Auteurs : Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde, Boubacar Ba
L’Institut danois d’études internationales est un institut public de recherche et d’analyse indépendante des affaires internationales, financé principalement par l’État danois. DIIS mène et communique des recherches multidisciplinaires sur la mondialisation, la sécurité, le développement et la politique étrangère. DIIS a pour objectif d’utiliser le fruit de ses recherches pour influencer l’agenda politique et peser dans le débat public.
Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde est chercheuse à l’Institut danois d’études internationales. Ses principaux domaines de recherche sont la sécurité, la migration et le développement en Afrique. Elle est spécialisée sur les questions de conflit, de terreur, sur les opérations de maintien de la paix ainsi que sur les interventions internationales dans la région du Sahel.
Boubacar Ba est chercheur et directeur du Centre d’analyse sur la gouvernance et la sécurité (CAGS) au Sahel, basé à Mopti au Mali.
Authors : Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde, Boubacar Ba
The Danish Institute for International Studies is a leading public institute for independent research and analysis of international affairs. We conduct and communicate multidisciplinary research on globalisation, security, development and foreign policy. DIIS aims to use our research results to influence the agenda in research, policy and public debate.
Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde’s primary areas of research are security, migration, and development in Africa. In particular, she focuses on conflict, terror, and peacebuilding as well as on international interventions (including the UN, the EU and Western intervening states) in West Africa’s Sahel-region.
Boubacar Ba is researcher and director of the analysis Centre for governance and security in the Sahel’s region, based in Mopti, Mali.
Date of publication : April 2022 / Avril 2022
Site of the organisation : Danish Institute for International Studies
Given its arid climate, recurrent droughts and humanitarian crises, ongoing conflicts in West Africa’s Sahel region are often portrayed in policy and media discourses as a result of climate change According to this so-called ‘climate-conflict’ nexus, conflict escalation and terrorism are seen as the result of intensified competition due to a climate change-induced decline in resources, which also leads to migration from the Global South.
The mechanisms of climate-conflict linkages remain disputed and while climate change can affect armed conflicts, drivers such as poor socioeconomic development and low state capability contribute substantially more. This report argues that violence and conflict in the Sahel are caused by the presence of armed groups with divergent political and ideological agendas, not climate change per se. In these circumstances, the absence of effective natural resource management has become a key conflict driver in the face of increased pressure on land and water, and of the aggravating factor of climate change.
In Mopti’s rural areas, where local authorities have abandoned their posts due to insecurity, there is a growing presence and influence of armed groups. In a context where the state and local institutions have been unwilling and unable to provide adequate resource governance institutions and dispute settlement mechanisms, armed groups exploit the grievances of local populations, their lack of protection, and existing conflicts over access to and control of key natural resources (water and land).
The brutal pushback by internationally-supported state security forces with ambiguous ties to local self-defence militias has also aggravated violence and fostered a climate of impunity in Mali’s conflict-ridden areas.
Climate-related conflict drivers in the Mopti region
The conflict in central Mali is often portrayed as driven by ethnic and community- based divisions, or ‘herder-farmer’ divisions (as the Fulani are primarily identified as pastoralist and the Dogon as farmers).
Furthermore, inspired by the environmental security school, resource conflicts are often perceived to be driven by dynamics relating to supply and demand. According to these narratives, climate change-related rainfall fluctuations and the region’s population growth produce either demand- or supply-induced resource scarcity that leads to conflict.
However, this interpretation of Mali’s ‘climate wars’ is challenged by the fact that conflicts often take place within the same community and do not map neatly onto community-based nor ethnic divisions.
Armed groups – not climate change – are causing food shortages
A pilot study prepared by the World Food Programme presents strong evidence of how violence precipitates famine and food shortage. It shows a decrease in cultivated land area was detected for 25% of Mopti localities in 2019, compared to pre-conflict years. When hundreds of cultivated hectares disappear in one place at the same time, it is not due to flooding or decisions by farmers to let the land lie fallow; it is because farmers have been forced to leave their land.
Indeed, the massive displacement due to violence has a negative impact on food production.
Armed groups – not climate change – are causing internal displacement
In September 2021 there were over 159,000 internally displaced people in the Mopti region, of an estimated total population of 1.6 million. The overall trend of climate change was an added strain on an already food-insecure area and it did contribute to competition over land. The nature of the violence indicates that the political and historical conflict dynamics cannot be reduced to climate-related variability in the availability of natural resources.
However, this interpretation of Mali’s ‘climate wars’ is challenged by the fact that conflicts often take place within the same community and do not map neatly onto community-based nor ethnic divisions
Fulani-Dogon disputes over land
While resource disputes also previously led to violence and at times killings between the groups, with the rise of insecurity since 2012, these conflicts have now reached unprecedented levels and the extent of the violent killings has escalated dramatically.
In the last two decades, climate change and sociocultural developments have changed the economic activities of local groups.
Population growth, land division, herd growth and the development of intensive farming, promoted by successive governments with the support of international partners, have interrupted the application and relevance of social, cultural and historic norms and shifted the power balance between pastoralists and farmers.
Although for decades pastoralists have developed various mechanisms to cope with an almost perpetual livelihood crisis, such as becoming sedentary, practising agro-pastoralism or herding livestock over long distances, the economic situation for many of the region’s Fulani nomads has become precarious.
The formation of armed Dogon militias is embedded in historical land use conflicts between Fulani and Dogon communities around the control of agro-pastoral resources in zones used for dry season transhumance.
The ISGS/al-Qaeda divide over access to pastures
In terms of access to pastures, the management principles were established during the Dina empire, the application of which has been a contested issue for decades, also sparking disagreements between Fulani pastoralists themselves. It is perceived as biased towards Fulani elites and serving to sustain a past when only a few pastoral leaders controlled the land, resources and people.
These internal disputes between Fulani herders have provided ISGS with oppor- tunities to recruit among marginalised herders, often those of lower social status who do not possess land themselves but depend on Fulani elites for access to the Delta’s pastures. Such conflicts cannot be reduced to climate change or demand-induced scarcity. They are deeply embedded in hyper-local power disputes and long-term grievances of non-resident herders over access rules which enhance inequality.
Population growth, land division, herd growth and the development of intensive farming, promoted by successive governments with the support of international partners, have interrupted the application and relevance of social, cultural and historic norms and shifted the power balance between pastoralists and farmers
Internationally-supported local peace agreements
Meanwhile, international support has also been given to local-level dialogue and peace negotiations. These agreements are often brokered with the support of international NGOs. These agreements often provide temporary appeasement, but their durability is not guaranteed. The armed groups can decide to break the agreements when opportune, and their violent practices may continue under the radar.
Locally-brokered peace agreements with jihadist groups are premised on the condition that local communities accept the jihadists as de facto authorities and break with any kind of interaction with state national security forces.
The urgency of the escalating conflicts requires an immediate, pragmatic and coordinated approach to local conflict resolution which includes principles for inclusive, contextualised, sustainable land use management in the Delta.
Immediate de-escalation of conflicts is needed through disarmament of militias and rebuilding of trust between local communities and Mali’s armed forces, with a strong focus on protecting civilians.
Source photo : pure.diis.dk