MPNAIJA GIST:Only in Nigeria that Fulani have some Power but zero power in all other African Countries


In spite of their numerical advantage in West Africa, only a few of the Pulaar-speaking politicians have risen to the very top in their countries. Current exceptions are President Macky Sall of Senegal (who is of a mixed-parentage) and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.

 Ethnic groups that cut across Africa’s post-colonial boundaries are a common feature. But perhaps the most widely dispersed community on the continent are the Fulani of West Africa. They range from Mauritania through Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso to Cote d’Ivoire and across to Benin, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, though they go with different names in different countries. 

Accounting for an estimated total population of some 40 million, they form majorities in many West African countries and are interestingly also the only group of people who are easily recognisable at first sight as they bear similar characteristics.

 The Fulani are conspicuous because of their light-skinned complexion, slender composure, long and slender noses, unique accent, and curly hair. At birth, many of them are slashed with two traditional marks on either side of the face between the eye and the ear.

 Across West and Central Africa, they are classified mainly as Pulaar-speaking people, but with specific names in various countries. In Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, they are known as the Peulh. In Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia, they are known as Fula, whereas in Niger, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon, they are called Hausa-Fulani. In northern Cameroon, their term of reference is Fulfulbé. The Hausa-Fulani nomenclature, especially in Nigeria, came through years of assimilation and intermarriage with the Hausa, who are a distinct group. Others say it is a deliberately political construct to beef up their numbers in Nigeria vis-a-vis the southerners.

In Sierra Leone, a mockery is made of the ethnic Fula-speaking people for their lack of an ‘r’ in their speaking vocabulary. Hence, they pronounce words like ‘brother’ as ‘boloda’ and ‘bread’ as ‘blade.’

 But virtually every ethnic Peulh or Fula understands the spoken language generally known as Pulaar, albeit of course with slight differences in phonetics or pronunciation. This is where they are diametrically opposed to other majority tribes like the Serrer in Senegal whose speakers do not understand a word from the other ethnic Serrer speakers living barely 50km apart.

 In discussions about the real origins of the Peulh, Fula or Hausa-Fulani, some claim kinship with the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Salasie II, who they say was the last monarch in their illustrious pedigree.

 The name of the incumbent Rwandan President Paul Kagame also emerges in other contemporary narrations of kinship. Looking closely at these Pulaar-speaking people, one would easily notice that they bear considerable resemblance to Somalis and/or Ethiopians at the extreme eastern end of the continent.

 In Guinea's Futa Djallon region where they are believed to have originated from, the provincial headquarters town of Labé is considered as their natural birthplace.

However, the majority of them are found in the Sahel with some accounts saying they may have originated in the Maghreb from early contacts between the blacks and the Arabic-speaking people.

In Senegal where their concentration is third only after Nigeria and Guinea, the ethnic group is alternately known as Toucouleur, which when literally translated in French means “every colour “. They are predominantly Muslim and they also happen to be the most nomadic of African communities. To date, there are very few Fulani or Peulh who adhere to Christianity.

Historically, their main occupation was livestock rearing and petty trading in different wares including cowrie shells and kola nuts. Their staple food comprises meat, milk, millet and sorghum with virtually no spices like pepper. This sharply contrasts with many other ethnic groups in West Africa and particularly the Kru, a fishing community from Ghana, who are renowned as “pepper birds” and who baptise their children with pepper.

The minority of the Fulani who are dark-skinned will still be recognisable by their accent and curly hair, often bearing resemblance to the dark-skinned Indians.

And like Indians, the Fulani are known for their mainly endogamous system of marriages which they maintain in almost all of the countries of West Africa they occupy.

These are marriages between uncles and nieces and cousins and only in highly exceptional circumstances could one find the Fulani or Peulh marrying into another ethnic group.

 Ousmane Baldé, a retired Senegalese school teacher, told the Africa Review that the reason for this was “to ensure that the hard-earned wealth was maintained within the family setting”. This characteristic of the Fula open them up to accusations of ethnocentricity and even racism. They make very little effort to learn other languages, which many of them tend to have little mastery of.

 While they refer to other non-Pulaar speaking Africans as “black people” they also look down on their own dark-skinned kin as machudor or “slave”, a derivative from the days of old when slavery was practised among Sahelian and Maghreb communities.

 But like any other ethnic group, the Fulani have unique family surnames, prominent among them being Ba and Diallo (spelt Bah and Jallow respectively in English-speaking countries).

Others are Barrie, Baldé, Juldé, and Sall. One of the most illustrious Pulaar-speakers to emerge on the post-colonial African political landscape was the late Diallo Telli, a Guinean who became the first secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity. He later died - reportedly through starvation - while imprisoned by the Sekou Touré regime.

In spite of their numerical advantage in West Africa, only a few of the Pulaar-speaking politicians have risen to the very top in their countries. Current exceptions are President Macky Sall of Senegal (who is of a mixed-parentage) and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.
MPNAIJA GIST:Only in Nigeria that Fulani have some Power but zero power in all other African Countries MPNAIJA GIST:Only in Nigeria that Fulani have some Power but zero power in all other African Countries Reviewed by Precious Amadi on February 01, 2018 Rating: 5

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