New cattle migration accord cools long-standing flashpoint

A new accord between Senegal and Mauritania sets down the rules for the passage of animal herders across the shared border, a problem that once erupted into a deadly war.

Each year in the lean season before the rains of May and June, at least a million head of Mauritanian cattle, or between 5 and 10 percent of the country’s livestock, cross the border into Senegal and Mali to get water and pasture before the rainy season replenishes Mauritania’s arid plains.

“This agreement is important because the competition is getting stronger and stronger between agriculturalists and cattle breeders” said Moktar Fall, director of cattle breeding at the Ministry of Rural and Environmental Development.

According to the new agreement, which was signed in Nouakachott on 25 April 2006, herdsmen will have to apply for official permits to allow them to cross the frontier. Crossings will be allowed only during daylight and at fixed points.

In a nod to mounting health concerns in the region, the agreement also stipulates that the two countries will exchange information on health and sanitation issues, and obliges the herders to give information on the vaccination of their cattle.

“In the coming days this text will be sent to all the Mauritanian authorities and translated into the different languages of the country”, said Fall.

When a dispute over flows of cattle across the shared border reached boiling point in 1989 it sparked a brief bloody border war between Mauritania and Senegal, in which hundreds of people died on both sides of the border and tens of thousands fled.