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February 28, 2011

West Africa discuss conflicts between pastoralists and settler/farmer communities

Seven member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including Ghana, are to adopt a common resolution towards addressing the emerging conflicts between pastoralists, mostly Fulanis, and their host communities.

This follows the realisation that these conflicts have become an international phenomenon in the West African sub-region, particularly in the countries the Fulani herdsmen have found as suitable destinations for their activities.

The other countries are Burkina Faso, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

Representatives of these countries met recently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to strategise on a common mechanism to resolve these conflicts which have been recognised as an emerging threat to peace and security in the sub-region.

The two-day Consultative Meeting on Agriculture and Pastoralist Conflicts in West Africa, which opened February 22, was organised by the West African Network for Peace-building (WANEP), with funding from the Finnish Government.

Participants comprised chiefs, agriculturists, security and conflict resolution experts and political leaders.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, the Executive Director of WANEP, Mr Emmanuel Bombande, said countries in West Africa could not claim to be unperturbed by the menace of the conflicts due to their threat to internal and external security.

“Not only have these conflicts between pastoralists and farmers become an in-country problem; they have also become a problem between countries,” he noted.

Mr Bombande said the conflicts between farmers and pastoralists had to do with access to natural resources, particularly land and water. He said factors such as population growth and climate change posed a great threat to agriculture and would thus deepen the conflict between pastoralists and farmers as they struggled to gain control over the earth and its resources. He pointed out that it was high time Africa took a serious look at those conflicts because about 60 per cent of its people lived in rural areas and depended largely on agriculture.

“If agriculture fails, Africa will be plunged into crisis. Already, there is increasing rural-urban drift due to the declining interest of the youth in agriculture,” Mr Bombande cautioned.

The Chairperson of WANEP Burkina Faso, Prof Albert Ouadraogo, noted that it was time for Africa to find a lasting and satisfactory solution to those conflicts before allowing them to rise above control. “Through dialogue, we should be able to chart a common agenda towards resolving these conflicts in a manner that will be satisfactory to both sides,” he stated.

It has been noted that the movement of pastoralists from the Sahel to the south of West Africa is largely precipitated by the increasing demand for fresh grazing grounds, as the Sahel has been hit by droughts.
Consequently, the Fulani herdsmen move down south and are attracted to the area by the hospitality of the people and the availability of pasture.

However, the herdsmen have run into troubles with the local people in recent years because of complaints that the cattle herded by the Fulani are destroying crops, while some of the herdsmen are allegedly involved in cattle rustling.

In Ghana, there have also been concerns over environmental degradation and criminal activities by some immigrant pastoralists.

Accra Mail

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