastoralism into their strategies. Only through such an informed and interdisciplinary approach can policymakers and practitioners effectively reduce the threats posed by the erosion of pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel.

Context: Chronic Marginalization of Pastoral Groups

Pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel is situated in a long history of political, social, and economic marginalization. Pastoralists’ relatively low population density, geographic remoteness, and mobility have challenged many pastoralists’ ability to access government services and other benefits. This context has directly impacted how pastoral communities react and adapt to shifting dynamics and modern forces like climate change, arms proliferation, and global market integration.

Mobile pastoralists have traditionally been based in the Sudano-Sahel’s sparsely populated, grazeland-rich arid and semi-arid zones for large portions of the year. They often have a lower population density than the sedentary communities that reside in the wetter southern regions of many Sudano-Sahelien countries. Thus, pastoralists generally constitute a low proportion of national populations and are dispersed across wide swaths of territory. As a result, they often represent a “minority vote” in the eyes of both local and national politicians. Simply put, there is power in numbers, and pastoralists are often in the numeric minority. 3Ced Hesse and Michael Ochieng Odhiambo, “Strengthening pastoralists’ voice in shaping policies for sustainable poverty reduction in ASAL regions of East Africa” (presented at the Conference on Pastoralism and Poverty Reduction in East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, June 27-28, 2006). Accessed October 3, 2019. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/32e6/35f91571ee6658e85652ad9ebefe13a8115b.pdf.

Rangelands also tend to occupy the geographic peripheries of modern nation states, distancing pastoralists from urban centers. Thus, many pastoralists, especially working class pastoralists, have typically been far removed from seats of political and economic power. Rough terrain and poor infrastructure throughout the region have made pastoralist engagement in national political and economic discourse even more challenging. 4Sara Pavavello, “Pastoralists’ Vulnerability in the Horn of Africa: Exploring Political Marginalization, Donors’ Policies, and Cross-Border Issues,” Humanitarian Policy Group, April 2009.

Pastoralists’ mobile nature has further marginalized them because most nation states are unpracticed in protecting the rights of, and providing services to, mobile people. 5James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, (Yale University Press, 1999). Healthcare and education are often distributed in static buildings (hospitals and schools). Political representation is often closely tied to locality, as citizens engage in governance through local city councils or town halls, answer to law enforcement with a geographically limited jurisdiction, and vote on laws that impact their towns, districts, or provinces. Census data is notoriously poor in capturing the demographics of mobile populations. In this context, mobile groups like pastoralists struggle to access formal governance mechanisms for services like security, justice, and social support. Instead, they create their own mechanisms that are often regarded as illegitimate, antiquated, or backward by the state and the broader international community.

While many policymakers’ and peacebuilding practitioners’ efforts seem based on the assumption that herders and other groups like farmers have equal grievance, an historical view reveals that the playing field is far from level.

The systemic marginalization of pastoralist groups is an important lens through which to view more immediate challenges facing pastoralist communities. While many policymakers’ and peacebuilding practitioners’ efforts seem based on the assumption that herders and other groups like farmers have equal grievance, an historical view reveals that the playing field is far from level. Modern threats to pastoralism have emerged in a context marred by generations of political, social, and economic marginalization that has undermined the ability of these communities to adapt quickly and pursue sustainable solutions supported by the rule of law. 6Clionadh Raleigh, “Political Marginalization, Climate Change, and Conflict in African Sahel States,” International Studies Review 12, 2010, 69-86.

Causes: Modern Drivers of Industry Change

Despite its proven adaptive capacity and dynamism, the pastoralism industry in the Sudano-Sahel is undergoing unprecedented change. The availability of water and arable land, both critical resources for successful pastoralism, are under threat from a complex confluence of global and regional stressors. Climate change, population growth, urbanization, recent economic trends, shifts in land governance mechanisms, and rampant arms proliferation have all significantly altered the pastoralism landscape in recent decades. Pastoral communities, receiving little support from their governments, are struggling to manage these changes.

Climate Change and Variability

Climate conditions in the Sudano-Sahel are harsh and unpredictable. The region often has recurrent cycles of low rainfall as well as periods of high rainfall characterized by heavy precipitation events. It is because of this climate variability that livestock herding is a highly effective method of food production in the Sudano-Sahel: mobile pastoralism, due to its flexibility, generally manages climate variability better than sedentary crop and livestock farming.

