West Africa’s Fulani Herdsmen Conundrum: Is There No End in Sight?    

Herdsman holding his weapon

Accra, Ghana, January 10, 2018//-It  may take many years of counseling for the people of  Agogo, a farming community in the Asante Akyem North District in the Ashanti Region of Ghana to forget about  the horrific shooting of three soldiers on one Monday afternoon.

They were members of the country’s Operation Cow Leg taskforce set up by the government to address perennial conflicts between local farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen in the country.

The soldiers who sustained life-threatening gunshot wounds were ambushed by the Fulani herdsmen on Monday, January 8, 2018, after responding to a distress call from a woman that her farm crops were being destroyed by a herd of cattle.

The Agogo District Police Commander, Assistant Superintendent of Police  (ASP) Samuel Azagu, who confirmed the shooting to the media, said so far, no arrest had been made.

The herdsmen, according to community members and local medical doctor, shot the security operatives from behind.

The soldiers were rushed to the Agogo Presbyterian Hospital for emergency medical treatment before taking to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH), Ghana’s second largest hospital for further treatments.

The Medical officer-in-charge of the Accident and Emergency Unit at Agogo Presbyterian Hospital, Dr Emmanuel Mensah confirmed to TV3, an Accra-based TV station that they were able to stabilise the condition of the three soldiers before being referred to KATH.

One of them had a pellet down the throat which blocked the airway, with another sustaining shots at the base of the skull. While one of soldiers shot at the back had a pellet going into the vertebral column, according to Dr Mensah.

Subsequently, a Fulani justified the attack, insisting that it was a reprisal attack on them. This is not the first time that Ghana has recorded nasty incidents of herdsmen militancy, it has been recurring for long time but in recent years becoming a more organised, coordinated sophisticated and deadly one.

Several Fulani herdsmen and sedentary farmers have lost their lives in similar attacks, while the number people injured these in attacks are uncountable.

Furthermore, the conflict between the nomadic Fulani herdsmen is not only a Ghanaian problem. It is widespread across a number of countries in West Africa.

In Nigeria, available data indicated from 2010 to 2017 Fulani herdsmen killed more than  2,000 people, while several people were maimed in the conflicts.

Just yesterday, the Ogun State Police Command had arrested three Fulani herdsmen with arms and ammunitions used in terrorising residents of Ayetoro in Yewa North area of the  state.

While parading the suspect on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, the state Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu, said the trio of Mohammadu Momoh, Mohammadu Bella and Ibrahim Garuba were arrested following allegation of kidnap in Egua area of the state, according to Independent.ng.

The herdsmen have been on the watch list of the Command for allegedly using their cattle to destroy farm crops in the area, Independent newspaper online reported.

Mr Iliyasu said the suspects were arrested with three AK49 rifles, two pump action guns, 200 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 20 live cartridges and one cutlass.

At a cursory look, these conflicts in the West African sub-region are appeared to be fueled by the quest for grazing land by Fulani herdsmen.

However, a deeper look reveals a complex mix of politics, identity, religion, terrorism and criminality, Chukwuma Al Okoli, a lecturer and resident researcher in the Department of Political Science at the Federal University Lafia, Nigeria said. “All flourish because of a weak political and security environment”.

The movement

Fulani herdsmen

In the sub-region, the Fulani herdsmen operate from within an unreserved large area, usually oscillating between their major base in the semi-arid north during the rainy season and the wetter south during the dry season.

For instance in Ghana, the herdsmen who seasonally bring down their cattle from Burkina, Mali and other parts of that region for pastures penetrated that country through the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions to the southern part of Ghana particularly, the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo, Eastern and Western regions.

Additionally,  in the two major livestock corridors of Nigeria (northwest and northeast), conflict between crop farmers and herdsmen on the ascendency.  It has been a recurring social problem for many decades but in recent years, the activities of herdsmen who move with arms usually in large groups and who commit intentional crop damage has added another dimension to the conflict,  according to the Nigerian Federal Agriculture Coordinating Unit (FACU).

Throughout West and Central Africa, the nomadic herdsmen move within and across countries mainly in search of pasture and water for their herds, and in the process, contact with settled crop farmers.

In this case, the herdsmen require food produced by the crop farmers, much as the crop farmers also often require the protein and dairy products produced by the herdsmen.

According to Monod “no nomad can exist for long without contact with sedentary people”.

Monod also observed that even the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara maintain contact with oasis dwellers .

Therefore, herdsmen and crop farmers are entwined as they share land, fodder, water and other resources.

