Law Enforcement & Counterterrorism
Pastoralism is increasingly referenced in policy and programming discussions of transboundary crime and armed group activity, as pastoralists are often presented as potential vectors for violent crime and/or transnational terrorism. While grounded in valid concerns about... Read More
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Pastoralism is increasingly referenced in policy and programming discussions of transboundary crime and armed group activity, as pastoralists are often presented as potential vectors for violent crime and/or transnational terrorism. While grounded in valid concerns about the activities of some pastoralists, this lens is also used to justify discriminatory or abusive practices by government forces and local communities.

All over the world, livestock production has been a focal point for criminal activity when the demand for meat and animal products skyrockets, as has been the case in the Sudano-Sahel. Livestock are among the most valuable things people can own in rural areas, and pastoral migration routes frequently cross through the remote territories where criminal groups thrive. Cattle rustling or extortion of livestock owners is not a new practice, but in recent years the proliferation of arms and growing strength of criminal and insurgent groups has led to more frequent and deadly clashes between professional rustlers and armed cattle guards. Policing borderlands and rural territories is a challenge even outside of active conflict zones and many states lack the resources to protect against the increasing banditry.

To protect their livelihoods, pastoralists have adapted in different ways. Wealthier livestock owners hire more armed guards when they need to move their livestock through insecure territory, while many subsistence pastoralists are forced to move to new regions or routes where they may end up in conflict with local farmers. Some pastoralists have formed alliances with local armed groups, acting as conduits for supplies or communication. For instance, some Mbororo pastoralists in the northern DRC have been accused of providing support to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), although the Mbororo themselves are often victims of violence from the LRA.

Though pastoralists are common targets of theft or exploitation, some also engage in trafficking or poaching. Pastoral migration routes that cross through remote territories and across borders outside of state supervision can be ideal for moving drugs, guns, or other illicit goods. Though the pastoralists who engage in violence or criminal activity are only a minority, their behavior has often been invoked to stoke fear of pastoralists or specific pastoralist ethnic groups (see Module – Conflict Management). The perception that pastoralists generally are a security threat is seemingly justified because of the tactics they use to survive – arming themselves to protect against bandits, avoiding state authorities when crossing the border, or traveling along routes that have been co-opted for smuggling. In the public eye, these nuances are diluted into a black and white depiction of pastoralist groups as criminals, a simplification unchallenged by national law enforcement and counterterrorism officials.

Questions to Consider in Your Context
Intervention Strategies
Community-Oriented Security

Community leaders are often the first to identify and respond to violent threats, particularly in remote rangelands where security forces are thinly deployed. These local leaders can serve as eyes and ears for security forces to help focus their interventions on high-risk areas for cattle rustling, smuggling, kidnapping, or reprisal killings. In addition, civilian-operated early warning systems (EWSs) in remote regions can provide overstretched security providers with critical information on where to focus their limited resources (see also Strategy  – Regional Security Coordination).  Community-oriented security in contested or stateless areas, though, requires a careful balancing of interests and substantial trust-building. Fostering collaboration with pastoralist groups may be particularly challenging as trust in state authorities may be very low after a long history of neglect.

What Makes Community-Oriented Security Succeed?
What Makes Community-Oriented Security Fail?
Case Study
Communities and Border Agents Confront Cattle Rustling in Liptako-Gourma
Case Study
Peacekeeping Forces Protect Markets in Abyei
Security Sector Reform

The open rangelands and porous borders that pastoralists inhabit are ripe for armed groups to engage in smuggling, cattle rustling, or other illicit trade. As easy targets for theft or extortion, pastoralists have responded by aligning with militia groups, hiring private security, or removing livestock from recognized routes and official border checkpoints. Reinforcing security in these remote territories and guaranteeing safe transhumance would reduce violence and cut off revenue to insurgent groups and criminal syndicates. In some states, these areas are monitored by specialized security forces (as in the Nomadic Guard in Chad or the Agro-Rangers in Nigeria). In theory, these types of forces fill a critical gap in law enforcement as a light, easily mobile force that has the capacity to engage with communities in more remote areas. However, such forces are often under-resourced compared to local criminal groups. Specialized law enforcement and border security struggle with a lack of resources and technical capacity, challenges which are compounded by a lack of public trust and accountability. Any security sector reform agenda aimed at addressing rural banditry and insurgent activity should be adapted to address potential tensions between security forces and pastoralist populations or other inhabitants of remote territories.

What Makes Security Sector Reform Succeed?
What Makes Security Sector Reform Fail?
Case Study
Mobile Law Enforcement in Chad
Public Messaging on “Fringe Pastoralism”

Various public officials and security agencies who are responsible for securing borderlands and pastoral rangelands have raised concerns about the comparatively small percentage of the pastoralist population that engages in criminal activity and insurgency, described by the UN Economic Commission for Africa as “fringe pastoralism.” There are valid reasons to be concerned that there is a connection between pastoral livelihoods and illicit activity, as outlined in this Module. However, the activities of fringe pastoralists are often cited to legitimize suspicion of pastoralist practices writ large or to demonize pastoralist ethnic groups. The perception that pastoralists (or members of pastoralist ethnic groups) are violent criminals has fueled discrimination and intercommunal violence. It is the responsibility of both media outlets and public officials to shape the narrative in a positive way and present a balanced and accurate picture of the actions of fringe pastoralists. Training on conflict sensitivity can help reporters and officials challenge their own prejudices about pastoralist groups and craft communications that are not incendiary.

What Makes Public Messaging on “Fringe Pastoralism” Succeed?
Case Study
Coding Data on Terrorism Obscures the Role of Fulani