Nomads fight for survival

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THERE is one war going on in Africa which will be more significant in the long run than any of the bloody battles over who shall rule or rob a particular state. It is the war between farmers and herders. Wherever some people are trying to grow crops and others want to graze their cattle in the same area, there is war. The farmers are winning, as they always do.

In Africa the farmers have inherited the earth and political power. The relative price of cows goes down and there is less and less land for the herders and nomads. African governments, backed by the philosophy, technology and money of the Western world, always back the farmer against the herder.

African politicians or civil servants often refer to nomads as savages who need to be forcibly civilised.

Everywhere nomadic or herding societies are being destroyed. The end for some of them comes when they raise their spears against police, game rangers or soldiers armed with automatic weapons. Sometimes their cattle are confiscated or driven into desert areas and they die of hunger and disease.

From Senegal comes some good news for nomads. The International Institute for Environment and Development says that in Fandene village the Serere farmers and Peuhl herders have formed an alliance against a government water project. They have also found a way of settling land disputes by negotiation. The study claims that 'the association between agriculture and animal husbandry has always been the rule rather than the exception'.

George Monbiot has spent a year travelling among the nomads of East Africa documenting their destruction. In his book No Man's Land, Mr Monbiot argues that the nomad-farmer war is more than a dispute over land.

We all have a psychological fear of travelling people, he argues. Humans are nomads forced to be sedentary, so we are spiritually threatened by nomads. 'We hate them because they remind us of who we are,' he says.

There are also a few cultural factors which explain why some nomads and cattle keepers do not fit into the modern nation-state. They irritate bureaucracies with their habits: they refuse to recognise national boundaries, they don't send their children to school or get them vaccinated.

In addition, they have a grotesquely exaggerated sense of the own importance and the value of cattle and their sons. Women come much lower than cows in their world order. The value of wives is judged simply by how many cows they cost in bride-price. Some have myths in which God gave them all the cattle, and so they believe all cattle in the world belong to them. If they find anyone else with a cow they take it, and sometimes the life of the owner as well, on the grounds that his ancestor must have stolen it. They also tend to treat all farmers as Untermenschen who do women's work like tilling the soil, while they do the real business of killing enemies and making up love- songs to their cows.

Earlier this year I played cricket in the Congo River - not near it, or on its banks, but in it. A group of Britons who live in Kinshasa have devised a Sunday afternoon game complete with picnic hampers and umbrellas in which all players stand up to their thighs in the stream. The bowler hurls a soft baseball in the direction of the batsman's testicles and he tries to fend it off with a baseball bat. There are frequent shrieks and plunges to recover lost or damaged balls.

Someone has just sent me a book called Somewhere down The Crazy River - Journeys in search of Giant Fish. It describes the catching of a fish called a Goliath Tigerfish, which resembles a cross between a man-sized piranha and a crocodile. It lives in the Congo. I think the Congo Cricket Club should be told.