Pastoral conflict mediation in the Sahel region

Pastoralism is described by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as “the use of extensive grazing on rangelands for livestock production”. Bringing together both nomad and sedentary populations engaged in livestock raising, pastoralism often entails a significant need for mobility, with herders being adaptable to the needs of their livestock. Pastoralism has traditionally been a way of life for a large portion of the population in the Sahel region, but these traditional communities and their lifestyles are increasingly under threat. The impact of climate change, the recent conflict in Northern Mali, the increase in illicit trades and organised cross-border crime, have all contributed to growing insecurity in the region. Tensions have also been increasing between nomad and local sedentary populations, which have sometimes led to violence and armed conflict, especially in border regions. HD is working to prevent and manage those conflicts in cross-border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. To do so, it has established and is reinforcing inclusive, locally-owned networks of local, national and regional pastoralist leaders to strengthen relations between these networks both nationally and across borders, as well as between the networks and the governmental authorities of the states through which pastoralists migrate.


The Sahel is a region where the movement of people and the trafficking of goods have become entangled, and where the links between traditional leaders, whose power has declined in recent years, and State authorities have weakened.

Socially and economically marginalised, restricted in their movements by armed conflicts and political crises, affected by the scarcity of pasture due to population growth and global warming, nomadic pastoralists experience growing difficulties in their transhumance. Local conflicts are especially endemic in border regions of the Sahel, theatre of all kinds of trades and wars.

In May 2013, a conference in N’Djamena, Chad came to the conclusion that, had they been better supported, pastoralist communities could have formed a defense against jihadist groups and terrorism by controlling and supervising those territories that are not easily controlled by national security forces. A link consequently exists between pastoralism activities and security issues.

HD’s work in the region seeks to address this shortcoming by building the capacity of those in pastoralist and sedentary communities to prevent and manage local conflicts in cross-border areas. This initiative covers twenty municipalities – seven in Mali, seven in Niger, and six in Burkina Faso.


HD has been present in Mali since late 2011 and started consulting with pastoralist communities in the wider region in 2014. As result, it has developed an understanding of local conflicts and sources of tensions in cross-border areas of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. This process has highlighted the importance of access to natural resources as a cause of local conflict, and has enabled HD to develop a map of pastoral community leaders in the area. These local leaders traditionally play an important role in the management of conflicts in the Sahel and are consequently an important source of information, especially in relation to security issues, the movements of pastoralist groups, and local conflict resolution initiatives.

Having identified prominent leaders in each of the targeted countries, HD established local networks linking these leaders. These networks have been able to disseminate information on the migration of herds across borders in the region, as well as potential areas affected by high levels of insecurity, epizootics, or droughts. HD has also provided training on issues such as the management of local conflicts and trans-border disputes to a select group of pastoralist leaders in order to reinforce the traditional practice of negotiation and conflict resolution between, and among, pastoralist and sedentary populations.

The local networks have, in turn, identified pastoralist leaders within their ranks to participate in national networks in each of the three countries. These national networks seek to support the local networks, assist pastoralist groups in cross-border transhumance, and act as a bridge between the groups and local authorities. By the end of 2016, HD had established three national and six local networks across the Sahel region. Young people are well integrated into those networks and well positioned to facilitate dialogue between generations. Women are also increasingly recognized by the leaders as mediation actors who can positively contribute to the networks.

HD also organised cross-border meetings between national networks from each country which allowed the network leaders to share their experiences of conflict management in their respective areas, the difficulties encountered by transhuming populations in each country, and recommendations for better assistance. Each national network also held workshops with state authorities on some of the key issues associated with pastoralism such as resources, traditional transit passages, and security. These workshops, organised by HD, sought to increase understanding of the challenges around pastoralism as well as strengthen relations and reinforce trust between pastoralist communities and national authorities.


HD plans to support leaders of the national networks to run a campaign for securing pastoral land in the three countries. HD has also taken a number of steps among the local populations in trans-border areas to spread information on the conventions that regulate pastoralism and to highlight best practice as well as the precautions which need to be taken before taking part in cross-border transhumance.

In order to prevent or manage conflicts related to the occupation of pastoral areas, HD supported local authorities, their technical services, as well as pastoral leaders and organisations to identify, outline and establish one animal passage corridor in Burkina Faso where the absence of passage corridor has been outlined as one of the main sources of conflict in the country.

Donor Support

HD would like to express its gratitude to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its support for this work.

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