Political violence in northern Benin has three different but linked causes. Farmer-herder conflict is the most important problem (a 45% share). A second problem is ownership of and access to land, which is tied to farmer-herder conflict (about 10%). A third and more isolated problem involves the management of Park W and Pendjari Park (also 10%).[19] Figure 4 shows the sites of communal violence.[20]

Figure 4
The drivers of political disorder in Northern Benin (2016 - February 2021)
The drivers of political disorder in Northern Benin (2016 - February 2021)

3.1 Farmer-herder conflict and transhumance in northern Benin

To obtain an insight into the data, table 1 lists incidents related to farmers and herders in the five weeks from 1 August to 6 September 2020. For example, on 7 August 2020, a number of farmers assaulted and wounded a Fulani pastoralist when his herd damaged cropland in Gorgounou (Alibori); the farmers then confiscated the pastoralist’s livestock. Incidents like this are very common in Benin’s north and occur in Alibori, Borgou and Atacora. Farmer-herder conflicts are often the result of deep-rooted and long-standing tensions between communities that can escalate into physical violence in various contexts.

In Benin, as elsewhere in the Sahel and littoral West Africa, farmer-herder conflicts arise due to agricultural and animal breeding activities being carried out in the same areas. Interestingly, the data suggests that in Benin farmer-herder violence occurs in areas where pastoralist communities have settled rather than along transhumance routes into Niger and Burkina. This is why most farmer-herder violence takes place in Borgou, rather than in Alibori and Atacora (and Donga).

Herders and farmers in West Africa have for centuries enjoyed symbiotic relationships. This symbiosis was driven by mutual dependency; farmers needed livestock products (dairy, meat) while herders needed agricultural products such as millet, vegetables and fodder for feeding both cattle and themselves.[21] In Benin this symbiotic relationship has changed because of a complex interplay of four related elements: a changing political economy of pastoralism which has uprooted social-economic relations; the weaponisation of transhumance movements; the sedentarization of pastoralists; and finally, increased awareness of a Fulani identity. All of these combined explain why it is Borgou in particular that has been affected by farmer-herder violence.

The political economy of herding

Farmer-herder conflicts in northern Benin have increased as the political economy of herding has changed due to rapid demographic growth, urbanisation and industrialisation.[22] The resulting demand for food and agricultural produce has led to the expansion of agricultural land and has gradually limited grazing and transhumance areas. Pastoral livelihoods have come under threat and the symbiotic relationship is disrupted because of these tensions. Development policies have reinforced the intensification of farming and marginalised herder communities. At the same time, population growth has increased meat consumption and demand.

This has led to a change in the cattle economy. Transhumant people have attempted to adapt to a new economic reality but so far without success, as gains in market access go directly to either the collection trader or local markets. This means that middlemen and brokers take the market surplus. Moreover, urban elites and business people have set up sedentary livestock farms, driven by policies favouring the intensification of cattle production to meet the growing demand for meat and milk in urban areas. Hence, there is pressure on herders’ livelihoods and stress for transhumant communities, especially as they often lack influence on local decision making.[23]

Table 1
Examples of farmer-herder violence in northern Benin, 1 August – 8 September 2020



Details of violence

2 August 2020


(N'dali, Borgou)

A Fulani pastoralist armed with a machete attacked and severely wounded a farmer. The event was reported as a settlement of accounts due to a year-long dispute over damaged cropland.

2 August 2020



A herd belonging to a Fulani pastoralist destroyed cropland belonging to a farmer. The farmer responded by confiscating livestock and filing a claim to local authorities.

2 August 2020


(Nikki, Borgou)

A Nigerian Fulani pastoralist killed a farmer amid a dispute. Farmers responded by attacking a neighbouring hamlet and killing one person.

7 August 2020



A number of farmers assaulted and wounded a Fulani pastoralist when his herd damaged cropland. The farmers also confiscated his livestock.

17 August 2020


(Toucountouna, Atacora)

A number of farmers assaulted a Fulani pastoralist after his herd of livestock damaged farmland).

17 August 2020


(Toucountouna, Atacora)

Amid a land dispute, five members of a family destroyed the farmland of a neighbour who was a former administrative councillor.

