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The Fulani: An AFP Special Investigation

They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.

Fulani Herdsman

They are the Fulani: Pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.

A few years ago, the Fulani, also called the Peul, pursued their ancient lifestyle largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.

All that has changed. Old conflicts have flared anew between herders and sedentary farmers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Thousands of people have died in a cycle of violence that jihadists have manipulated and inflamed. The economic impact is in the tens of billions of dollars.

Governance in many of these afflicted regions is breaking down, turning swathes of land into vast zones of lawlessness.

The clashes have occurred on West Africa’s historic Muslim-Christian faultline.

Yet the conflict goes beyond religion, bringing into focus issues that are crucially relevant for the wider world.

They include the roles of population growth and climate change in fuelling disputes over land use, and the part that colonial-legacy divisions play in stoking violence.

The crisis has also turned a sudden, stark spotlight on Fulanis and their gruelling but timeless way of living.

Today, despite their millennia of history, the Fulani people find themselves assailed by stigma, political pressures and a shifting economy, their traditions so often out of kilter with the demands of modern societies.

Many Fulani, struggling to adapt, say their people have no choice but to fight to survive — or otherwise fade away.

In a special investigation, AFP sent a team of reporters across Nigeria.

In these exceptional reports, we explore the Fulani’s complex social and economic world, and we raise the question: Is this timeless people doomed to a bleak future?


Our first batch of stories, headed by Celia Lebur of AFP’s Lagos bureau, begins with a horizon-sweeping long read of the Fulani, their struggle to survive in the scorched lands of West Africa and the feud with farmers that is now escalating swiftly and bloodily.

From this panorama, we look in detail at the forces of history driving today’s conflict and the surging demand for beef that offers risks as well as rewards for pastoralists.

And we profile Mohammed Abubakar Bambado — a Fulani business tycoon who also happens to be a king.

Nigeria-Fulani-conflict, FEATURE

KADUNA, Nigeria

The nomadic people known as the Fulani have lived in the arid lands of West Africa beyond documented time, migrating with their cattle according to the relentless swing of the seasons. But their ancient lifestyle is now colliding perilously with the pressures of the 21st century.

3,400 words by Celia Lebur. Pictures by Luis Tato. Video by Florian Plaucheur. Graphic

Nigeria-Fulani-conflict-history, FOCUS

SOKOTO, Nigeria

Events in the 19th century helped shape today’s violence between mainly Muslim Fulani cattlemen and largely Christian farmers — a battle of blood and identity.

800 words by Celia Lebur. Pictures by Luis Tato. Video by Florian Plaucheur. Graphic

Nigeria-Fulani-conflict-livestock, FOCUS


With over 200 million people and an emerging middle class, Nigeria is witnessing a boom in demand for meat that offers potential but also risks for the pastoralist herders who provide most of its beef.

800 words by Celia Lebur. Pictures by Luis Tato. Video by Florian Plaucheur. Graphic

Nigeria-Fulani-conflict-king, PROFILE


Mohammed Abubakar Bambado is a busy 49-year-old businessman with a successful port handling firm in Nigeria’s economic metropolis. He also happens to be a king.

800 words by Celia Lebur. Pictures by Luis Tato. Video by Florian Plaucheur. Graphic

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