July 26, 2021

in the Sahel, the sheep trade endangered by the “cursed” war

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Sheep for sale at the Lafiabougou market, in Bamako, July 13, 2021.

“There is a shortage like we have never known because of this damn security crisis! “ With drawn features, his head wrapped in a blue turban, the Nigerian sheep seller Ali Zada ​​does not take offense. His job: buying sheep in his region, Tillabéri – in the conflict region known as the “Three borders” between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – then resell them in the capital of Niger.

But this year, nothing is going: “Before, I could bring up to 500 head of sheep to Niamey, but look…”, he specifies, turning.

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Met Thursday, July 15, barely thirty skeletal animals then followed him timidly. He hoped to have sold them by Tuesday, the day of the Muslim feast of sacrifice, Eid el-Adha, called Tabaski in West Africa, where the faithful share a sheep with their families and their neighbors. sacrificed the same day.

Like him, there are millions of breeders, dealers and buyers lamenting the impact of the war on “The big party” : fewer sheep and soaring prices.

Banditry and local armed groups

Since 2012 and the emergence of an independence conflict in northern Mali, it has metastasized and spread in the three countries of the central Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger). Community and jihadist violence – from groups affiliated with the Islamic State or Al-Qaida – now mourns these countries on a daily basis.

In addition to having largely recruited among these pastoral populations marginalized by the central states, the jihadists levy in areas where they are powerful Islamic tax (zakat), often in the form of cattle. And pastoralists are also victims of repetitive droughts in the Sahel which have decimated the herds.

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To these jihadist and climatic pressures is finally added the rise of banditry and self-proclaimed local armed groups of self-defense. Over the years, cattle rustling has ipso facto become a central part of the economy of war.

“The breeders no longer have the freedom of their full mobility”, summarizes Abdoul Aziz Ag Alwaly, executive of the Billital Maroobé Network, a West African association for the defense of the interests of pastoralists. “On the route between the place of breeding and the point of sale, there are more and more risks and fresh», he explains, referring to attacks by armed groups or the racketeering of bandits.

Death and insecurity

“You raise your animals for months and a bandit comes to tear them off you in a few minutes”, underlines Mamane Sani, member of a local Nigerien consumer association. So many herders did not make the trip to the party, and the markets in urban centers are not as crowded as usual.

In the Sahel, everyone knows someone to whom something has happened. For Issa Ouédraogo, a 33-year-old seller met in the Tanghin market in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, he was one of his suppliers. “He saw more than 200 heads of cattle torn off and his cousin who kept the animals was shot dead”, he says.

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Death and insecurity “Have become the norm for millions of Sahelians, and especially us herders. People have to realize it ”, underlines a member of a pastoral association in Bamako, anonymously.

In Toukarou, Niamey’s main livestock market, the collector of the entry tax for animals in town Moussa Abdou regrets the past and its “Incessant shuttles of trucks loaded with sheep”. Right now, he said, there is “One or two trucks with a few dozen animals per day, that’s all! “.

“It’s more than double! “

Further in the streets of the Nigerien capital, below 45 ° C in the middle of the day, Maazou Zakou drags his feet with his fifteen rams. “I am very exhausted and the animals no longer want to move forward”, explains the breeder, sweating profusely. He has tried unsuccessfully to sell them since morning, but does not want to bring himself to lower the sale price.

Everywhere, we hear the same speech to explain the surge in prices: on the side of the sellers, we plead the insecurity and the worries encountered on the road to the place of sale to increase the price. Buyers, for their part, cannot pay more than they can in a deleterious economic context.

“Sheep that we paid at 35,000 CFA francs [53 euros] rose to 80,000 [120 euros]. It’s more than double!, explains Ahmed Cissé in Ouagadougou, who came to buy his for the party. The prices are too high for a civil servant’s purse. “

In Mali, the government launched a “Promotional sale” a few days from Tabaski for “Allow the most disadvantaged populations to buy a sheep”, according to the Minister of Livestock, Youba Ba.

Insecurity has driven up prices, he admits, but he says the military has ” secured “ pastoral corridors to allow the transport of animals. He wants to be reassuring: everything has been done so that “Every Malian has a sheep to slaughter on Tuesday”.

The World with AFP