However, a series of particularly severe droughts in the 1970s and 1980s devastated the region and dramatically altered the agricultural landscape. Food production fell far below population needs, and hundreds of thousands of people and millions of animals died. 7Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha, et. al, “Background Paper on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa” (presented at African Workshop on Adaptation Implementation of Decision 1/CP.10 of the UNFCCC Convention, Accra, Ghana, September 2006) para. 54. Accessed December 12, 2019. https://www.preventionweb.net/files/8386_8386200609backgroundafricanwkshp11.pdf. This somewhat slow-moving ecological crisis had a detrimental impact on the region’s land and water resources. For example, Lake Chad, once a source of life and livelihood to 50 million people, shrank by 90 percent between 1963 and 2013, due in part to severely low rainfall. 8Russel Bishop, “African Leadership in a Time of Climate Risk,” in Confronting Climate Change: Africa’s Leadership on an Increasingly Urgent Issue, Brooking Institution, 2019. Accessed October 4, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/global_20170109_foresight_africa_chapter-5.pdf. Human and livestock movement patterns were significantly altered, aggravating resource competition, and traditional conflict mitigation mechanisms between farmers and herders became strained or obsolete. 9Abba Gana Shettima & Usman A. Tar, “Farmer-Pastoralist Conflict in West-Africa: Exploring the Causes and Consequences,” Information, Society and Justice 1.2, June 2008, 172.

Today, climate conditions in the Sahel remain unreliable, a trend that is being exacerbated by broader global climate change. Sporadic droughts and other extreme weather phenomena continue to challenge the predominantly rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism of the region, aggravating food insecurity and resource competition. For example, the 2012 drought in Mali was a contributing factor to the Tuareg rebellion that nearly toppled the national government in Bamako — a crisis that warranted military intervention by France, the African Union, and the United Nations. 10Baz Lecocq and Nadia Belalimat, “The Tuareg: Between Armed Uprising and Drought,” African Arguments, February 28, 2012. Accessed December 10, 2019.  https://africanarguments.org/2012/02/28/the-tuareg-between-armed-uprising-and-drought-baz-lecocq-and-nadia-belalimat/.

Demographic Shifts

Sharp population growth has placed further stress on rural livelihoods. The region’s population grew 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, and is expected to more than double by 2050, reaching one billion. 11A M Abdi, J Seaquist, D E Tenenbaum, L Eklundh and J Ardö, “The Supply and Demand of Net Primary Production in the Sahel,” Environmental Research Letters, June 5, 2014. Demographers predict that the region’s population will outgrow its food production capacity in the next few decades. 12Ibid. Moreover, some report that population growth among traditionally farming groups is faster than in pastoral communities, exacerbating existing social and political imbalances. 13Cees de Haan, Etienne Dubern, Bernard Garancher, and Catalina Quintero, “Pastoralism Development in the Sahel: A Road to Stability,” World Bank Group, Washington, DC, 2016.

In addition, the region is experiencing rapid urbanization, 14World Bank Group, “The Challenges of Urbanization in West Africa,” AFCW# Economic Update, 2018. which puts additional stress on natural resources. Large dam projects by the governments of Nigeria and Senegal have dried up vast wetlands in diverting water and energy to growing urban populations. 15Fred Pearce, “How Big Water Projects Helped Trigger Africa’s Migrant Crisis,” Yale Environment 360, October 17, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2019. https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-africas-big-water-projects-helped-trigger-the-migrant-crisis. In semi-arid zones, wetlands are particularly crucial for pastoral resilience, serving as reception zones for cattle during the dry season and as havens during droughts.

Moreover, demand for meat in these growing cities is skyrocketing, outpacing regional supply, pushing up the price of livestock, and raising the stakes of cattle rustling and violence between farmers and herders. Local livestock entrepreneurs have been attempting to respond by establishing ranches closer to urban centers, but these enterprises are often ad hoc, unregulated, and unsustainable. 16Author interview with scholar (Bamako, Mali: August 2019).

Growing Industry and Economic Trends

The growth of key industries is also changing how land and water are used in the Sudano-Sahel, directly affecting pastoralists’ way of life. For example, extractive industries like oil are on the rise. The region is oil-rich, with more than 275 new oil wells discovered in West Africa alone since 2000. 17Robert G. M. Nyemah, “Economics of Oil Discovery in West Africa: The Nigeria Experience,” Regional Maritime University Journal Volume 1, February 10, 2011. Governments across the region have been reallocating land from pastoralist corridors to oil companies from China and the United States. 18United Nations Economic Commission for West Africa, “New Fringe Pastoralism: Conflict and Insecurity and Development in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel,” 2017. Moreover, oil operations contribute to the degradation of the ecosystems and environments of the region that are important for sustainable pastoralism.

