Security officials in Ghana are cracking down on migrant Fulani herdsmen, accusing them of rape, vandalism, destruction of farms and armed robbery, but conflict resolution specialists say the herdsmen are being manipulated and the government must abide by regional right-of-passage laws.
On 24 April Ghana Immigration Service officials arrested five Fulani herdsmen on the Ghana-Togo border, and drove their 700 cattle back into Togo.
“We are leading the attack and if they resist we will call in the military,” police commander for the Volta Region, which borders Togo, Deputy Commissioner of Police David Ampah-Benin told IRIN.
The herdsmen will be tried under a provisional charge of illegal entry into Ghana, he said. Individuals must have papers stamped, or cross at established border crossings to enter Ghana legally.
Several days earlier on 19 April in the same region, a Fulani herdsman was shot and severely wounded in a gun battle with the police after allegedly attempting to rob passengers along a highway.
Conflict resolution NGO the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP) identifies Fulani herdsmen as a major security threat for the country in its quarterly Ghana Alert report, released on 7 April 2010.
“They cross over into the country fully armed and with no regard for our laws. If unchecked they will escalate the many dormant conflicts especially in the north over land,” WANEP national coordinator Justin Bayor told IRIN.
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Fulanis hail from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ghana itself, criss-crossing borders in search of pasture for their cattle.
But Fulanis say it is farmers who stoke conflict. Ibrahim Abubakar, a Ghanaian Fulani herdsman with about 90 cattle, told IRIN many Fulani herdsmen often legitimately lease land on which to graze their cattle for several years at a time, paying up to US$3,000 for several hectares. WANEP’s Bayor confirmed that traditional leaders often hire out their land without consulting local residents.
Kwesi Aning, who heads the Conflict Prevention Management and Resolution Department of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, told IRIN Fulani herdsmen pose no national security threat.
“What poses a threat to our collective security is the way that the so-called “indigenous” Ghanaians perceive the Fulanis, most of whom are actually Ghanaian citizens,” he told IRIN.
Ghana’s handling of the Fulani grazers is a complete violation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Trans-Humans, which Ghana has signed up to, he said. The protocol regulates the movement of nomadic herdsmen within West Africa.
“It spells out rules and regulations about where they should pass with the cattle, where there should be boreholes for their water and where there should be veterinary outposts to treat them… We [the Ghanaian authorities] are not following the protocol,” he noted.
“This is a failure of the state, plus a deliberate manipulative process by communities in which Fulanis either pass through or are located, to intimidate, to steal, to abuse and to attack them,” he continued.
Herdsman Abubakar told IRIN: “We are not criminals. Nomads sometimes have their cattle straying into people’s farms. But the local farmers often kill the cattle instead of reporting the destruction to the cattle owners. That is how conflict often begins.”
Herdsmen sometimes have to carry guns to protect their cattle, he pointed out, but a very small minority use these guns for robbery. “There are just a few bad ones among us… All we want the authorities to do is to come and talk to us [to help identify those who are committing crimes].”
The General Agricultural Workers Union, many of whose members are affected by the tensions, is raising awareness among its members of the need for peaceful co-existence between farmers and herdsmen.
“Some members are saying they just think they [Fulani herdsmen] should be driven away, but I doubt if that will solve the problem,” Hippolyte Alua, an industrial relations officer for the Union, told IRIN.
The Ministry of Agriculture needs to engage with Fulani herdsmen and implement the ECOWAS protocol rather than treating them like criminals, he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions