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Fulani Pastoralism in West Africa  

Matthew D. Turner

Histories of the Fulani people have generally focused not on their pastoralism per se but on their role in the political histories of different periods in West Africa. Nevertheless, the changing social relations of Fulani people and others have affected the Fulani settlement and herd mobility practices that constitute their pastoralism. Fulani pastoralism has undergone significant changes from the late 19th century to the present, including sociopolitical changes that arose with colonial rule and have led to new trajectories affecting Fulani pastoralism up to the present. A key issue is the uneasy dependence of herding Fulani on the state—a dependence that has qualitatively changed as the key threat to their mobile pastoral livelihood has shifted from insecurity to competition with crop agriculture, as shaped by colonial policy, laws, and rapid increases in rural population density. The Fulani have always been a heterogeneous group. The herding Fulani, who manage livestock owned by themselves and others, is a focus of any reconstruction of the history of pastoralism. Unfortunately, these low-status “bush Fulani” are not often not included as protagonists in oral histories and colonial archives. A serious consideration of current understandings understandings of the needs of livestock and the constraints associated with herding offers a different lens through which to re-read standard accounts of the “Fulani” within colonial and post-colonial documents. By doing so, the hope is to demonstrate the responsiveness of herding Fulani to the changing constraints they have faced over time.