The region has also been experiencing a mining boom. Gold, diamond, and uranium industries across west and central Africa have grown exponentially in recent decades. In Burkina Faso alone, gold production increased fifteen-fold between 2007 and 2010. 19Alain Antil, “The Mining Boom in the Sahel Region: Will the Development last?” Institut français des relations internationals, 2014. In Niger, uranium represented over 70 percent of the country’s total exports in 2010. 20Ibid. Mining operations are often water intensive, thus depleting scarce water reserves. For example, French- and Chinese-owned uranium mines in Niger have consumed over four billion gallons of water in the last four decades. 21Climate Change and African Political Stability, “Water and Security in Niger and the Sahel,” Research Brief No. 24, December 2014.

Agriculture is also an increasingly extractive industry. Global food price hikes in 2008 and 2009 exacerbated land grabbing in the region and increased the production of cash crops for export in place of food crops. In Mali, for example, the area of arable land controlled by foreign interests increased by two-thirds between 2009 and 2010. 22Thomas Hertzog, Amandine Adamczewski, Francois Molle, Jean-Christophe Poussin, Jean-Yves Jamin, “Ostrich-Like Strategies in Sahelian Sands? Land and Water Grabbing in the Office du Niger, Mali,” Water Alternatives 5, Issue 2, 2012. In 2012, the Nigerian government sold 30,000 hectares of land to the Dominion Farms, a U.S.-headquartered company, to build a large rice plantation despite the fact that 45,000 people relied on that land for their livelihoods and at least 3,000 land title holders existed within the area. 23“The Dominion Farms’ Land Grab in Nigeria Farmers in Taraba State Refuse to Give Up Their Lands for Massive Rice Plantation Project Backed by the G8,” Global Justice Now, January 2015. Accessed December 18, 2019. https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/dominion_farms_land_grab_in_nigeria_-_web.pdf. As corporations buy up arable land in the region, the amount of land available for local pastoralists to graze their herds is reduced. The growth of industrialized agriculture has also pushed pastoralists into conservation zones, threatening efforts to conserve regional wildlife and biodiversity and triggering conflicts with conservation actors. 24Matthew Luizza, “Transhumant Pastoralism in Central Africa: Emerging Impacts on Conservation and Security,” Issue Brief version 1.11 for USFWS, Division of International Conservation, Africa Branch, 2017.

Like mining projects, large-scale agricultural operations also require the redirection of scarce water resources to function. Cameroon’s state-owned, World Bank-funded Maga Dam has diverted 70 percent of the flow of the Logone River to rice farms, drying up a flood plain that once supported 130,000 people. 25Fred Pearce, “How Big Water Projects Helped Trigger Africa’s Migrant Crisis,” Yale Environment 360, October 17, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2019. https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-africas-big-water-projects-helped-trigger-the-migrant-crisis. The Malian government is building dams along the Niger River to irrigate water-intensive crops like rice, sugar, and cotton. 26Ibid.

Water and arable land are critical resources for successful pastoralism. Growing extractive industries are changing the way these resources are doled out and utilized. Despite the economic benefits that extractives can present for corporations and governments, this trend has increased competition between pastoralists and local farming communities — and in the context of social, economic, and political marginalization, the impacts of growing extractive industry may disproportionately disadvantage pastoral livelihoods.

Changes in Land Governance

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonial powers established governance structures that favored sedentary communities over nomadic pastoralists. Land policies broadly recognized the land ownership of farmers over herders and decreed that most pastureland belonged to the state. As the colonial era drew to a close, most newly independent governments adopted the land policies of their colonial predecessors. 27Katherine Homewood, Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008), 73.

In practice, much of the land used for grazing in the Sudano-Sahel was governed informally through traditional councils and committees throughout both the colonial and post-colonial periods. This is because national governments in the region were historically quite weak and struggled to exert control over the entirety of their territories.

