While West African herders and farmers have long coexisted in symbiotic relationships that endure both peace and contentious engagements, reports of violent clashes between these two groups are becoming more frequent. It is urgent that we understand when, how, and why resource-related conflicts between herders and farmers escalate into widespread violence between whole communities. Until now, we have not been asking an important question: Why are most conflicts peacefully resolved while others in the same area escalate into violent engagement? In this paper, I outline a processual approach of addressing that question. While structural approaches have offered fruitful explanations of why there are herder-farmer conflicts, viewing these conflicts as dynamic processes can explain variability in outcomes across the many conflicts that may occur within the same context. I present this analytical approach by discussing studies of herder-farmer conflicts in Burkina Faso and Cameroon that, escalating, resulted in multiple deaths.

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