Climatic conditions, such as droughts, have contributed to water and land scarcity in the area. Gradual weather changes can also incite agricultural encroachment onto pastoral land.
Localised conflicts between farmers and herders, and between different pastoralist groups, frequently revolve around issues of contested land use and access to water. Furthermore, conflicts between different pastoralists groups are frequently sparked by livestock thefts and clashes over grazing rights.
Such conflicts are mostly local, sporadic and low intensity, and do not usually involve government intervention. At times, however, they can trigger more violent conflicts.
Farmer-herder conflicts between different pastoralist groups in Sahel states are mostly local, sporadic and low intensity conflicts without direct involvement of governments and government security forces. At times they can, however, trigger or interact with more violent conflicts (see Communal conflicts in Darfur). They frequently revolve around issues concerning land use (crop cultivation vs. grazing), including disputes over access to water and livestock raiding.
Resource scarcity, livestock mobility and farmer-herder conflicts
Securing access to water is a crucial prerequisite to pastoralists’ mobility and hence, their ability to cope with difficult weather conditions in the Sahel. Farmers, on the other hand, have profited from agricultural modernisation and favourable land reforms to gradually expand cultures onto pastoral land. As farmers and herders utilise the same land, conflicts can arise, especially when herds encroach on cultivated areas damaging crops, or when water resources become heavily strained. Such conflicts are frequently exacerbated by government policies which encourage settled agriculture and common perceptions of nomadic pastoralism as unproductive and detrimental to the environment. Additionally, there is also a general lack of government engagement in pastoralist areas (Benjaminsen, Alinon, Buhaug and Buseth, 2012; Schilling, Scheffran and Link, 2010).
Livestock rustling and conflicts over grazing rights
Conflicts between different pastoralists groups are frequently sparked by livestock thefts and conflicts over grazing rights. Indeed, this is especially true when different nomadic groups try to simultaneously access the same area. Although livestock rustling has always been an integral part of pastoralists’ culture as a means of restocking herds after droughts and of providing young herders with bride wealth, this practice has arguably become more violent due to civil wars and the increased availability of weapons in the Sahel region. Political elites and insurgent movements have also exploited pastoralist conflicts to further their own causes (De Haan, Dubern, Garancher, and Quintero, 2014; UCDP, 2014).
Communal conflicts and climate change
Both, farmer-herder conflicts and conflicts between pastoralists can be triggered or exacerbated by climate change. Increased drought frequency and severity, for instance, can force nomadic herders to change their itineraries and compete for water and land with other communities. Gradual changes in weather conditions can also open up new opportunities for cultivation and incite agricultural encroachment onto pastoral land. In the absence of effective regulations and conflict mitigation mechanisms this can lead to communal violence (Benjaminsen et al., 2012; Ba & Benjaminsen, 2009).
Marginalisation, vulnerability and violence in pastoralist areas
Pastoralist regions in Sahel states remain marginalised areas, characterised by poor public services, an absence of effective security provisions and a general lack of government involvement. Customary institutions of resource management and conflict mitigation in pastoralist areas have gradually eroded in the presence of overlapping, albeit ineffective formal regulations (Unruh & Abdul-Jalil, 2012; De Haan et al., 2014). These factors contribute to the vulnerability of pastoralist areas to climate change and their propensity for violent conflicts.
Although commitments to pastoralists by state and regional authorities have often remained unfulfilled, there has been some progress in addressing the underlying causes of pastoralist and farmer-herder conflicts in recent times.
Policymakers in Sahel states have become increasingly aware of the necessity to address the root causes of violent conflict in pastoralist areas.
Several countries, including Mauretania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, have passed pastoral laws and codes, which define the rights of pastoralists and provide a more coherent framework to organise the common use of rangelands by different farming and herding communities. Implementation of these codes is still incipient in many parts of the Sahel, generally due to a lack of funding but they have already helped to curb the number of farmer-herder conflicts in some locations (De Haan et al., 2014).
Informal institutions and civil society initiatives
Pastoralist associations are active in Mauretania, Niger, and Senegal but have yet to convince policymakers to introduce improved range management practices. Local and informal institutions are an important tool of conflict mitigation but need to be further strengthened and merged with formal local institutions. Furthermore, the provision of veterinary services in certain regions has helped reduce pastoralist vulnerability (De Haan et al., 2014).
Need for further coordination and cooperation
Recurrent situations of insecurity are a major impediment to pastoralist development and peacebuilding in the Sahel region. Development and security initiatives need to be better coordinated in many places and trust in the government amongst rural communities needs to be built. In addition, there is a need for more cooperation between Sahelian states in order to tackle trans-boundary violence and arms trafficking and to address security issues linked with large refugee populations.