Sahel : pastoralism and radicalization


In this text, the Fulani observatory, Kisal, proposes, through an educational commentary based on exchanges with actors in the field and thematic specialists it regularly addresses, to support reflection and conflicts resolution in the Sahel.

What is the specificity of pastoral societies so the basis of current problems? Their vulnerability in relation to climate variability (deterioration); Inclusion made of their extreme mobility, which does not make these societies easy to access and marginalizes them because of their peripheral nature; decisions are made among sedentary people who have little understanding of mobility and nomadism (colonists, States or current administrations).

This marginalizes them and tends to deliver them to themselves or to the mercy of any opportunist organization or actor wishing to exploit their feelings from the raised realities. It is important, therefore, to highlight that very often the only activity currently possible in natural Sahel-Saharan environments (very low in rainfall) is pastoralism, which is very affected by a deterioration of the climate.

However, if one is forced to move out of necessity when the leader refuses the right to nomadize (directly and indirectly through security and administrative barriers) thinking that if the pastoralists (Fulanis, Tamasheq, Moors, etc.) move away, they escape his control.

Also, if the fact of moving is interpreted and voluntarily presented by authorities and those who constitute them as a lack of root and attachment, there will be problems. It is difficult for old communities to accept speeches tinged with xenophobia and clichés (examples: nomads are lazy, they are strangers without ties, they are foreigners etc.), combined with the fact that only agriculture is considered by regal and administrative actors as work to the detriment of livestock and pastoralism (wrongly perceived as vagrancy by other types of communities), tensions are difficult to curb.

If, in order to have access to education, health and safety, we want to force the breeder in return for this contribution to be fixed at a point that prevents even the survival and the proper care of his source of income and taxes or wealth for the State (the flocks), it is his existence and his contribution to the said State that are questioned.

It is therefore imperative to make it clear to the decision-makers that all nomads have a point of attachment, they (each tribe, each camp, each ethnic group) nomadize only in the same radius more or less big for centuries, and they all have in general a place that they consider home (large cemetery of the ancestors, wells, farms on river banks, etc.), even if it does not contain any construction. It is also important to remember that many nomads have farms on the river banks, and that it is the colonial agents, who in their «pacification» war, forbade them access to their farms, to the river, and eventually redistributed these farms to the populations considered better manageable (farmers / sedentary). The policies of the new States have continued these tendencies, unfortunately.

Mobility which is corollary of the variability of the climate, while the State, or at least the men who compose it, clearly do not want to consider each citizen for what he is in his specificity and his tangible contribution to help the country in its mode of production (here livestock) to better help him to collect more taxes and govern him on this basis.

However, if the effort is not made to understand then provide assistance or support adapted to these populations, misunderstandings will multiply, the provided infrastructure (schools, health center administrative buildings) do not respond to their needs or their reality since these contributions can not follow these populations in their movements, consequently, the State is perceived as coercive, since what it brings is seen as useless in relation to what it takes in return (taxes, fines, etc.) which is everything to the State but insignificant to these populations.

The grassroots is therefore misunderstanding

It should also be remembered that the citizen who moves is not impressed by the authority since he has the possibility to move away, unlike the sedentary who can not move and is not used to it. And also, authority for these populations is what each person gives of himself to a third party (and not necessarily the one who has the power) as legitimacy, respect and consideration. It is always legitimate unlike the power that can be usurped or taken by force.

The effort to push through listening and understanding the nomads to give the State an authority has been taken seriously, and on the other hand, the fact of wanting to impose the power of the State at the cost of human lives has been overemphasized.


We can glimpse radicalization as a difficulty in understanding each other. Violence and tension can mark the subjective limits of communication with others when trying to survive. We prefer to think this question rather in terms of vulnerability of populations.

Religious Radicalization is a communication problem added to a lack of information of communities of nomadic and pastoral origins, often exploited by others for various and non-religious interests. In the case of Islam, it is important to index the trends (Wahhabis or calling themselves Salafists) who exploit this ignorance, these frustrations and the extreme poverty to expand with a financial windfall of criminal and / or foreign origin. To not dare call extremist trends operating for chaos in our environments; while in parallel index any other third (scapegoat) as extremist without having first bothered to know what he thinks, leaves no room for communication and it is also a form of extremism.

The absence of empathy and humility, which consists of refusing to listen to the other (even hearing what he does), is to contribute to amalgam, to close the door to dialogue and to refuse to make the difference by sorting to differentiate the actors, their degree of dangerousness, their motivations, the causes of their passing to violence etc. It also opens the door to a dangerous spiral that will have too often as a goal a generalized feeling in the population, and the passing to violence, unfortunately. Failures, blunders, actions based on bad intelligence, extrajudicial executions, are phenomena that cause vulnerability. History can inform us about their disastrous consequences, be it in Iraq, in the Sahel, or elsewhere.

The so-called modern school is absent, it is not in the language of the populations, it does not bring useful notions in breeding, it deprives pastoralists of their children and future adults to help in the management of livestock. At the same time, while the traditional religious school, which made the effort to translate and adapt to the language and context of the concerned people, was largely weakened by the colonist then the States, the extremist trends are establishing themselves better, taking advantage of vulnerabilities. These trends do not reflect the surrounding realities, do not adapt, exclude communication, and excommunicate (violence in support) of Islam any other vision than theirs, although it was ultra-minority 15 years ago, in West Africa.

The trend calling itself Salafist has become the perfect political and military tool in a breeding ground of marginalized population, for those who want to impose themselves by force and their financial ascendancy. A study by ILCA (International Livestock Center for Africa) from 1981 to 1983, the Malian Ministry of Livestock already warned that the population would become vulnerable to such exploitation on the basis of the findings above. The document written by the AU Task Force, named «Policy of the African Union for Pastoralism» (2007-2008) is also edifying.

«Radicalization» must necessarily be re-placed in a context, and its manifestations must lead to always more accurate communication and focused on the populations that we are indexing.

L’Observatoire Peuls Kisal

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of