However, in recent years the international community has become increasingly uncomfortable with informally governed spaces, viewing them as areas where terrorists and insurgents can proliferate. 28See: Stewart M. Patrick, “Are ’Ungoverned Spaces’ a Threat?” Council on Foreign Relations, January 11, 2010. Accessed, March 26, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/are-ungoverned-spaces-threat; Angel Rabasa, Steven Boraz, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, Theodore W. Karasik, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Kevin A. O’Brien, and John E. Peters, “Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks,” RAND Corporation, 2007; Frank Archibald, “Ungoverned Space: A National Security Challenge,” The Cipher Brief, July 11, 2016. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column_article/ungoverned-space-a-national-security-challenge. Wealthy nations have devoted much effort to helping governments in fragile states extend authority over their peripheries. Foreign investors also support these efforts, as they seek formal state institutions that will protect their property and investments. Informal local land governance mechanisms that have been operating for decades are being challenged by more formal state structures — structures that are not as well-practiced in managing pastoralism or mobile populations.

Arms Proliferation

Over the last two decades, a substantial flow of weapons has swept across the Sudano-Sahel. Porous borders have facilitated the proliferation of arms into and within the sub-region. In the 1990s and 2000s, civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire paved the way for weapons to flood eastward from coastal West Africa. 29Ted Leggett et al., “Transnational Organized Crime in West Africa: A Threat Assessment,” U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, 2013, 35; U.N. Security Council, “Final Report of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire Pursuant to Paragraph 27 of Security Council Resolution 2219 (2015),” U.N. Doc. S/2016/254, March 17, 2016, para. 18-20. Sudanese military campaigns against resistance movements in Darfur and South Sudan augmented these weapons flows from the east. 30Ted Leggett, et al., ibid, 35. And in 2011, civil war following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya unleashed a large surge of arms southward across the Sahara Desert. 31United Nations Security Council, “Final Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011),” U.N. Doc. S/2015/128, February 23, 2015, para. 204.

Increased access to weapons has swiftly and significantly altered the pastoralism landscape. This phenomenon has changed how pastoralists protect their assets, and how they relate to each other and to other groups in the region. Cattle rustling practices and disputes with farming communities that used to yield only a few casualties can now yield hundreds in a single episode. 32“UN: More than 130 Killed in Mali Ethnic Attack on Fulani Village,” Al Jazeera, March 24, 2019. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/130-killed-mali-ethnic-attack-fulani-village-190324081752188.html; Yomi Kazeem, “The Latest Clash between Herdsmen and Farmers in Nigeria has Left More Than 200 Dead,” Quartz Africa, June 27, 2018. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://qz.com/africa/1315817/plateau-attacks-more-than-200-killed-in-herdsmen-farmers-clash/. Traditional justice mechanisms, such as offering cattle as restitution for lives lost, have been unable to keep pace with this scale of violence. 33Author interviews, Bamako, Mali, August 2019.

Increased access to weapons has swiftly and significantly altered the pastoralism landscape.

Moreover, widespread access to weapons has broken down traditional intracommunal governance mechanisms within rural communities. Disenfranchised youth no longer feel obligated to adhere to peace agreements or land deals made by their elders when they are armed and can take matters of justice and revenge into their own hands. 34Author interviews, Bamako, Mali, August 2019.

Consequences: An Escalating Security Threat

Pastoralist communities in the Sudano-Sahel are struggling in the face of challenges brought on by contemporary global forces of change. In a context of marginalization where many governments are ill-practiced in providing services and social assistance to pastoral communities, some pastoralists are turning to non-state partners to address their needs and grievances, sometimes through violent means. The resulting security dilemma has meant farmers and other non-pastoral communities are also collaborating with armed actors to protect their interests. This has led to a sharp increase in pastoralism-related violence — that is, violence committed by or against members of pastoralist groups as a result of tensions stemming from their pastoral identity or affiliation. This phenomenon poses an escalating threat to international peace and security.

Throughout the region, pastoralism-related violence has yielded shockingly high casualty rates. In Nigeria, herder-farmer conflict claimed six times as many lives as Boko Haram in 2018. 35International Crisis Group, “Stopping Nigeria’s Spiralling Farmer-Herder Violence,” Africa Report No. 262, July 26, 2018. In several provinces in South Sudan, violence linked to pastoralist tensions and cattle rustling has killed more civilians than the intractable civil war. 36Author interviews, South Sudan, June 2016. This violence reinforces many of the existing challenges, as instability and impunity further challenge the availability of natural resources and exacerbate food insecurity and cycles of chronic poverty. Communities are also arming themselves for self-protection, contributing to growing weapons proliferation.

