Written: 2021 | Published: March 21, 2021

Pastoralism and Conflict in the Sudano-Sahel: A Review of the Literature

Across the African continent, 268 million people practice pastoralism, both as a way of life and a livelihood strategy, contributing between 10 to 44 percent of the GDP of African countries. In recent years, this adaptive animal production system has faced growing external threats due to issues such as climate change, political instability, agricultural expansion, and rural ban-ditry that have transformed the rangelands in which they operate. From Mali to South Sudan, governments, regional bodies, peacebuilders, development agencies, environmentalists, economists, and security forces are actively attempting to address the sources of violence and instability that affect both pastoral communities and the rural societies with whom they share resources and landscapes.

These interventions are often shaped by differing assumptions about the source and nature of these conflicts, despite the avail-ability of extensive research and analysis. Though the local dynamics of conflict vary across different contexts, a number of trends and debates appear throughout the literature on pastoralism and conflict. This review draws on several hundred sources to synthesize the major points of consensus and divergence in the existing literature and identify relevant research gaps. This anal-ysis presents data from across Sudano-Sahelian West and Central Africa, to link comparable findings that are often presented in isolation.

Although conflicts over land and water resources in the Sudano-Sahel have long been a political concern and were a major point of contention in the colonial and post-independence eras, they have gained prominence in recent years due to the ongoing spread of violence, instability, and displacement across the region. Latent tensions over resource access and control, which his-torically only occasionally led to violence, have now erupted in some cases into cycles of mass killings and reprisals. In Nigeria, escalating rural banditry and reprisal violence between farmers and pastoralists has left thousands dead and many more dis-placed. In central Mali, the escalation of these conflicts culminated in the massacre of 160 members of the Fulani ethno-linguis-tic and traditionally pastoralist group in Ogossagou in March of 2019, as well as ensuing reprisal violence. And, across Sudan, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR), conflicts relating to livestock migration and cattle theft have played a critical and destabilizing role in internal insurgencies and cross-border conflict. For these reasons and more, conflict dynamics relating to pastoralism and pastoral communities have become a shared policy priority throughout the region.

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