18 August 2020


(Derassi, Borgou)

A number of farmers and pastoralists clashed over damaged farmland

19 August 2020


(Gogounou, Alibori)

A group of farmers attacked and wounded a Fulani pastoralist after his herd of livestock damaged farmland.

25 August 2020


(N'dali, Borgou)

A group of Fulani pastoralists assaulted and wounded a farmer after he dispersed cattle damaging his farmland.

27 August 2020


(Nikki, Borgou)

A number of farmers attacked and severely wounded a Fulani pastoralist after his herd of livestock damaged farmland.

1 September 2020


(Tchaourou, Borgou)

In reaction to devastated farmland, a group of farmers assaulted and wounded a pastoralist.

3 September 2020


(Nikki, Borgou)

In reaction to devastated farmland, a group of farmers attacked a Fulani pastoralist camp. Three people were wounded and livestock seized.

4 September 2020


(Nikki, Borgou)

A group of Fulani assaulted and severely wounded a farmer.

6 September 2020


(Bembereke, Borgou)

A Fulani pastoralist assaulted a farmer with a machete amid a land dispute. Other farmers intervened and the Fulani shot and wounded two farmers before being overpowered. Four people were wounded and the farmer’s confiscated livestock.

6 September 2020



In reaction to devastated farmland, a group of farmers assaulted and wounded a pastoralist and dispersed livestock.

8 September 2020


(Kandi, Alibori)

Unknown individuals equipped with machetes killed and mutilated a security guard at a farm.

8 September 2020


(Tchaourou, Borgou)

Unknown individuals illegally cut 50 logs of teak wood on farmland.

8 September 2020


(Tchaourou, Borgou)

Unknown individuals illegally cut 50 logs of teak wood on farmland.


Another element of increased farmer-herder conflict in Benin is tension around transhumance movement. In West Africa, there are officially demarcated transhumance corridors, established on 26 February 2004 by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). In the agreement, five transhumance routes into Benin have been recognised – all from Burkina Faso and Niger.[24] The routes from Burkina Faso enter Benin in Atacora and end at Donga (Djougou), and from Niger into Alibori (Malanville, and a host of informal entry points) to Goungoun.[25] These routes are of different width and demarcated with stone beacons or other permanent signs and are meant to be equipped with key infrastructure such as water points, bridges, transit (resting) areas, grazing enclaves (for longer grazing stops), veterinary and human health centres, and possibly mobile schools.

Violence is common along these routes during transhumance season.[26] Historically, these routes involved only a smaller number of herders who would often refrain from getting close to farmers’ land. But due to greater land scarcity and infertility, farmers and herders increasingly compete for access to the same land. Pastoralists are also migrating further south into communities where they have no traditional ties.[27] Increased contact sometimes leads to arbitrary detention, inflated fines, cattle rustling and extortion and in response there has been a weaponisation of pastoralist communities. Currently transhumance herders carry small weapons, including firearms, swords and spears and bows (the use of firearms is a recent phenomenon).[28]

Since March 2020, tensions around transhumance movements have further increased as the borders with Togo, Burkina Faso and Niger have been closed due to Covid-19 and the imposition of taxes. Only 50,000 cattle have been allowed access to formal transhumant corridors, but the reality is that use of informal routes has increased.[29] For example, earlier in 2020 the Beninese government took 100,000 cattle from a pastoralist (owned by an individual named Big Otus in Cotonou).[30] Moreover, within Benin there are also national (secondary) routes and local (tertiary) routes. But the first months of the Covid pandemic saw a prohibition of inter-department travel in Benin, which locked pastoralists into districts for extended periods,[31] forcing them to seek informal and new routes, leading to more confrontations.

Pastoralist sedentarization

A particularly problematic aspect of farmer-herder conflict is that settled pastoralist communities are in conflict with local communities. A number of transhumant pastoralists have settled in Benin, partly in response to the droughts of the 1970s and partly as a coping mechanism to the changing political economy.

The Talon government has explicitly pushed this sedentarization agenda, which is largely embraced and accepted by pastoralist Fulani communities. North of Parakou, for example, the government has created a Fulani model village that has raised enthusiasm and acceptance that this will be the new norm. Borgou department in particular is home to former transhumant communities that are now breeding cattle as settlers.

