The rise of farmer-herder violence in Africa is more pernicious than fatality figures alone since it is often amplified by the emotionally potent issues of ethnicity, religion, culture, and land.
• Farmer-herder violence in West and Central Africa has increased over the past 10 years with geographic concentrations in Nigeria, central Mali, and northern Burkina Faso.
• Population pressure, changes in land use and resource access, growing social inequalities, and declining trust between communities have rendered traditional dispute resolution processes less effective in some areas, contributing to the escalation of conflict.
• Militant Islamist groups in central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, and parts of Nigeria have exploited intercommunal tensions to foster recruitment. This has had the effect of conflating farmer-herder conflict with violent extremism, significantly complicating the security landscape.
Violence involving pastoralist herders in West and Central Africa—as perpetrators and victims—has been surging in recent years. Since 2010, there have been over 15,000 deaths linked to farmer-herder violence. Half of those have occurred since 2018 (see Figure 1).
The rise of farmer-herder conflict in Africa is more pernicious than fatality figures alone, however, since it is often amplified by the emotionally potent issues of ethnicity, religion, culture, and land. Militant Islamist groups in central Mali and northern Burkina Faso have instrumentalized such divisions to inflame grievances, thereby driving recruitment. Similarly, rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) have positioned themselves as defenders of pastoralist interests.
Ironically, most livestock herders have no association with extremist groups and are often victims of their actions. Nonetheless, once the genie of intercommunal conflict is unleashed, passions take over. Attacks become deadlier, expulsions more frequent, and reprisals extend to communities not immediately linked to the initial flashpoint. The stakes quickly shift from questions over resource access or local politics to deep-seated notions of identity.
Entire communities are labeled bandits, insurgents, or terrorists.