Violent conflict is on the increase in the Sahel since 2012, coinciding with the increased use of Social Media in the region. The organisation of networks and their information flows are changing, and this project studies the conflict as a digitally and physically networked one. Cultural violence—the legitimation of violence—spreads through (trans)regional networks, and discursive and ‘real’ warfare become entangled. This interdisciplinary study focuses on (trans)national Fulani networks, combining historical-ethnographic and computational methods to understand the ‘workings’ of networked conflict. The project warns of possible increases in ethnic violence, resulting from digital media uses.

Nomade Sahel

Nomadesahel stands for various aspects of this research project. It refers to the main groups with whom we work in this project: the Fulani. It refers to the methodology that we adopt: Networks in context; and it refers to ourselves as researchers, travelers.

Nomadesahel implies mobility. Mobility forms our world and in this project we align with the mobility paradigm that puts mobility central in social dynamics. To understand wars and conflicts in the Sahel, we have to centralize mobility. It is through networks of people and objects that conflict travels, by way of its associated ideas, ideologies, and violent practices. Subjects create these networks on the ground, through travel, social relations, and also in online connectivity, where new and old hubs of contact revive. In this research we focus on how people access and form connections with the infrastructures of ICTs in combination with old forms of connectivity. Here, forms of nomadism/mobility also shape up. We understand the online world, following media scholar John Postill , as a field where the social, symbolic and culture capitals meet. Mobility is our central research strategy, namely following online and offline networks and its capitals. We do so in person through ethnographic research, and we discover through computational methods. What we discover will be led by the people with whom we interact.

Nomadesahel refers to a geographical space, Sahīl means border area in Arabic and hence refers to relations and connectivity. The Sahel has known a long history of travel, connecting Northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. This history is marked by commercial, religious, and cultural relations and exchanges. The Fulani are an example of people creating the mobile space that is the Sahel. As nomadic pastoralists, traders, and religious leaders, and with a history of empire building, they have long been connecting different parts of this vast space. The Fulfulde language is spoken in almost all countries of West and Central Africa. Today’s sad reality of conflicts in the Sahel is also linked to the Fulani. Fulani receive a negative imagery in dominant discours, like through associations with Jihadist groups in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso or in Chad and Cameroon through their association with Zaraguina gangs in the border areas.

In this research we wonder how people carry or counter this image of Fulani as ‘the other’, legitimized by all forms of knowledge and in the media, into the explanations of conflict. We also seek to understand how the negative imagery informs identity making among Fulani across the Sahel. It is here that we introduce the concept Cultural Violence: ‘those aspects of culture, the symbolic sphere of our existence—exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science (logic, mathematics)—that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence’. In this research project we will tell the story of connected warfare in the Sahel through the history and present-day dynamics of Fulani societies and how they others perceive them.

War in our project refers to the violent condition. ‘Violent conditions are not the property of individuals or monolithic structures: they are the existential climates by which localized subjects and worlds condense into being’ . We researchers are part of this violent condition and our positionality does influence our choices and analytics in this research, as does the positionality of the people with who we work (both partners and research participants).


• To understand the role of new ICTs in the organisation and perpetuation of conflict violent, gendered, disputes).
• To show the dynamics of digital information flows in violent conflict.
• To explore the potential role of social media in processes of peace and reconciliation.

Research questions

1. How did (trans)national ethnic and popular physical and digital networks change in the past decade in organisational form and spread over the Sahelian space, and what is their relation to and role in networked violent conflict?

2. How do Fulani culture and memory inform Cultural Violence in Fulani popular networks, and how do they ‘travel’ through these networks? Does the conflict lead to new forms of Cultural Violence (hate speech, mis-information)?

3. How and under what conditions do the interaction and entanglement of digital and physical popular networks contribute to the intensification and violence of the conflict?

4. How can we transform the disruptive force of digital networks into a force for peace?