Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in the Sudano-Sahel have been going on for centuries. Over time communities have developed techniques to resolve these conflicts and mitigate their destabilizing effects. These resolution mechanisms were usually informal, and... Read More
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Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in the Sudano-Sahel have been going on for centuries. Over time communities have developed techniques to resolve these conflicts and mitigate their destabilizing effects. These resolution mechanisms were usually informal, and ranged from customary courts, to assess compensation for livestock or crop damage, to dispute mediation by reputable traditional figures or councils of elders. In recent years, these informal tools have struggled to cope with the rapid spread of small arms, the growing power of NSAGs and terrorist networks, and deteriorating social and political stability. Customary leaders and local institutions are seeing their influence diminish or be co-opted by the State or insurgent groups. Relations between the nomadic and sedentary groups who have long lived together in diverse societies have deteriorated. As they travel to other regions, pastoralist groups are treated as “strangers” or “foreign invaders” and subject to exclusion and suspicion. Disputes over livestock have sparked horrific acts of tit-for-tat violence.

In Mali and central Nigeria, farmer-herder is a major element of ongoing tensions between pastoral Fulani and other ethnic groups. In 2018 in Plateau State, Nigeria, ethnic Fulani and Berom herders blamed one another for a series of unresolved cattle thefts, which eventually escalated into a two day massacre of civilians in Barkin Ladi in which more than 200 people lost their lives. The attacks inspired a reprisal where Berom youth attacked Fulani travelers on a highway. A similar massacre occurred in the Malian town of Ogossagou, when members of an ethnic vigilante group killed 160 people in a town largely populated by a rival herder community, which sparked further reprisals.

Such exclusion has become more severe in recent years with the rise of violent extremism and ethno-nationalist militias. In CAR, for example, self-defense militias formed with the stated goals of defending against armed bandits who included Arab and Mbororo pastoralists, even as state security forces clashed with NSAGs who claimed to be defending pastoralists. As fear and suspicion intensified following the uprising by the rebel Seleka coalition in 2013, “anti-balaka” militias began attacking all Muslim communities, including Mbororo pastoralists who were presumed guilty by association. These attacks led to a spike in mobilization by Mbororo communities to retaliate and defend themselves, as well as new iterations of NSAGs led by Mbororo such as the Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique and 3R.

Questions to Consider in Your Context
Intervention Strategies
Alternative Dispute Resolution

Many pastoralist and farming communities prefer to resolve disputes by allowing trusted elders or chiefs to mediate, particularly as they are often unable to depend on state justice institutions that are absent or unfamiliar. Traditional mediation practices have been an important tool for resolving complaints over crop damage, livestock theft, or assault before they escalate into something worse. However, many of the traditional dispute resolution practices in the Sudano-Sahel have been corroded by years of instability, political and social polarization, and armed violence. Without credible channels for parties in a dispute to agree upon a resolution, pastoralists and farmers increasingly turn to militias or mob violence to get justice. Increasing the capacity of the formal justice sector in these regions is a critical step (see Strategy – Access to Justice), but it is also important to support options for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Dispute resolution practices that rely on trusted community leaders will be familiar to many pastoralist and farmer communities and are necessary for finding flexible solutions to the kinds of problems they encounter. When a group of farmers begin cultivating land in the middle of a well-established transhumance route in public land, there may be few legal solutions available to pastoralists, but they may be able to negotiate a solution if there are trust mediators who can intervene. External interventions may involve, for example, providing technical training to local leaders or helping to set up a local peace committee.

What Makes Alternative Dispute Resolution Succeed?
What Makes Alternative Dispute Resolution Fail?
Case Study
Mediation Committees in the Ruzizi Plain Resolve Disputes between Farmers and Herders
People-to-People Interventions

Conflicts between pastoralist and farming communities are often deeply interwoven with group identity and interethnic tensions among different pastoral groups or between pastoralist and sedentary groups. Many established practices for building intergroup trust are grounded in Contact Theory – the hypothesis that regular contact between two groups can increase tolerance and acceptance. However, building intergroup acceptance through programs that rely on regular people-to-people contact can be challenging given that the nomadic livelihood of pastoralists involves social and political distance from local residents. Yet pastoralists are never completely isolated from settled communities – many live in their own settlements when they are not on migration with the livestock, or maintain regular contact with the people they meet along their migration routes or when they travel to markets. There may be a number of opportunities to bring pastoralists in contact with their settled counterparts through common interests such as markets or cultural events. Leveraging these common interests, people-to-people interventions can uproot the fears and skepticism between pastoralist and sedentary communities or among conflicting pastoralist groups.

What Makes People-to-People Interventions Succeed?
What Makes People-to-People Interventions Fail?
Case Study
Fulani Pastoralists and Farmers Break Down Divides Using Mobile Theater
Cultural Heritage Activities

The pastoralist way of life is more than a means of survival; it is both the source of group identity and a unique cultural heritage. This cultural pride is a defining asset and an opportunity to educate others who inhabit the same lands but fear pastoralists. Events designed to highlight the diversity of cultural heritage among all those inhabiting these unique landscapes can reinforce solidarity and help prevent the escalation of future conflicts. Such events can also remind state officials and the wider public that pastoralism is more than an ancient means of survival, but a celebration of human adaptation and perseverance in a harsh, demanding climate.

What Makes Cultural Heritage Activities Succeed?
What Makes Cultural Heritage Activities Fail?
Case Study
Wrestling Tournaments Unite Communities in South Sudan
Bridging Social Distance

Transforming relationships between mobile and sedentary communities can be complicated by physical distance across remote landscapes with little communications technology, digital or otherwise. The absence of face-to-face encounters in a region dominated by violence can intensify this polarization. Where people-to-people programming is unrealistic because of conflict or physical distance, mass media (radio, television) and direct communication tools (phone services, social media) can help bridge groups across dividing lines, rebuilding trust and solidarity. Telecommunications services may be limited or inaccessible to communities living in remote areas, but there are still a variety of ways in which communications tools can be used creatively to reach mobile populations.

What Makes the Use of Communication Tools in Peacebuilding Succeed?
What Makes the Use of Communication Tools in Peacebuilding Fail?
Case Study
Peace Committees use Mobile SD Cards to Reach Pastoralist Audiences in CAR
Inclusive Language in Public Messaging

Public messaging around pastoralism and conflict risks stoking hostilities through implied blame or accusation, fueling deeper identity-based tensions. Media personalities, diplomats, and other public figures play a critical role in shaping whether people see pastoralists as violent invaders or members of a common community (see also Module – Law Enforcement & Counterterrorism).

What Makes Public Messaging Inclusive?
What Makes Public Messaging Divisive?
Case Study
Ethnicized Discourse in West Africa