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Farmer-herder conflict in Africa: rethinking the phenomenon?
Since 2012, the West African Sahel has been drawn into a spiral of ever-growing violence, fuelled by jihadist groups and long-standing resentments amongst rural people. The cost in human lives lost, people displaced and military operations is vast. The media, policy and academic circles increasingly blame ‘farmer–herder conflict’, but neither recent history nor surveys of armed violence actually support this simplification. Pastoralism is seen as disruptive and backward, fighting an unwinnable battle for scarce resources. Yet in truth it is an under-valued adaptation to variability that can make livelihoods and landscapes more climate-resilient. Understanding the roots, dynamics and meaning of conflict, providing space for listening and negotiating, and supporting livelihood and economic opportunities are key to mapping out pathways to peace for the whole region. For the large majority of people, these steps would go a long way to restore the state’s legitimacy.