The data in this report suggests that most farmer-herder violence takes place by and against these settled pastoralist communities rather than along transhumance routes. This is strengthened by data analysis finding that most farmer-herder incidents do not take place between December and April (when transhumance routes are used) but rather from June/July to November.

There are two reasons why sedentarization fuels conflict. One is that many migrant pastoralists have become an integral part of communities in northern Benin and have been able to acquire land over the past 60 years. However, autochthone farmers still perceive these settled pastoralists as nomadic, stateless and foreigners with ways of life that are different to theirs. Moreover, autochthone farmers (e.g. of Mokolé or Dendi ethnicities) believe that pastoralists should have no right to land and are unlawfully encroaching and destroying farming livelihoods by possessing land. Another reason is that sedentary livestock farming in confined village territories with limited resources has proven difficult: livestock farming requires high quantities of purchased fodder, or herds must be entrusted to pastoralist herders to guide them to greener pastures. As such, livestock sedentarization jeopardises traditional farming activity (by taking fodder) and smaller-scale internal movement where sedentary livestock production still leads producers to incorporate their animals into pastoralist transhumant herds.[32]

Fulanization of farmer-herding conflict

Farmer-herder conflicts in Benin are becoming increasingly ethnised. ACLED data show that the vast majority of farmer-herder incidents involve Fulani and other ethnicities (64% since data collection began in 2017: 48 out of 76 events). Across West Africa, Fulani feel stigmatised and Fulani non-governmental organisations document abuses.[33] Among Fulani, photos and videos are shared on social media, reinforcing the idea of a Fulani people united in their suffering and victimisation.[34] This was illustrated in a recent interview in the north with a Fulani Ruga (a traditional leader), who revealed complete disillusionment with the perceived stigmatisation and marginalisation of his ethnic group in the area.[35] Additionally, there is mounting evidence of a growing anti-Fulani discourse in the Sahel and West Africa.[36]

This increasing ethnicization along Fulani and autochthone ethnic fault lines is moreover mixed with the management of natural resources and with land ownership (see below). The effect is violence such as destruction of property and regular clashes over land, which has led to deaths and a constant affirmation of ethnic differences.

One of the main questions, therefore, is whether groups within the Fulani community in Benin will be attracted to the more violent Fulani rhetoric of VEOs in the Sahel or the roving bandit cattle gangs in north-west Nigeria. In that regard, claims of a rising number of kidnappings for ransom in northern areas of Benin by Fulani cattle gangs (not observed in ACLED data, due to its focus on ‘political’ violence) might point to an increasing ethnicization of farmer-herder conflict in the country.

3.2 Contentious land ownership as a driver of violence

A second major reason for violence in the north of Benin are conflicts over land use and land ownership. Benin has serious problems in relation to the management and allocation of land, as evidenced by tensions over land ownership and regular intra- and inter-community clashes. Frequent changes of land policy (see Box 1) and the simultaneous existence of a state-sanctioned regime and a customary system of land ownership have produced a series of winners and losers who have each sought to change the law to their advantage.[37] In the face of this insecurity, actors mobilise various securitisation strategies like building a house, enclosure walls, a well, installation of boards and land pillars, employment of a guard and ‘mystical practices’.[38] One example in our data is a case in Torozougou (Malanville, Alibori) where community members destroyed a building under construction on land they claimed ownership over.

In the north, tensions over land ownership fuel violence in three specific ways. One pattern is that the transfer of land entitlement has increased tensions between rural and urban communities. Many buyers of land (and livestock) are urban dwellers, civil servants and businessmen. As a result, northern traditional authorities are trying to prohibit land sales to urban individuals, who they see as non-indigenous, particularly southerners from Cotonou and Porto-Novo, but also Kandi, Parakou and Savè.[39] The problem is that traditional authorities do not enjoy a very prominent role in northern Benin, where local government agents are more powerful (a situation somewhat comparable to the Sahel region in Burkina Faso).[40] The latter often favour urban newcomers with connections to the political centre.

