The Fulani Again!

The Fulani Again!

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The background of today’s piece of my blog is that Mr. Frazier, the scribe, comes from a cattle-owning family. As a child, he lived amicably with the Fulanis who took care of the family’s cattle.

Later in life when the Afram Plains started opening up for commercial farming in the early 1990s, he acquired a piece of land at Wawase for crop and teak farming. His personal, bitter encounter with the Fulani menace was the subject of six articles. One of his articles titled “Shoot the Fulani Cows,” received a stinging rebuke from an anonymous writer. Another published by the Daily Graphic in the previous year.

“I am not xenophobic. I am not a violent man either. But I am not ashamed to show my dislike for the group of mindless nomads who originate from the Sahel. Herders by calling, they move with their large herds of cattle as the impacts of desertification push them southward. They are called Fulani which they prefer to pronounce as Hilani, Ilani or something that sounds close to both. Fulanis are a veritable menace all over West Africa because wherever they tread their hoofs, they have spawned nothing but conflicts resulting in death and hatred.

Ghanaians tend to call anybody who drives herds of cattle a Fulani. Naming them by their way of life, “pastoralist” is the general appropriate term for such people. The term Fulani must be reserved for the distinct but diffuse nomadic tribe originally from the Sahel. In terms of livelihood pursuits, Fulanis are a sub-set of the pastoralists.

The long history of Fulani failure of co-existence with sedentary people is typified by the conflict between the Zarma and the Fulani of Niger. The Zarma are crop farmers. They keep some livestock as well which are confined to designated areas while the Fulani roam with their animals. They are always roaming according to the rainfall patterns. They do not have a culture of land tenure. As they roam, their herds destroy crops of the Zarma. Their different ways of livelihood pursuits create conflicts over access to pasture and water. This has often led to open fights.

With constant climate change and desertification, the nomad-sedentary people conflict moved into many parts of Northern Nigeria such as Katsina, Jigawa and Benue. This conflict has moved southward and westward into Northern Benin, Togo and Ghana.

In southern Ghana, especially in the Tonga, Ave, Accra and Winneba Plains the Fulanis came in the early 1950s when their services were hired to tend cattle for the local people. They were fed and paid with milk. Over the years, they have not proved reliable. They would steal the animals and run away with them. By the 1960s, quite a significant number of Fulanis migrated with their animals and established as sedentary pastoralists, not nomads. Meanwhile with increasing human and livestock populations, there was pressure on grazing land and water and some of the cattle owners dispatched part of their animals for better grazing in other areas.

“The Fulani-sedentary people conflict was accentuated by the great droughts and bush fires of the 1980s. Large herds of Fulanis invaded the savannas of the North and mid-Ghana, especially the Gonja, Atebubu, Kwahu and Akyem Areas of the Afram Plain

“The modus operandi of the Fulani is simple. They would send scouts to survey an area for suitability for grazing. Then they would go and see the chief to grant them grazing rights for which they pay a toll of so many heads of cattle per year. Sometimes the chiefs rather invite the Fulanis to come and settle on their lands. By and by the chiefs become cattle owners. Greed compels the chiefs to grant new grazing rights. With the chiefs also becoming pastoralists, it is now difficult for the local crop farmers to drive the Fulanis away. In fact, the Fulanis are bullies. They are well-armed and are good friends to greedy chiefs and well-connected middlemen.

The problem incidentally has a pan-West African dimension. The Fulanis are mainly from Niger, Mali and the other Sahel regions. Nevertheless, it has to be stated that there is a big local dimension contributed by colluding local chiefs and landlords who grant grazing and water rights. So, who are the parties in this conflict? Clearly the government, the Fulanis, the chiefs, the local farmers associations and the security agencies are, and should be the stakeholders in any proposal to resolve the Fulani menace.

“According to the Vanguard, some state governments in Nigeria have planned to do a number of things:

The Jigawa State has proposed to set up a special patrol and vigilante teams to check migration from Niger, guard farms and water points and also check farmers who encroach on grazing lands. It is also proposed that a mobile court be set up to try cases of Fulani and farmers clashes. In the Benue State designated grazing routes within which the herds are to be confined have been proposed.

“In Ghana, there has been a proposal mooted by the Minister of Agriculture which suggests that cattle will be confined to designated areas and fodder grown to feed them. It is a proposal nearly on the same lines as those being considered in Nigeria. But if you ask me, they would simply not work. Why?”

It is nearly six years since the above article was published but little has been done. If anything, the conflicts have grown worse. The recent disturbances of possible armed conflicts in Agogo must not be made to appear as if the Fulani is a new phenomenon. The matter is indeed emotional but on sober reflection, one must admit that it is not only the Fulanis that kill. From stories that are common in the Afram Plains, the local farmers have also exacted retribution on the Fulanis. Lives have been lost on both sides. Most importantly, the problem must not be made to sound as if all the cattle that destroy farms belong to only Fulanis.

We are all for driving the Fulanis and their cows away but to where and how do we come to terms with the indigenous cattle owners? The experts are in their full, knowledgeable voices but are quiet on the local factor. Is there no lesson to be learnt from Nigeria?

By: Joe Frazier

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