Umaru Sanda, Fulani Herdsmen, And the Curse of Ethnic Bigotry

 

I have been campaigning against stereotyping of Fulani for a long time now and my friend Umaru Sanda Amadu has clearly laid down the issues here in terms of how we approach problems we face today regarding cattle grazing and farmlands in Ghana. After this succinct description of how the Fulani herdsmen in Ghana live, I am immersed in extreme shame reading the comments on the CitiFM Facebook post on this article. Without even attempting to put themselves in Umaru’s shoes, most commenters went straight for the jugular raining insults on him and castigating Fulani as criminals. I am ashamed to be associated with countrymen who are unable to show an iota of empathy it is disheartening.

To the issues of cattle destroying farmlands, there will never be a solution to this unless we deal with the owners of the cattle who are opinion leaders and powerful members of Ghanaian society. If you buy a cow, employ someone to take care of the cow, and don’t provide him with a ranch, and he’s just supposed to take the cows free range grazing, who’s to blame for the destruction they wrought on people’s farms? If these rich men will claim best farmers awards for their cows, how do you blame the mere field hands when something goes wrong? So just like that, the field hand (Fulani) gets all the blame while the rich Akan, Ewe, Dagomba, Ga man gets all the rewards (literally)?

What Umaru described in his article isn’t new to me. I grew up in a small village in Northern Ghana and I know the conditions he’s describing first hand because my father’s friends brought Fulani to our village to rear their cattle. And they lived in isolation from the main community in bad living conditions. They got blamed for grazing problems while these powerful men in the village got no blame at all while at the same time getting all the rewards. When a basic school was opened in our community, their children didn’t attend as they were doing the tedious job of helping their fathers raise the cattle of these village kingpins.

Unless we stop being sheep, the elite in society will always use us. Ordinary Ghanaians, whose ethnic bigoted passions gets whipped up anytime some ignoramus or bigot on TV and radio mention Fulani herdsmen are chumps. They are chumps because they hate the wrong people. In Ghana, we make laws for everything. Why hasn’t there been a proper law implemented on modern grazing and cattle ranching in Ghana? I tell you what? There hasn’t been any because these fat cats in parliament are the ones who own the cows and employ the Fulani to herd them into people’s farms. They’ve refused to make a law that would ban open grazing because it would make it expensive for them. The 2016 Ghana Livestock Development Policy and Strategy has barely anything about cattle ranching in Ghana. It is a silly bunch of nothings that addresses no substantive issue with cattle grazing and ranching in Ghana.

Owning and caring for cows in a ranch is relatively more expensive because you have to have hay all year round and provide water and other amenities for the cattle. You have to pay for all these things which in open grazing these poor work hands have to travel long distances daily to go get for free. These cattle drink water in open ponds and streams and rivers, they graze on open fields etc. So these rich people don’t have to actually pay to own these animals. And sometimes the casualties of this open grazing policy are other poor farmers. And then we blame the Fulani for this. We are sick in the heads.

We are chumps. Simple-minded idiots. Useful tools for rich people who own both cattle and TV and radio stations to use to whip up stupid ethnic tension in the country. And we fall for their nonsense every single time. We give them awards (better still they give each other awards) for best farmers but blame the poor Fulani when something bad happens. And we fall for this nonsense every single time. Whenever I hear some fool on TV and radio say Fulani herdsmen regarding a cattle-grazing issue, I know the person is about to parrot something disgusting.

We have a lot of crime in Ghana and I’ve never heard of one tribe constantly being used to refer to any crime. Instead of us tackling the issue as a crime issue, we label it the “menace of Fulani herdsmen.” Why do we continue to do that? When you get people to think and associate a whole ethnicity with crime, you’re asking for nasty and possible genocidal crimes against them in the future. I’ve heard leaders talk about the Fulani menace on TV and radio casually. We are laying the groundwork for something terrible in this country with this sowing of open hostility toward the Fulani. And simple-minded Ghanaians are falling for this hook line and sinker. They are falling for this horse crap. Hook line and sinker.

The hostility raised by this biased and unethical and criminal reportage has real-life consequences for everyday Fulani in Ghana. With some of the lowest rates of any group in Ghana, we’re essentially building a permanent under underclass in the Fulani in Ghana. Bear in mind that Ghana’s constitution doesn’t discriminate based on ethnicity and the Fulani are just as Ghanaian as any other group. So we must do all we can to ensure we don’t malign them simply because we think of them as foreign. On the comments section on the CitiFM Facebook post, I see people using ethnic bigotry against even the second lady for being a Fulani. If even someone at the top can be a target for bigotry, how much less the ordinary Fulani?

Growing up in Tamale, there were nasty superstitious claims about Fulani, which I believe, stems from the social isolation they live in our communities. Like Umaru mentioned, many Fulani live in the outskirts of the communities they raise cattle in. So they are isolated from the rest of the community. So in Tamale, you heard silly superstitions like ‘you’ll get your penis disappear if you sleep with a Fulani woman’ among other such nasty and disgusting ethnic bigotry. As a society trying to ensure togetherness, we need more interethnic marriages and I can tell you that the Fulani are among the most reviled when it comes to this. Many families caution against marrying Fulani and even men and women who manage to do it get discrimination from their own families. My uncle is an example. It’s another story for another day but his wife has suffered some abuses from my other uncles and aunties in the past.

By the way, Fulani in Ghana are just as Ghanaian as anyone else. They are not any less Ghanaian than any ethnic group. Ghana belongs to anyone who wants to be Ghanaian and or have Ghanaian roots. The Akan didn’t grow out of the roots and soil of Ghana. They came from somewhere else. The Ewe didn’t grow out of streams and rivers of Ghana. They came from somewhere else. The Dagomba didn’t grow out of the trees and grasslands of Ghana. They came from somewhere else. So on and so forth. The Fulani has a long history being in this country and we must disabuse our minds that they are foreigners. They are just as Ghanaian as anyone else.

As a society, we are supposed to be compassionate. We are supposed to be empathetic. And as such, even though I’m not a Fulani, I feel the pain and social isolation my brothers and sisters are in in Ghana. We need to be able to show empathy beyond our own groups. The Ghanaian public must be educated to such an extent that a Dagomba man will automatically feel angst when an Ewe man is targeted for bigoted stereotyping or an Ashanti man feels the angst when a Fulani woman is abused in a trotro or a university campus. I’d hope Umaru’s biographical article is made a must-read in our social studies course in basic and secondary schools.

And we must never allow ourselves to be useful idiots for the powerful in society. There’s no Fulani menace. They’re no Fulani Herdsmen problem. We have a grazing problem in Ghana. We need to move out of tenth-century farming practices and embrace twentieth and twenty-first-century ranching practices. The Fulani, who are experts in taking care of our animals, must be trained to and afforded the new skills to manage proper ranches. Open grazing no longer makes sense in this country and the lawmakers in this country must be forced to enact proper ranching laws and implement them within the next five years so that the field hands, as well as other fathers, are protected from the grazing problems we face in Ghana as a result of open grazing.

Until that is done, can the ordinary citizens not be useful idiots used to whip up ethnic hatred against other groups in the country? And poor, marginalized, and powerless ones at that?

About the Writer

Umar Mohammed is a son of Dagbon and a doctoral student at Texas A&M University in the United States. His interests are in Society, Culture, History, and Social Change.

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