How climate change is fueling conflict in West Africa – Economics and Ecology

With the recent wave of coups in West Africa, the Sahel has once again become the center of global attention. Since 2020, at least six coups have taken place in Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Chad and Burkina Faso. The Sahel, considered the area most vulnerable to climate change, is a semi-arid region comprising some of the poorest and most fragile states in the world (eg Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania). Due to the effects of global warming, the Sahelian belt has long been known as a hotspot for conflict over land and water resources. For the same reason, the region is also a point of reference for the discourse on climate change. The first one ‘climate conflict‘ took place here in 2003, when the war in Darfur revealed how the convergence of environmental and political factors can lead to conflict. Since then, the region has continued to influence the discourse on climate change and climate-security.

Climate change and its effects on peace

However, not all researchers agree on the role climate change plays in conflict. Some argue that climate change is not a driver of conflict and that historical and political factors only framework through which conflicts can be understood. According to this school of thought, the Sahel is not as vulnerable to climate change as previously indicated – with rainfall patterns improving, and the region becoming greener and recovering from the droughts of the 1980s. Interestingly, these arguments go against the beliefs of a world where the impacts of climate change are increasingly shaping global peace and security. Today, there is a consensus that effective peacebuilding requires consideration of climate sensitivity in its efforts to anticipate challenges and respond to them in a timely manner.

At the same time, the results of metrological studies do not allow us to conclude that the Sahel is greener again. In fact, the prevailing picture in the Sahel in recent decades is one of rainfall deficits and severe droughts combined with periods of heavy rains (violent thunderstorms, above-normal rainfall) that the land is too dry to absorb. and results in devastating floods. In addition, droughts are intensifying with rising temperatures 1.5 times faster than the rest of the world. Similarly, Lake Chad, the main freshwater lake in the region responsible for the sustenance of humans and animals, has shrunk by more than 90% since the 80s.

Due to the ensuing conflict, the United Nations estimates that more than 13 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance.

This, combined with the advancement of the Sahara by wells over a mile each year has exacerbated tensions between farmers and herders due to the disappearance of pastures and the evaporation of water points. In addition to the farmer-herder crisis, jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS take advantage of the conflict and the weakness of central governments and have been able to extend their roots in the region by becoming both benefactors and a constant nightmare for the villagers. . Like Hammadoun Cissé, a Malian shepherd, who leads a reconciliation committee involved in conflict mediation between the communities, write “They come as protectors of the communities and then try to impose their way of life on us”.

Due to the ensuing conflict, the United Nations estimates that more than 13 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance. In addition, the number of people suffering from acute hunger has tripled over the past year to reach 7.4 million while some 1.5 million people are internally displaced – a multiplication by twenty in two years. As the conflict escalates with millions displaced and forced to migrate, violence spreads, pushing the state and military to their limits – the result is either state failure or coups. State, sovereignty being threatened.

In Mali, for example, the decade-long conflict has weakened the central government while in Burkina Faso, the mutiny of soldiers in the face of the Roch Kaboré regime’s lack of support for the counter-insurgency campaign as well as the unrest citizens announced the coup. It remains to be seen what the soldiers who took over would do differently, but the ravages of climate change and its destabilization of livelihoods in the Sahel continue unchecked.

The role of government and institutional failures

In a sense, however, those who deny the role of climate change in conflict analysis are right to say that the climate change narrative can be used to excuse the role of a weak governance structure and the failures of African leaders. . As Oludare Ogunlana, professor of national security at Collin College, whom I spoke to during my research, angrily retorted: “No continent is immune to climate change, so why has there such a tragic ramification in the Sahel?” While acknowledging the link between climate change and political instability in the Sahel, he asserted that “it undoubtedly plays an important role, but the key role is played by a lack of planning, a failure of governance and the ‘interference by foreign powers’. His logic is hard to dispute. Most countries in the Sahel are ruled by undemocratic, incompetent and corrupt regimes backed by French, Russian or American imperialism. Examples include Ibrahim Boubakar Keita and Roch Kaboré, ousted presidents of Mali and Burkina Faso respectively, ousted because of their inability to meet the needs of their people and their inability to deal with jihadist violence.

Along the same lines, the inability of Lake Chad Basin governments and the international community to demonstrate their political commitment to stabilizing Lake Chad is as much a factor as climate change in explaining the rise of groups terrorists like Boko Haram and others in the region. . Furthermore, the NATO invasion of Libya in 2011 and the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi are also an important factor responsible for the flow of small arms into the Sahel, thus reinforcing local conflicts and accelerating instability in the region. region. Therefore, not recognizing the role of governmental and institutional failures and their influence on the environmental crisis in the Sahel would lead to a one-sided analysis, which could hinder the process of restoring peace and prosperity in the region.

As the Sahel shows, causes and effects are constantly interchanged in a dialectical continuum, with climate change acting as a root cause here, an effect there and, at times, an amplifier.

Going forward, the key to understanding the relevance of climate change to conflict is to analyze how climate change interacts with other historical, social or political factors. In this sense, recognizing the role of climate change in conflict does not mean dismissing other factors; rather it is a mixture of multiple factors. This provides a more accurate framework for analyzing contemporary conflicts that are multidimensional in nature. As the Sahel shows, causes and effects are constantly interchanged in a dialectical continuum, with climate change acting as a root cause here, an effect there and, at times, an amplifier.

The crisis in the Sahel is an ominous warning to the world. It shows that perhaps long before the global temperature rises enough to turn the earth into a boiling cauldron, conflicts and wars fueled by climate change could make the earth an unfit place for life. For this reason, government and civil society must begin to take the urgent steps needed to revitalize the Sahel ecosystem, defeat jihadism, and establish democratic justice mechanisms to ensure peaceful resolutions of grievances for livelihoods, security and sustainable development.

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