Growing as a child, who was not denied the bliss of the evergreen country side; I usually, in the company of adults, came across them tending quietly to their cattle. Though the adults I’m with mostly do not share a common tongue with these herdsmen, they’ll often mutter a jargon, to which the Fulanis responded to, with a coy smile on their faces. We would move on, as they also continued to tend to their herd – there was peace. But that was decades ago.
Today, the media is agog with several reports of excesses from Fulani herdsmen and the several atrocities they have meted out to unsuspecting Ghanaians. The issue has come to a head in recent days. The people of the Asante – Akyem area are engaged in open violent conflict with the Fulani. Lives are being lost and the security forces have been deployed to site.
One is compelled to ask, how did we get here? From the picture I painted at the beginning of this article, it is clear that the Fulani herdsmen and their Ghanaian counterparts had a serene coexistence in times past. So what has changed to the point that they are taking each other’s lives?
This is the issue – not long ago, when there were no artificial fertilizers and land was in abundance, farmers mostly practiced shifting cultivation. That is, after farming a land in a season, they left it to fallow for at least one farming season before returning to it. It is during this fallow period that the Fulani herdsmen go with their herd to graze on such lands. There was a mutually beneficial relation of cattle feeding on land being allowed to fallow. This is because, while the cattle did get their daily ration of vegetation, their droppings served as manure to ‘renutrify’ the land. For this reason, farmers welcomed the Fulani; and there was peace.
But as times changed and cultivable land became more alienated and less available to farmers, the use of artificial fertilizers became more popular and shifting cultivation was progressively abandoned. That meant there were no fallow lands with infant vegetation for Fulani herdsmen, though they had become accustomed to this routine.
Just like every aspect of our national life, this was never recognized as a potential threat. Just as we are currently using most of our arable crop lands to grow Teak plants and other non-food cash crops with reckless abandon, the Fulani menace was never considered a potential danger. So in our ignorance, or patently improvident nature, there was bliss awhile.
Initially, the business of cattle rearing was on relatively small nomadic scale by the Fulani; who were very much aware of their alien status; or should I say a group of extreme minority in Ghana. As such, there were no immediate repercussions of the change in their accommodated pastoral regime. But sooner or later, the elite in Ghana became aware of the huge profits associated with cattle farming and the keeping of other livestock. That was when all the trouble begun. These ‘big men’ would usually buy quite sizeable herds and put the Fulani in charge. They however cared less how the cattle are fed or nourished. They left all that ‘small trouble’ to their Fulani employees.
As time elapsed and grazing pastures became more and more scarce, either desperation or expedience got the herdsmen to begin leading their herds to graze on crop farms secretly; a situation which hitherto was unheard of. Time and again, the farmers complained. But since our ‘big men’ had a lot to gain, no major action was taken and with time, the herdsmen begun to feel invincible. Like any other capitalist venture, the ‘big men’ cared less once the Fulani brought in consistent profits, irrespective of their socially unsustainable methods of pastoralism.
In the course of this total disregard for the Ghanaian farmer, the Fulani herdsmen only did not end at grazing on farms, but also developed the heinous craving of raping women and shooting farm owners who dared interrupt their nefarious operations. Armed robbery, characterized by midnight road blocks, were later to become part of the repertoire of havoc they wrecked on the Ghanaian. Some unsuspecting citizens have lost dear lives in the process.
Today, the scourge has degenerated into full blown violent conflict. It is only now that we see fit to address it as a challenge. While we encourage the security agencies to take all steps to restore peace in Agogo and its environs, this conflict is revealing of the need to make provisions for pastoral farming in the country. I will therefore encourage the responsible state agencies not to see this solely through a conflict resolution lens, but also as challenge of the need for a national land use policy that must urgently be implemented.
As the the second phase of the Land Administration Project (LAP-2) progresses, I believe this is a wake up call for the LAP officials to make ample room for pastoralism in the national land use plan being developed. This issue also brings to the fore the need to totally re-evaluate and establish clear cut relationships with respect to the bundle of rights available to indigenes and settlers in our communities.
Unfortunately, this reactive posturing in the Fulani issue is reflected in almost every sphere of our lives. At this rate, we must ask; how many more disasters are we awaiting to happen before we begin to take stock of our social and economic evolution over time, so as to put in concrete measures to forestall unwelcome consequences, or better still steer events towards beneficial ends? Shall we continue to grope hopelessly in the dark and persist on a wing and a prayer till thy kingdom come? I wonder…