From the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, the Fulbe are widely distributed.
The Fulɓe people are widely distributed, across the Sahel from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, particularly in West Africa. The countries where they are present include Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad, Togo, South Sudan the Central African Republic, Liberia, and as far east as the Red Sea in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. In Guinea, the Fulbe make up the largest ethnic group, while in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, they are the second largest group, the other countries they live in they are either a significant or a minority ethnic group. Along with their language pulaar/Fulfulde, many Fulani also speaks other languages of the countries they inhabit, making many Fulani bilingual or even multilingual in nature. Such languages include French, Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Arabic.
Major concentrations of Fulani people exist in the Fouta Djallon highlands of central Guinea and south into the northernmost reaches of Sierra Leon; the Fuuta Tooro Savannah grasslands of Senegal and southern Mauritania; the Macina inland Niger river delta system around Central Mali; and especially in the regions around Mopti and the Nioro Du Sahel in the Kayes region; the Borgu settlements of Benin, Togo and West-Central Nigeria; the northern parts of Burkina Faso in the Sahel region’s provinces of Seno, Wadala, and Soum; and the areas occupied by the Sokoto Caliphate, which includes what is now Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria (such as Tahoua, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zinder, Bauchi, Diffa, Yobe, Gombe, and further east, into the Benue River valley systems of North-Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon).
This is the area known as the Fombina, literally meaning “The South” in Adamawa Fulfulde, because it represented the most southern and eastern reaches of Fulɓe hegemonic dominance in West Africa. In this area, Fulfulde is the local lingua franca and language of cross-cultural communication. Further east of this area, Fulani communities become predominantly nomadic and exist in less organized social systems. These are the areas of the Chari-Baguirmi Region and its river systems, in Chad and the Central African Republic, the Ouaddaï highlands of Eastern Chad, the areas around Kordofan, Darfur, and the Blue Nile, Sennar, Kassala regions of Sudan, as well as the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan. On their way to or back from the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Fulani settled in many parts of eastern Sudan, today representing a distinct community of over 2 million people referred to as the Fellata.
While their early settlements in West Africa were in the vicinity of the tri-border point of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, they are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a broad band of West and Central Africa. The Fulani People occupy a vast geographical expanse in a longitudinal East-West band immediately south of the Sahara, and just north of the coastal rainforest and swamps. There are an estimated 50 to 60 million people that identify themselves as Fulani in several African countries.
There are three distinct types of Fulani based on settlement patterns, viz: the Nomadic/Pastoral or Mborooro, The Semi-Nomadic, and the Settled or “Town Fulani”. The pastoral Fulani moves around with their cattle throughout the year. Typically, they do not stay around for long stretches (not more than 2–4 months at a time). The semi-nomadic Fulani can either be Fulɓe families who happen to settle down temporarily at particular times of the year or Fulɓe families who do not “browse” around past their immediate surroundings, and even though they possess livestock, they do not wander away from a fixed or settled homestead not too far away, they are basically “In-betweeners”
Settled Fulani live in villages, towns, and cities permanently and have given up nomadic life completely, in favor of an urban one. These processes of settlement, concentration, and military conquest led to the existence of organized and long-established communities of Fulani, varying in size from small villages to towns. Today, some major Fulani towns include Labé, Pita, Mamou, and Dalaba in Guinea, Kaedi, Matam, and Podor in Senegal and Mauritania, Bandiagara, Mopti, Dori, Gorom-Gorom, and Djibo in Mali and Burkina Faso, on the bend of the Niger, and Birnin Kebbi, Gombe, Yola, Digil, Jalingo, Mayo Belwa, Mubi, Maroua, Ngaoundere, Girei and Garoua in the countries of Cameroon and Nigeria, in most of these communities, the Fulani are usually perceived as a ruling class.