The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) had the opportunity to sit down with APN Alumnus Dr. Mary Boatemaa Setrana (Individual Research Grant recipient 2017), a lecturer at the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana. The interview was conducted on December 13, 2017, during the APN’s Training Workshop on Writing and Dissemination for 2017 grantees held in Rabat, Morocco.
APN: Could you start by telling us about yourself and about the research that you did during the APN grant period?
Dr. Mary Boatemaa Setrana: I am a lecturer at the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, where I teach graduate and post-graduate students in migration studies. Currently, I am carrying out research on farmer-herder conflicts in nine communities in two districts in Ghana. Three of them—Jorpanya, Kodiabe, and Doryumu— are in Shai Osudoku District in the Greater Accra region, the rest—Agogo, Onyimso, Pataban, Nyamebekyere, Ananekrom, Nyinatokrom—are in the Asante Akim North District in the Ashanti region.
And you are focusing exclusively on farmer-herder conflicts?
Yes, I’m studying farmer-herder conflicts in these districts. The districts in the Greater Accra region experience minor conflicts; you don’t usually hear about them in the news the way you hear about the Ashanti region. There are frequent conflicts in that area, sometimes leading to deaths, loss of property, and injuries.
I have carried out a comparative study examining the root causes of conflict and then looking at what peacebuilding measures can be undertaken in these places. But the uniqueness of the study is its focus on second-generation Fulani herders. So far, many studies have looked into first-generation herders but largely overlooked the second and younger generations. These are people who may have been born in Ghana or brought there at a young age, lived in local communities and formed associations with indigenes. So, the question is whether the attitude of indigenous farmers towards the first-generation herders who practiced transhumance and moved around with their cattle will be the same as the second generation of herders who have already lived with these farmers within the communities? Is there a way that the second generation could be an agent of peacebuilding in farmer-herder conflict zones? While the first-generation herders were highly mobile, the second and younger generations practice a semi-sedentary form of pastoralism. Others who are fed-up with the protracted conflict have ventured into other fields of employment. In both cases, the second and third generation Fulani act and behave “Ghanaian.” Meanwhile, Ghana as a country does not recognize the Fulɓe (Fulani) as a Ghanaian ethnic group. Apart from the non-recognition of citizenship rights, other sources of tension include non-adherence by Fulani herders to land agreements, competing livelihoods, and competing claims of land ownership.
To someone who’s not familiar with nomadic groups, how do these movement patterns lead to conflicts with farmers?
When we talk about the Fulani—an ethnic group also called Fulɓe—they are spread across different parts of Africa, including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria. The main source of livelihood of Fulani herders is herding cattle, which means they tend to practice transhumance with their animals in search of pasture. Ghana happens to be one of the many countries they move to. Often when they come to Ghana, their animals move around many rural parts of Ghana where farming takes place and destroy crops. The farmer who has suffered the loss of his crops becomes angry because this threatens his survival. So, there is a clash of livelihoods which then leads to conflict.
For several years in Ghana, different governments have attempted to remove Fulani pastoralists from the country. Ghana has had the expulsions of 1988/89 and 1999/2000. The current expulsion is based on the 2012 court ruling which states that the Fulani herders and their cattle in the Asante Akim North District, where I did part of my research, had to be removed. But up until now, they still have not been able to remove the herders. For the first-generation Fulani settlers, the intermittent expulsions have created anxiety. So, I went back again to look at this. What are their children doing? Are they following in their parent’s footsteps? Because the literature also shows that the second-generation Fulani follow in the footsteps of their parents. If that is the case, then how are the farmers and herders going to end this conflict?
What can you tell us about your findings?
I found out that in the two communities there were different kinds of Fulani herders. Based on information from earlier studies, which identified four different types of Fulani herders, I have been able to confirm the existence of two such groups in Ghana.
The first group—the transhumant pastoralists move with their herds to look for pasture and don’t live in a place permanently. So long as they can find pasture, they move on. The second group is semi-sedentary Fulani herders, who prefer to settle. They send their animals out for pasture and then bring them back home in the evenings.
