KASEGHE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Factories and vehicles, common polluters in much of DRC, are almost non-existent here. Instead, lush greenery spills over hills and into valleys.
Throughout the village, maize and bean crops dot the land. And flocks of cows, goats and sheep wander, grazing on fresh grass.
For the people of Kaseghe, life is simple but work is hard. Crop and livestock farming are the primary professions here. By 6 a.m., crop farmers are tilling their land and livestock farmers are herding their animals.
Despite the serene beauty of this place, calm is rare.
Friction between farmers and herders often explodes into conflict – including fatal violence.
Masika Kyatsandire, 50, comes from a line of crop farmers. She says when animals graze on another farmer’s crops, the conflict could result in murder.
“Recently, goats of a neighbor of mine grazed another neighbor’s field of corn,” she says, describing a common scenario here. “This led the farmers and herders to engage in fights. Two men died on the spot, and many were injured.”
Domestic animals invade her fields regularly too, she says.
“It’s a 30-minute walk from home to my field,” she says. “My corn is often destroyed by cows and goats. This is a problem our village has long been grappling with. And believe me, if nothing is done, other massacres will happen again!”
In Kaseghe, many farms are surrounded by fields, but too often livestock escape their herders’ watchful eyes and ravage nearby crops. With farmers reliant on their crops to survive, the realization that crops have been destroyed often leads to violence.
Conflicts between farmers and herders are common across Africa. In Niger, 20 people were killed in 2016 in a similar conflict, and in Mali reported conflicts between farmers and herders recently claimed the lives of more than 20 people.
In Kaseghe, at least 75 percent of the conflict is between herders and farmers, says Samuel Katembo Kibwana, administrative secretary of Kaseghe rural agglomeration, which is located 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from the Lubero territory’s town of Kirumba.
Conflicts between herders and farmers are widespread and ongoing here, he says.
Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC
Often responsible for settling disputes before violence ensues, Kibwana says he settles at least one dispute each month. Since April, he has successfully resolved four cases where wandering livestock destroyed fences and invaded fields to graze crops.
But residents say there is no lasting solution to the problem, so they are braced for ongoing violence as finger pointing and frustration mount.
Jeanine Mutangi, a farmer, blames herders for all the problems facing the village.
“Herders should know where to put their cattle to graze. To me, purposely grazing cattle on my cropped land is no different from forcing one’s way into my house, and stealing all my belongings,” she says. “In any case, it is unacceptable that herders behave in such a fashion.”
Farmers who lose their crops often take revenge by impounding or slaughtering the livestock they catch in their fields, says John Mambeya, a teacher in Kaseghe.
“Quite frequently, farmers exact revenge on herders by slaughtering or selling animals caught in their fields, further stoking conflicts instead of keeping them at bay. There are those who cannot even greet each other simply because of that,” he says, describing the tensions that have overtaken this serene-looking area.
Nzuva Mahamba, 43, a livestock farmer, says he grazes his cattle six miles west of Kaseghe in hopes of avoiding conflict. But he says despite his efforts, it’s possible that one of his animals evades him.
“I have cows, sheep and goats. Sometimes they can ravage my neighbors’ plantations without me knowing. Yet I always have a hard time convincing them that there are times when my cattle stray into their fields without my knowledge,” he says.
Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC
Residents who are tiring of the ongoing conflict say that local authorities need to step in to offer training or other options to reduce the violence between farmers and herders.
“Authorities should seek out ways to bring a permanent end to this kind of conflict,” says Marie Jeanne Kavugho, a shopkeeper.
Kibwana, the area’s administrative secretary, agrees.
“If nothing is done, then the situation will not only not disappear, but will get even worse,” he says. “Our sources of income will unfortunately turn into sources of killing, unless a strategy is devised to quell the conflicts.”
Mambeya, the teacher in the area, says he’s consulting studies by experts who have found solutions to similar problems in other parts of Africa.
“In my view, we need experts who can train us on strategies to prevent conflicts between farmers and herders,” he says. “Otherwise, large-scale massacres will happen any time if nothing is done.”
Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.