Moreover, pastoralism-related violence has gradually expanded beyond local disputes over the issue of land and resources to conflicts with wider social, ethnic, and religious dimensions. For example, throughout the first half of 2019, tit-for-tat violence between the predominantly sedentary Dogon ethnic group and the traditionally pastoralist Fulani in central Mali yielded hundreds of casualties. 37“Mali Attack: More than 130 Fulani Villagers Killed,” BBC News, March 24, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-47680836; “Dozens Killed in New Attacks on Central Mali Villages,” France 24, June 18, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190618-attacks-central-mali-villages-dogon-fulani. In June 2018, a single massacre by pastoralist-affiliated fighters in Nigeria killed more than 200 people. 38Joshua Inuwa, “More than 200 People Killed in Weekend Violence in Central Nigeria,” Reuters, June 27, 2018. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-security/more-than-200-people-killed-in-weekend-violence-in-central-nigeria-idUSKBN1JN158. These clashes were not over immediate access to land – instead, they were ethnically-motivated retaliatory attacks to exact revenge for previous violence that had been triggered by fierce competition over land and resource use.

These dynamics have increased the risk of mass atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has raised the alarm that pastoralism-related violence in central Mali poses a high atrocity risk. 39Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim and Mollie Zapata, “Regions at Risk: Preventing Mass Atrocities in Mali,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Early Warning Country Report, April 2018. Christian farming communities in Nigeria continue to accuse largely Muslim pastoralist communities of committing religious genocide against them. 40Lela Gilbert, “An Unrecognized Genocide in Nigeria,” Hudson Institute, January 29, 2019. In Niger and other parts of the region, herder-farmer violence pits Muslim communities against one another, demonstrating the diversity of pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel. Pastoralism-related violence has featured heavily in the insurgencies in Darfur, South Sudan, and Central African Republic. All of these conflicts have resulted in widespread atrocities and presented warning signs of genocide. 41“U.N. Sees Early Warning Signs of Genocide in CAR,” Al Jazeera, August 7, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/sees-early-warning-signs-genocide-car-170807215828039.html; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “South Sudan: Ethnic Conflict and Civil War,” last updated July 2018. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/cases/south-sudan.

There are also growing links between pastoralism-related conflict and the emergent jihadist threat in the region. Both farming and herding communities seeking protection from pastoralism-related violence have turned in some instances to jihadist groups to provide security. These groups earn revenue by protecting farms or livestock and collecting illegal taxes on roads and markets used to sell agricultural products. 42International Crisis Group, “Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province,” Report No. 273, Africa, May 16, 2019. Accessed December 12, 2019. https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/nigeria/273-facing-challenge-islamic-state-west-africa-province; Paul Carsten, Ahmed Kingimi, “Islamic State Ally Stakes Out Territory around Lake Chad,” Reuters, April 29, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-security/islamic-state-ally-stakes-out-territory-around-lake-chad-idUSKBN1I0063. In some areas of central Mali, evidence suggests that some pastoralists support jihadists, who are responding to pastoralist priorities when the government will not. 43Tor A. Benjaminsen & Boubacar Ba, “Why Do Pastoralists in Mali Join Jihadist Groups? A Political Ecological Explanation,” The Journal for Peasant Studies, 2018.

Analysts and politicians around the world recognize that mass atrocities and international terrorism present threats to global peace and stability. The United Nations Security Council has passed resolutions condemning both mass violence against civilians and international terrorism as threats to international peace and security. 44UN Security Council Resolution 1373, UN Doc S/RES/1373, September 28, 2001; UN Security Council Resolution 1265, UN Doc S/RES/1265, September 17, 1999. These conflicts can trigger and perpetuate devastating, expensive humanitarian crises. They disrupt economic growth and development, jeopardizing billions of investment and aid dollars. 45“Foreign Aid Explorer: U.S. Foreign Aid by Country,” USAID, last updated February 20, 2020. Accessed March 26, 2020. https://explorer.usaid.gov/cd. They threaten key routes and resources that are integral to global markets. 46See, e.g., “The Economic Value of Peace 2018: Measuring the Global Economic Impact of Violent Conflict,” Institute for Economics and Peace, October 2018. And they trigger destabilizing displacement and migration that impacts neighboring states and host nations around the world. 47See, e.g., Wendy Williams, “Shifting Borders: Africa’s Displacement Crisis and Its Security Implications,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, October 2019.

Conclusion

From humble beginnings as local-level disputes over land and resources, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has become increasingly intertwined with some of the most pressing security threats facing the world today. Actors working to develop and stabilize the region will have to contend with these dynamics and avoid exacerbating this evolving crisis.