Another pattern in land-related grievances is that traditional customary systems to integrate newcomers no longer operate. As is common across West Africa, customary land sales and lease arrangements involve mentoring relationships between indigenous landowners and ‘outsiders’ in search of land. It is a ‘mode of production’ where the ‘migrant’ obtains a specific status and is endowed with a bundle of rights and obligations in the community.[41] In customary settings, migrants gradually consolidate their rights, through permanent use, transmission of rights to descendants and matrimonial alliances. This status is similar to a form of local citizenship. However, when tensions rise in the community the rights of these outsiders are questioned. At present, a key dynamic is that indigenous young people are accusing their elders of selling the land to foreigners and undermining their future prospects.[42]

A third pattern that generates grievances is the bifurcated system of state and customary land rights and the effects on customary authorities. This bifurcated system increasingly undercuts the already frail position of customary authorities. Under the Marxist-Leninist single party regime (1975-1989) traditional authorities were undermined and sidelined – a process that was reversed in the 1990s as the government permitted traditional leaders (chefferies and royaumes) to regain their leadership, status and influence.[43] But in reality, the role of these leaders in the north of Benin remains limited and highly dependent on the state.[44]

Box 1
Historic overview of land ownership in Benin[45]

Land ownership in Benin is based on both civil law and customary law. During the colonial era, the state held ownership of all unregistered land, apart from that collectively owned by indigenous groups or held by the chiefs representing them. In 1961, state land could be sold or rented to private individuals and corporations for rural development. This resulted in illegal expropriation and redistribution among the regime’s ‘clients’ and allies. In the 1980s, structural adjustment was intended to limit state control of land and sponsor privatisation. Throughout this time, traditional management and ownership of land remained a reality in Benin.

The 2007 revision paved the way for state recognition of the land rights of rural dwellers (de facto users of land) and customary owners. In reality, however, the rural registration system (titre et cadastre foncier) has never been fully recognised. In 2013, therefore, a new Land and Domain Code was meant to radically reform the legal framework of land tenure. Policy makers sought to standardise all laws and end legal dualism. Although this new code did not recognise rural tenure it allowed for an ‘Attestation of Customary Possession’ under strict conditions but the legal status of this attestation remained unclear. It thus reproduces the traditional division between ‘informal’ land and registered land.

In 2017, an amendment reverted back to the 2007 system but under stricter conditions. The law ordered the end to the Land Ownership Certificate and the return to the titre et cadastre foncier. Proof of rural ownership could include administrative certificates and land use certificates (Certificate Foncier Rural, CFRs) but sale agreements were not recognised. Currently, the process is to render null and void all customary ownership of land that cannot be proven.[46] From 14 August 2023, no land transaction will be permitted if the titre et cadestre foncier cannot be provided. This means that one will no longer be able to sell, buy, exchange or give land or a house if it does not have a land title. It ends presumptive ownership.

Moreover, the multiple land reforms in Benin have led to a continuous stream of land claims, with the concomitant need to mediate and settle the claims. Customary norms and traditional authorities tended to be involved in management but the frequent changes and the overlapping jurisdictions means that land ownership cases have become often too complicated for traditional authorities.[47] Traditional authorities are consequently not able to mediate between parties in land ownership conflicts and resolve new conflicts, as they lack the relevant know-how and legitimacy to decide in difficult cases. It is one of the reasons why there are examples in the data where residents of villages fight one another after rulings by traditional courts (e.g. in Belle and Kperankou-Baguiri where seven people were wounded). What is problematic is that customary authorities have become somewhat politicised, as the present regime has taken a stand against customary authorities and does not rely on their ability to ramp up votes, whereas they played significant roles in the ancien regime of Boni Yayi.

3.3 Toxic tourism: the privatisation of Pendjari Park and Park W

The third driver of violence is more localised and involves the management of Benin’s natural reserves: Park W (Alibori) and Pendjari Park (Atakora). The new data from the undisclosed source collected for this report, records various incidents that involve conflict between park rangers and local populations and transhumant communities (see figure 4). Where most violence took place in 2017 and 2018, there is presently continued destruction of property and serious violence. For example, on 8 September 2020, unknown individuals equipped with machetes killed and mutilated a guard at a farm in Pede (Kandi, Alibori). Likewise, there is a sustained conflict in Torozougou (Alibori). In March 2021, chasseurs (hunters) in Tanguieta protested against the management of the park.

