A team of five reporters criss-crossed through West and East Africa on the trail of the herdsmen. Theophilus Abbah visited razed farms, a displaced persons camp, was present at a hopeful peace meeting at a traditional leader’s palace in Zamfara in Nigeria’s north, and visited destroyed communities and homeless Chiefs in Benue state in the south. Muno Gedi travelled all over the drought-stricken Hiran region in Somalia from Buuloburde to Mahasi district to find that herdsmen and farmer clashes are now also “part of the civil war” in that country. Benon Herbert Oluka, who remembers being carried away at night as a toddler when the herdsmen attacked his village in east Uganda, went on a quest to understand why they still need weapons “to defend themselves.” Ohemeng Tawiah in Ghana went deep into the east and west corners of the Afram Plains from Kwahu East to Ashanti and found that many of the fertile plantain, yam and maize farms of Agogo are no more and that the herdsmen “pass by here with their machine guns.”
Meanwhile, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who spent three days at a herdsmen camp at Zabzugu near the Togo border, came away with the impression that they want peace, too. It’s just that there is no pasture anymore.
The team members all asked the respective authorities and their development partners what they were -or had been- doing about the massacres and destruction, noting that the disappearance of grazing lands had been foreseen since the nineteen sixties. The answers “conferences, committees, verbal admonishments for peace and delegations,” were duly recorded. A document search confirmed that, indeed, for decades the problem had been almost willfully neglected by land grabbing local elites, Nigeria's oil businessmen and political associates, Ghanaian leaders who were in the pockets of cattle barons and even by the organisation of West African states ECOWAS, the African Union and the World Bank. A data search further confirmed that in recent times the conflict has been killing more people than Boko Haram. Sadly, save for some peace conferences, mediation efforts and water well building projects here and there, there seems to be little perspective towards a solution that addresses the root causes of the tragedy.
The often devastatingly sad and painful reports were assembled by coordinating editor Evelyn Groenink, who then faced the task of condensing more than twenty thousand words into two and a half thousand. Lots of important bits had to be cut, but lots also survived and should not be left unread. Do check the side bars, explainers and the bibliography on this page.
We thank Unesco and Open Society, who provided much-needed financial support and advice for this project; ZAM, for its never-ending publishing support and solidarity; and investigative and legal expert Heinrich Bohmke who provided cutting-edge editing advice.