Africa’s farmer-herder clashes
HOLLYWOOD OWES A DEBT OF GRATITUDE to herders. It was those cattle herders heading out to the American west in the 19th and early 20th centuries that gave plot lines to the movie moguls. It might be the time for Africa’s fast-growing film industry to update ‘the Western’ for a global and 21st-century audience. It could at least help a new generation to understand the herders and what is driving their migration. The African Union says there are more than 280 million pastoralists in Africa. Clashes between farmers and herders stretch across the Sahelian belt to include Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia to the east. Weak land management and a lack of initiatives to fight and adapt to climate change have allowed disputes over land and water to escalate into communal and religious-fuelled clashes. In the US, a set of laws over grazing rights helped to bring the Range Wars to an end. Across Africa, the politics are far more complex because of the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of the communities involved. And, most of all, the climate changes that have caused droughts and desertification are more devastating than anything faced by the US herders. As Africa’s herders move in search of grasslands, the old mechanisms for ensuring peaceful coexistence are falling apart. Although the best systems of dispute resolution are local, central governments and business allies need to invest in water supplies and feedstock production as traditional pastures become unsustainable. That means national and regional policy coordination of a kind that remains all too rare.