In the first community, which is in the Accra Plains, they experience minor conflicts. I found out that the second-generation Fulani pastoralists who are there are semi-sedentary Fulani herders. This means they have settled down, have farms, and send out their animals for pasture daily. So, there we don’t have the other ones who are consistently moving, which we call the transhumant pastoralists.
But in the second community—the Asante Akim North district in the Ashanti region—there are two types: we have the transhumant pastoralists and then we have the semi-sedentary ones. So, when I traced the history from the documents I collected from the field I found that prior to the coming of the transhumant pastoralists, there was peace. The local people would say that “when we had the local [semi-sedentary] Fulani we were ok, there was no conflict.” But now there’s an influx of transhumant pastoralists—also known as Fulani herders—who are constantly moving with their animals. They tend to be very mobile and their animals roam around sometimes trespassing into farms and destroying crops. But in the case of the semi-sedentary Fulani who own farms and have families, they tend to be more integrated into local communities. So, the tendency for them to be involved in violent conflict is lower.
What has been your experience with the two APN training workshops that you have been a part of?
The first one in Ghana [Research Methods Training Workshop] was very good. It was prior to our going into the field. To me, it was very insightful because this is the first time, as a migration expert, that I am looking at conflict and migration together—because the Fulani issue is a migration issue as well. And it’s a bit scary because the communities I studied in the Asante Akim North had just had a break from the unending farmer-herder conflict. The situation was not really resolved and yet I decided to go to that place. At the first workshop, there were presentations on methodology, peacebuilding, and how to carry out fieldwork in conflict-affected zones. I was able to express my concerns and have experts give me advice—it was very useful. I had a mentor, Professor Thomas Tieku, with whom I discussed my proposal and the sort of questions I needed to ask.
The second time, after returning from the field, I was able to consult my mentor about the contradictory contents of the data I collected. The Fulani were saying one thing, the farmers saying another, so it was very confusing. I discussed it with him which helped me identify what to write on. The second workshop in Morocco [Writing and Dissemination Training Workshop] was also useful. Talking about the different perspectives on peacebuilding speaks directly to the things I’m looking at. It also helps answer questions about where I can find my niche and how I can also contribute to the literature. The resource persons have spoken about publications and opportunities to grow as young academics. In all, I am impressed.
You are about to start a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of South Florida. What are you looking forward to over the coming months with respect to your research?
I have received the Building a New Generation of Academics in Africa (BANGA-Africa) Post-Doctoral Fellowship which is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) through the University of Ghana. The fellowship helps young researchers who have collected data to use the period to write essays, articles or books. This is an opportunity for me to use the data I’ve gathered during APN-supported fieldwork to write papers, articles, or books..
Finally, what advice would you have for people who are considering applying for an APN Individual Research Grant (IRG)?
It’s very good and I have already recommended it to my colleagues and friends. It’s up to you to sit down and develop an idea which people find interesting. It is competitive, so you have to be innovative to win, and young scholars are allowed to work independently.
What makes the APN program different is the fact that they see you through the entire research process. They start mentoring you from the beginning. It’s not as if they give you the money and say, “ok go out there and do what you want, come here and report”–no. They are interested in your learning process and building you up. And based on the Morocco conference, I know that we will continue to have a relationship with APN. The APN will continue to mentor us towards successful career paths.
Mary B. Setrana is a lecturer at the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana, Ghana. She was a 2017 APN Individual Research Grant recipient and a 2018 post-doctoral fellow at University of South Florida (USF), USA, under the University of Ghana- Carnegie Corporation of New York sponsored project, Building a New Generation of Academics in Africa (BANGA-Africa). Her PhD in Migration Studies was a sandwich program between Radboud University, the Netherlands, and the University of Ghana. Dr. Setrana has attended the Brown International Advanced Research Institute, USA; the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization, Italy; Oikos Young Professionals Academy, Switzerland; and CERES, The Netherlands. She has been awarded a courtesy appointment to the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies at USF and is fellow at the African Studies Centre Leiden in The Netherlands. Her research interests include Migration, Citizenship, Gender and Farmer-herder conflict, Migration Management, and Governance.