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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 28th June 2018

Deadly politics in the Middle Belt

Blue Lines

As the ruling All Progressives' Congress held an exuberant convention in Abuja's Eagle Square on 23-24 June plotting victory in next year's elections, a few hundred miles to the north-east some 200 people were being slaughtered in clashes between farmers and herders in Plateau State. Yet the fall-out from these worsening clashes, which are spreading north and south from the Middle Belt, may prove more decisive than the political position-taking at party conventions. Along with the fast-rising death toll, the clashes are destroying agricultural production.

Although the herder-farmer clashes are currently the most serious security threat, none of the responses from the states or the centre are proving effective. Instead, the clashes are a debating point, with the opposition People's Democratic Party accusing the government of inaction or, worse, siding with the herders. A former minister of defence, General Theophilus Danjuma has accused army commanders of collusion with the herders, urging farmers to take up arms to defend themselves. That is now happening, with the number of local militias and vigilante groups increasing. In response, the APC accuses of the opposition of political point-scoring and exploiting misery. The bigger danger is that without a robust response, this crisis will further polarise the country along ethnic and religious lines. The rival political parties could prevent that by cooperating on a common security policy to address the causes and the effects of the herder-farmer confrontation.