From humble beginnings as local-level disputes over land and resources, pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel has become increasingly intertwined with some of the most pressing security threats facing the world today.

Policymakers and practitioners working in and on the Sudano-Sahel will benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of pastoralism in this region, of the threats pastoral communities face, and of avenues for addressing this growing challenge. Yet development, stabilization, and environmental stakeholders do not always understand the complex drivers of pastoralism-related problems in the Sudano-Sahel.

For example, lawmakers in Nigeria have advocated “anti-open grazing laws” as an antidote to pastoralism-related violence. 48Ochayi, C. & Erunke, J. (2017, October 30). Anti-open grazing law: Inter-religious body lauds Gov Ortom. Vanguard News. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/10/anti-open-grazing-law-inter-religious-body-lauds-gov-ortom/. Accessed April 16, 2020. These laws forbid mobile pastoralism in favor of sedentary livestock rearing and ranching. While some analysts have observed that anti-open grazing laws have reduced incidents of pastoralism-related violence, 49U.G. Ojukwu, N.C. Osuchukwu, N.V. Enemuoh, “Farmers-Herders Conflicts and Ranches Establishment Law in Nigeria: A Study of Benue State,” International Journal of Academic Pedagogical Research, Vol. 4, Issue 1, January 2020, pp. 1-16. others question whether or not these laws are economically prudent or environmentally sustainable. Research has shown that throughout Africa, mobile pastoralism consistently out preforms ranching, both in terms of food production per hectare and in terms of profits. 50Cees De Haan, Etienne Dubern, Bernard Garancher, and Catalina Quintero, “Pastoralism Development in the Sahel: A Road to Stability?” World Bank, Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development, June 2014; Jacob Paul Hukill, “International Development and West African Pastoralism Analysing Conceptions of Livestock Ownership,” The Arctic University of Norway, Center for Peace Studies, May 2017. Others have noted that pastoralists do not have access to more traditional forms of capital, which restricts their ability to purchase land on which to ranch. 51Chris M.A. Kwaja and Bukola I. Ademola-Adelehin, “The Implications of the Open Grazing Prohibition & Ranches Establishment Law on Farmer-Herder Relations in the Middle Belt of Nigeria,” Search for Common Ground, December 2017.

Often practitioners herald “local solutions” as the key to reducing pastoralism-related violence. In the absence of central state authority, dialogues mediated by local leaders determine how land and resources are allocated and governed. Yet many of the causes of the erosion of pastoralism in the Sudan0-Sahel are not local challenges. When local dispute resolution mechanisms run up against foreign investors’ interest in large-scale land purchases for the production of cash crops, national governments often side with the foreign investors over local governance mechanisms. Local solutions developed at one end of a river system to divert water for use by miners can affect constituents far downstream – sometimes in different countries. 52See, e.g., Brian Eyler, Regan Kwan, and Courtney Weatherby, “How China Turned Off the Tap on the Mekong River,” Stimson Center, April 13, 2020. https://www.stimson.org/2020/new-evidence-how-china-turned-off-the-mekong-tap/. Accessed April 16, 2020. The growing supply of weapons, some coming from as far away as Turkey, have incentivized violent entrepreneurs to circumvent or ignore the local settlements negotiated by their leaders. 53Madeline Vellturo and Shannon Dick, “How Arms Proliferation is Driving Herder-Farmer Conflict in the Sahel,” World Politics Review, March 19, 2020. https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28614/how-arms-proliferation-is-driving-herder-farmer-conflict-in-the-sahel. Accessed April 16, 2020. In this context, local approaches can only be one part of a larger strategy to reduce pastoralism-related violence.

The erosion of pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel and the resulting escalation of pastoralism-related violence presents an increasing threat to international peace and security. This challenge sits at the intersection of the development-security-environment nexus, overlapping with a complex confluence of economic, social, political, and ecological factors. In order to ensure that development, stabilization, and environmental efforts in the region succeed, policymakers and practitioners need to factor pastoralism-related violence into their calculations. They must develop strategies that incorporate a multidimensional understanding of the context, causes, and consequences of the erosion of pastoralism. They must identify areas where their efforts may neglect, or potentially exacerbate, the drivers of pastoralism-related violence, and work to mitigate any unintended consequences. Only through such a coordinated and interdisciplinary strategic approach can policymakers and practitioners effectively reduce the threats posed by the erosion of pastoralism and the rise in pastoralism-related violence in the Sudano-Sahel.

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