1. The importance of addressing transhumance-related conflicts
Often underestimated, transhumance is a key form of livelihood across the globe that is based on mobile livestock farming methods, with regular seasonal movements, that supports a substantial population in arid and semi-arid areas less suitable for crop production. It is particularly practiced across Africa and is one of the most integrated economic activities in West Africa. According to the African Union’s policy framework for pastoralism, there are 268 million herders who live in and travel across 43% of Africa’s land mass. Transhumance is distinct from nomadic migration because of its use of pre-established routes that have been travelled extensively for previous decades and centuries.
Historically, the livelihoods of farmers and herders complemented each other and had longstanding agreements which allowed for peaceful dynamics between the two groups during the season of transhumance. Even when conflicts between these two groups occurred, they were normally addressed by traditional institutions and existing conflict resolution mechanisms. However, over the past few decades, these arrangements have come under increasing pressure due to a multitude of factors. These include: competition over access to dwindling natural resources; growing populations; evolving socio-economic patterns; the adverse effects of climate change; poor governance; political instability; the proliferation of small arms, and the breakdown of traditional mechanisms. This has led to rapidly escalating tensions and conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives between herder and farming communities, including women and children.
In September 2018, Ambassador Smail Chergui, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security (PSD), reminded the audience of a two-day workshop on transhumance conflicts in Africa that “today, conflicts between herders and farmers on the continent take more lives than terrorism”. Far from being a localized phenomenon, these conflicts hamper national and regional security and damage the social and economic fabric of communities, while also representing the main driver of intercommunal conflicts and leading cause of civilian casualties in most of the affected countries. For example, from July 2017 to September 2019, UNMISS reported 207 incidents relating cattle and access to land and water which resulted in 1,025 fatalities. In Mali, a single clash between farmers and herders in March 2019 ended in 130 killed, while in DRC a similar clash resulted in 161 killed. Given the increasingly deadly nature of these conflicts, its far-reaching consequences on sustainable peace and regional security and the impact on several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it has become pertinent to address this issue in a collaborative and systematic manner.
This paper discusses the current complexities and challenges of transhumance and focuses on interventions by UN entities to address conflicts resulting from transhumance movements. It focuses on transhumance in Africa, specifically in the Sahel and adjacent regions, and highlights the importance of addressing the challenges associated with transhumance from a conflict prevention perspective in order to contribute to sustaining peace initiatives in spaces fraught with insecurity and instability.