Management of the parks has been a contentious issue for over a century. During the colonial period local populations were actively expelled in order to boost French control over the parks. After independence, however, there was no government involvement in either park; for example, there was little engagement in mediation of local conflict and little service provision for forest guards (e.g. vehicles, personnel). During the 2000s, up until 2017, the parks were managed by the Centre National de Gestion des Réserves de Faune (CENAGREF) in coordination with the local communities, who were represented by the l'Union des Associations Villageoises de Gestion des Réserves de Faune (AVIGREF). Under this arrangement, local communities cultivated crops (such as cotton) in the Zone of Controlled Occupation. There were also permits to water cattle in the parks, and for hunting and fishing. CENAGREF shared in 30% of the trophy-hunting income by AVIGREF.[48] Hence, CENAGREF had no real control over the parks and local and transhumant communities were given a de facto carte blanche to freely use the parks’ resources.[49]

In 2017, however, the government strengthened its grip on the parks and awarded a 10-year management contract to African Parks Network (APN) for both Park W and Pendjari Park.[50] The contract was meant to support President’s Talon strategy to base Benin's economic growth in part on the development of tourism in the north (the WAP complex is the most diverse eco-zone in West Africa). However, as with the investment in agricultural, this economic decision has also had adverse effects. Privatising the management of the parks led to the closure of public access to the park, which in turn stoked local tensions.

Communities in and around both parks rely on park resources for wood to sell, hunting for personal consumption, fishing, and farming, e.g. growing cotton (a practice that stems from Benin’s post-independence treatment of the park). Hence, local tensions have emerged as APN’s operations have put the livelihoods of local populations in and around the parks at risk.[51] The various incidents in and around Pendjari and W coincide with the moment that APN began operating in the area. Early in 2018, tensions came to a head when traditional chasseurs attacked APN headquarters in Tanguita. In response park rangers seized and destroyed chasseur equipment.

APN operations not only put the livelihoods of local populations at risk; there are also two main transhumance routes running through the parks, one in Pendjari and another through W. These routes are in the parks as a direct consequence of past attempts of pastoralist transhumance communities to avoid settled farming communities; the parks were ‘ideal’ conduits to access fertile and open areas in Benin.[52] While transhumance communities could previously freely enter the premises of Park W and Pendjari Park, the 2017 regulations (particularly the well-guarded ‘zones de tampon’ around the park) have enabled APN (supported by the government) to block the main transhumance routes, motivated by the need for park conservation. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and reinforced by the presence of JNIM and ISGS on the Burkina Faso and Nigerien border zones of the parks, all transhumance is now prohibited.

As a result, hunters, pastoralists and local agricultural producers and villagers find themselves united in opposition to APN. APN states it has learned from managing Pendjari Park since 2017 and claims it is applying the lessons to Park W, where it recently started operating. For example, there are plans to cede parts of the park to local populations for farming, to formalise informal transhumant access points, to plant herding areas along the route and to facilitate transhumance movement in a small strip just above Park W and a strip below Pendjari Park.[53] Moreover, APN (partly supported by donors) is trying to improve community relations by organising community meetings where it can listen to local people’s views, understand their needs, and engage in job creation activities. The (new) APN director for Park W is clearly seeking to take the sting out of local discontent.

However, the data highlight that none of this has been truly sufficient; there have been violent incidents around Park W over park management. In fact, in both parks there seems to be at present an ongoing tit-for-tat dynamic where park rangers detain people and confiscate equipment, weapons and motorbikes and local communities retaliate by destroying park infrastructure and attacking park rangers. Research is urgently needed into why APN continues to generate local tensions, despite seemingly trying hard not to do so.


