Greener pas­tures: The war for Africa’s graz­ing lands

CityPress - - News - THEOPHILUS ABBAH, ZACK OHEMENG TAWIAH, BENON HER­BERT OLUKA, MUNO GEDI AND ANAS AREMEYAW ANAS A transna­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the African In­ves­tiga­tive Pub­lish­ing Col­lec­tive

No­madic cat­tle farm­ing in Africa is of­ten imag­ined as pic­turesque and idyl­lic. But present­day no­madic cat­tle herders in east and west Africa carry pump-ac­tion shot­guns, AK-47s and other au­to­matic weapons. They tram­ple farms, raze vil­lages and dis­place communities in search of fad­ing green pas­tures.

Vig­i­lante farm­ing groups, also armed, are re­tal­i­at­ing in a war au­thor­i­ties ig­nore, which in some ar­eas has be­come ‘dead­lier than Boko Haram’. The land has been taken by drought, cli­mate change and ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Also hav­ing an im­pact on graz­ing is the ex­ploita­tion of re­sources and land-grab­bing by elites, from the oil wells of Nige­ria, to the mar­ble and lime­stone quar­ries in Uganda, some of which are owned by Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni’s fam­ily.


In the last 20 years, clashes be­tween farm­ers and herders evolved from sticks-and-spears af­fairs to ma­chine­gun-armed in­va­sions, in which be­tween 5 000 and 10 000 peo­ple are be­lieved to have been killed.

Last year, Nige­ria-based in­tel­li­gence con­sult­ing firm SBM rated the Fu­lani herds­men mili­tias as ‘even dead­lier than Boko Haram’, and ac­cord­ing to the ACLED database on armed con­flict in Africa, herds­men caused 11% of all civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

In Nige­ria’s north, Fu­lani herds­men have also bat­tled Boko Haram mil­i­tants. As Boko Haram req­ui­si­tion crops and young re­cruits from vil­lages, herds­men raze farm­lands.

Some farm­ers said they could no longer dis­tin­guish be­tween herds­men and Boko Haram.

In Benue State, Chief God­win Onah (70), para­mount ruler of Agatu, speaks of the destruc­tion of both his palace and his com­mu­nity. I live with friends. The lush land was once good for graz­ing and cow dung helped fer­tilise the soil. There were oc­ca­sional skir­mishes, but these have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally, he says.

Since Jan­uary 2014, when the area was in­vaded, all the build­ings – churches, schools, hos­pi­tals, mar­kets, and houses – were razed by AK-47-wield­ing herds­men, and dozens of res­i­dents were killed. Dif­fer­ent ac­counts put the num­ber of de­stroyed Agatu communities be­tween 22 and 60. ‘We labour with­out know­ing when next our har­vests will be de­stroyed,’ says Chief Onah.

But Benue State Myetti Al­lah Cat­tle Breed­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion chair­per­son Garus Gololo blames ‘for­eign Fu­lani’. ‘They come from Mali, Niger, Sene­gal, and Chad through for­est routes with their weapons. They de­stroy communities, then dis­ap­pear.’

But Chief Daniel Abomtse of Gwer, whose own farm was de­stroyed ‘along­side many vil­lages’, has lost pa­tience with gov­ern­ment’s ex­cuse that they can’t fight such ‘for­eign in­va­sions’. ‘The Makurdi air base is nearby here. The army could use sur­veil­lance planes. Is Nige­ria say­ing it allows for­eign­ers to come and de­stroy Nige­rian farms?’ Now young Agatu men guard the river them­selves, in­fu­ri­at­ing Fu­lani Chief Ardo Boderi, the deputy chair­per­son of the re­cently es­tab­lished Benue Agatu-Fu­lani Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Peace Com­mit­tee. ‘These young men have also killed Fu­lani and stolen cows,’ he states, ad­ding that ‘the [Nige­rian] Con­sti­tu­tion states free move­ment for all cit­i­zens [so] they can­not con­tinue to stop us from find­ing pas­tures’.

But Gwer’s Para­mount Chief Daniel Abomtse dis­agrees: ‘The Con­sti­tu­tion talks of the rights of peo­ple, not of cat­tle,’ he says. ‘Move­ment of peo­ple doesn’t de­stroy crops.’


The road to Em­paemu in Ghana’s Kwahu East dis­trict can only be ac­cessed by mo­tor­bikes. Homes of mud and brick have been washed away. A school houses only ro­dents now.

Fields of yam, plan­tain, maize and cas­sava have been grazed bare. Tra­di­tional leader Nana Kwaku An­song (58), who has found refuge with his sub­jects in nearby Afuni vil­lage, chokes back tears. ‘They have AK-47s and pump-ac­tion guns. We are too weak to con­front these.’ In Agogo in the Ashanti re­gion, once Ghana’s bread bas­ket, Kwame Wi­afe, a fa­ther of seven and proud owner of a Toy­ota Ma­trix, packs up his be­long­ings. He used to har­vest seven truck­loads of plan­tain a day on his 40ha farm, but 30ha of it was lost to cat­tle in two days last year. So he de­faulted on his bank loan and can’t go on farm­ing. Nana Ad­woa tried to pro­tect her plan­tain with barbed wire, but she came home one day to find her crop de­stroyed. Is­sah Dauda is a carpenter now, but will have to leave.

‘Peo­ple are no more put­ting up new homes and nei­ther is there de­mand for new fur­ni­ture. We are all run­ning away. Some­times they [Fu­lani] pass here with guns.’ Re­main­ing farm­ers re­port that the herds­men in­structed them to stop spray­ing their farms with weed killer. The most re­cent fig­ures show that the pro­duc­tion of co­coayam fell 10% in Agogo be­tween 2014 and 2015 alone; maize by 7%, yam by 6%, cas­sava by 5% and plan­tain by 4 %. The 2016 fig­ures are ex­pected to be worse.

Ghana­ians and Nige­ri­ans largely blame for­eign Fu­lani herders for the prob­lem, and at a herders’ camp in Ashanti, 43-year-old Malian, Ibrahim Ah­mad, herds 1 000 cows. He works for a Ghana­ian busi­ness­man who leases land in the area, de­spite a court or­der for­bid­ding it. An­other herds­man, Is­saka, asks why the gov­ern­ment ‘doesn’t ad­dress the food se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion’. The Fu­lani have al­ways been meat and milk providers for west African pop­u­la­tions, so why can’t they be helped to con­tinue do­ing so, he asks. When the mu­ti­lated and bul­let-rid­dled body of a beloved Agogo priest was found in Jan­uary last year, an­gry farm­ers re­solved to kill any Fu­lani on sight. The vi­o­lence has now es­ca­lated.

Be­tween Jan­uary and April this year, four peo­ple were mur­dered: two farm­ers and two herds­men. Ghana­ian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Am­brose Dery failed to re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.


The body of a man shot, al­legedly by Fu­lani herds­men, being car­ried home by vil­lagers in Agogo, in Ghana’s Ashanti re­gion

Chief God­win Onah, the leader of Agatu Com­mu­nity in Benue State

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