Bridging the gap between groups in conflict

Nigeria, December 6, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    To help mitigate the conflict between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria, we engage both groups in activities that help them understand one another. In this photo, women from both sides talk about their lives and learn the things they have in common — the string illustrates the connection between them. Photo: Mercy Corps

There are all kinds of conflict that don't make headlines but still cause pain and loss. In Kaduna province, one of the areas of conflict in northern Nigeria, there is ongoing conflict between farmers and pastoralists (herders).

All the building blocks of habitual conflict are present: the farmers are mostly Christian, the herders mostly Muslim; the two groups are from different tribes, with different native languages.

The farmers own land and plant crops while the herders are nomadic and own animals, moving around to find forage for them. You can see the problem when they find themselves living in the same area.

Mercy Corps has engaged both groups and developed a program to mitigate and manage the conflict.

One part of the program that I was privileged to observe during a recent visit was a gathering of women in the village of Katul. There were about 40 from each side who participated in a guided discussion and a couple of exercises.

During the discussion, the women found they had common problems with their husbands and families, and went on to discuss issues about grazing, crops and livelihood. Then came the group activities.

First, the women had to pick a representative to step to the center and cooperate with her counterpart from the other group to lift a water basin, each using only one "pinkie." Then two from each group, then three and so on.

Next, the leader asked questions about intergroup connections — business dealings, common acquaintances, shared activities and so forth. As each woman mentioned a connection in the other group, the ball of string that was given to the first one was passed to that next one.

As the picture shows, before they were done, an intricate web had been woven that demonstrated the linkages between the two communities who doubtlessly saw themselves as hopelessly divided.