Due to this, there are several problems bordering on the relationship between farmers and herdsmen, paramount among them is the perennial conflict over resource use.


These herdsmen and their large numbers of cattle in the course of movement engage in nefarious activities such as the destruction of farm crops, arable land, pollution of water bodies, killing and maiming of farmers and stealing of farm products who dare to stand against their capricious activities, raping of females in the communities, infectious disease among others.

Contributing recently to a Ghana Television (GTV) discussion on the topic: ‘Promulgation of a Cattle Ranching Law’, Mohammed Adam Nashiru, a Member of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, stressed that “Our farmers are being destroyed by these cattle herdsmen with impunity”.

He added that the over 35,000-member countrywide association had received several reports of farmers being killed from the length and breadth of the country by these herdsmen.

“In some case, females of these farming communities are being raped by the herdsmen”, Mr Nashiru said.

He further stated that; “we have also received reports on the confrontations between farmers and cattle herdsmen which at times lead to people losing their lives in several parts of the country”.

On his part, Imam Hanafi Sonde, the Chairman of Ghana National Association of Cattle Farmers described the activities as unfortunate.

He admitted that some of the herdsmen are also confronted with disease and other personal issues including cattle death, emphasising: “For instance, recently some of our cattle herdsmen are battling with diseases”.

Dr Anthony Nsoh Akunzule, a Deputy Director of Veterinary Services at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) collaborated that one of the effects of the free movement of cattle is the increase in trans-boundary diseases on the animals and passes on to the consumers, affecting the health conditions of the citizenry.

Threats to Food Security

All activities listed above have tremendous effect on food security in Ghana, Nigeria and other parts of the West African sub-region.

More than 10 per cent of region’s national budgets supposed to go into agric sector financing. So, after spending these colossal amounts of money into the sector and fail to address the herdsmen menace our investments will be wasted, Mr Nashiru lamented.

He stated: “Farmers will not get land to farm and our arable land will also be destroyed. This will eventually lead to poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and diseases”.

But the people in the region also  need cattle for their protein.  Livestock rearing is the primary means of livelihood for over 20 million in West Africa.

More than 80 million people in the same region also depend heavily on livestock-related businesses for their livelihood.

According to experts, the West African livestock sector is still dominated by traditional systems of production, processing and marketing and the nomadic herdsmen hold the large proportion of cattle.  Camel, sheep and goats are also kept for meat.

Threats to National Security

Recently security men and women were deployed to Agogo in the Asante Akyem in the Ashanti Region of Ghana to flush out nomadic Fulani herdsmen following increased tension between residents of the area and the herdsmen.

The deployment by the Ashanti Regional Security Council (REGSEC) was to prevent the already tense relationship between the residents and the herdsmen from escalating into violence.

Tension had also resulted in the movement of some Fulani herdsmen from Agogo in the Ashanti Region to Begoro in the Fanteakwa District in the Eastern Region following threats by the youth of the area that the nomads should leave.

Addressing the Challenges

After several interventions from Operation Cow Leg to registration of cattle, the menace is yet to be surmounted in Ghana.

To this end, the stakeholders including members of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, Ghana National Association of Cattle Farmers, MoFA and Parliament are in discussions to formulate the Cattle Ranching Law after several decades.

According to them, the law when passed by Parliament will regulate the movement of animals especially cattle in the country. The law noted will also stop the herdsmen from engaging in the above-mentioned activities.

Mr Nashiru therefore called on Ghana to learn international best practices from neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, which had passed the Cattle Ranching Laws to protect farmers and properties in their countries.

Dr Akunzule maintained that Ghana needs to pass the law on cattle ranching since the farming system in the country is the mixed crop type.

The law when passed would safeguard the country’s animal and crop production.

Mr Sonde who described the initiative as laudable one said their outfit was prepared to support in any direction to ensure that the law was passed and ensure peace and security in the country.

While Ghana is seeking a law and other interventions to prevent the herdsmen militancy , Nigeria said it is going to hold a conference of stakeholders on infrastructural and agricultural development to put in place a plan for immediate relief and long term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country.

This was contained in a statement issued by the presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu in Abuja, Nigeria on Tuesday, January 9, 2018.

The conference will tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a planned development for 20-30 years ahead based on population and development projections, and will take into consideration environmental impacts, it added.

But many people in West Africa including Salam Rahman, a youth activist do not believe that these interventions when instituted would help solve the herdsmen conundrum. According to them, similarly interventions introduced by present and successive regimes did not work.

By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, African Eye Report

Email: mk68008@gmail.com



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