The Boko Haram insurgency, with its spillover into Cameroon, Chad and Niger, is the most reported-upon security crisis in Nigeria. Yet in 2018 conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria was six times deadlier than the Boko Haram crisis, according to the International Crisis Group.
Scarcely reported on are local and low-level disputes such as cattle rustling and competitions for resources between farmers and herders. These disputes are being fueled by a proliferation of small arms and light weapons in remote and marginalised areas in Africa where government presence is generally light.
In 2019, for example, 160 people were killed by armed men in a Malian village close to the border with Burkina Faso in what local media described as the 'worst ethnic bloodletting in living memory.'
The perpetrators are reported to have been from the hunting and farming Dogon group, while the victims were presumed to be Fulani, a nomadic ethnic group of cattle herders. They have traditionally clashed over access to water and pasture.
This is just one example of the kind of communal conflicts happening in many countries in Africa, where increased availability of small arms has turned traditional rural conflicts into deadlier confrontations and fueled an increase in criminality in rural and urban centers.
'Since the 1990s, small arms-particularly AK-47 rifles-have become weapons of choice for cattle rustlers, replacing traditional and less deadly weapons,' the Institute of Security Studies, based in Pretoria, South Africa, observes.
According to the Small Arms Survey (SAS), an independent Geneva-based research center focused on reducing the illicit flow and impact of small arms and light weapons, more than 80% of small arms in Africa are held by civilians.
A 2019 SAS and African Union study, Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa, estimated that civilians, including rebel groups and militias, hold more than 40 million small arms and weapons. Government-related entities hold fewer than 11 million.
Besides Nigeria, communal conflicts remain a concern in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, among other countries. In most of the situations, the problem is compounded by a partial or total lack of security forces in areas of conflict. Even when present, these forces are usually...