In short, high levels of violence in northern Benin are driven by three interconnected factors. Two of these are long-term processes that have become mixed with cultural and social dynamics which are hard to disentangle and difficult to resolve. These are farmer-herder conflicts where there are tensions between settled pastoralist communities and local populations, and land ownership problems where multiple systems compete and create confusion over rules and procedures. Both of these drivers intensify the challenges to the social fabric of northern Benin; both are, in part, driven by policy making at national level and in part supported by international donors (and thus require reflection on the conflict-sensitivity of actions). A third factor is more temporary in nature, that is, the role of APN in sealing off Pendjari Park and Park W. The role of APN is relatively new and the tensions it generates relatively one-faceted in that they pertain to threatened livelihoods and are not yet mixed with deeper socio-cultural issues.

The remaining 35% of political violence and protests involves mainly local protest and riots.
These incidents include all ACLED event types. For coding – including separating land from farmer-herder conflict see annex 1.
Djohy, G. 2010. Pastoralism and Socio-technological Transformations in Northern Benin. Göttingen University Press.
Bisson, L., Cottyn, I., De Bruijne, K. and Molenaar, F., 2020. Between hope and despair: Pastoralist adaptation in Burkina Faso. The Clingendael Institute.
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Lavigne Delville P., 2019. History and political economy of land administration reform in Benin. Research project of Economic Development and Institutions (EDI) link; Adjahouhoué L., 2013. Dynamiques sociales autour du foncier périurbain de Cotonou au Bénin : logiques des acteurs et vulnérabilité sociale. Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Abomey-Calavi. vol. 292.
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Chauveau, J.-P., 2006. ‘How does an institution evolve? Land, politics, intra-households relations and the institution of the tutorat between autochthons and migrant farmers in the Gban region (Côte d'Ivoire)’, in Landrights and the politics of belonging in West Africa; Le Meur, P.-Y., 2006. ‘State making and the politics of the frontier in central Benin’. Development and Change. link.
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Banégas, R., 2003. La démocratie à pas de caméléon : Transition et imaginaires politiques au Bénin. Karthala. link; Bako-Arifarji, N., Le Meur, P.-Y., 2003. ‘La chefferie au Bénin : une résurgence ambiguë.’ in Perrot C. H., Fauvelle-Aymar F. X. Le retour des rois. Les autorités traditionnelles et l’État en Afrique contemporaine. link.
Bierschenk, T. and De Sardan, J. (2003). ‘Powers in the village: rural Benin between democratization and decentralization’. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 73(2), 145-173. Retrieved 25 March 2021, from link; Koter, D., 2016. Beyond Ethnic Politics in Africa. Cambridge University Press. link.
Information from Lavigne Delville P., 2019. History and political economy of land administration reform in Benin, Research project of Economic Development and Institutions (EDI) and Lavigne Delville, P. 2010. ‘The reform of rural land tenure in Benin. The development and assessment of an institutive policy in an aid-receiving country’, Revue française de science politique.
Benin Web, 2020. Réformes foncières: voici deux points de changement essentiels d’ici à 2023. link.
Wily, L.A., 2011. ‘“The Law is to Blame”: The vulnerable status of common property rights in sub‐Saharan Africa’. Development and Change. link.
Janssens, I. ‘Conservation conflict following a management shift in Pendjari National Park (Benin): A Q methodological Study’. file:///Users/mac/Downloads/Janssens_Iliana_MScThesis_Human_Ecoloy_QinPendjari.pdf.
Idrissou, L.,Van Paassen,A., Aarts,N., Vodouhè,S., Leeuwis,C., 2013. ‘Trust and hidden conflict in participatory natural resources management: The case of the Pendjari national Park (PNP) in Benin’. Forest Policy and Economics. link.
Benin Web, 2020. ‘Après la Pendjari, le Park W confié à African Parks Networks’. link; Le Monde Diplomatique, 2020. ‘Who is the land for?’ link.
L’évènement Précis, 2019. Difficultés d’accès aux ressources: Grincements de dents autour de la Pendjari. link.
Idrissou, L.,Van Paassen,A., Aarts,N., Vodouhè,S. and Leeuwis,C., 2013. ‘Trust and hidden conflict in participatory natural resources management: The case of the Pendjari national Park (PNP) in Benin’. Forest Policy and Economics. link.
Confidential interview 6 (1 February 2021), Confidential interview 5 (12 February 2021) .