Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Mali - A Climate Conflict

 The five Sahel countries along with France held a “Sahel G5” summit to discuss the security situation in the region. The leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and France agreed to step up counterterrorism efforts. Yet again, the debate around how to reduce the continuing bloodshed in West Africa was framed militarily. The focus was on a possible French withdrawal and the need for replacement forces.

French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that the 5,000 French troops deployed in the Sahel as part of Operation Barkhane should stay longer, until other countries can deploy troops to replace them.

It has been nine years since the war in Mali broke out, and eight since French forces intervened to support the Malian army. Northern Mali has suffered instability and conflict since the country gained its independence from France in 1960. In 2012, a year after the Libyan uprising and a NATO operation brought down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, instability spilled over into Mali. Small arms proliferation and the movement of Tuareg fighters from Libya to Mali fuelled a rebellion. 

The conflict is nowhere near a resolution today.  It is clear that the solution cannot be solely a military one. Mali, its neighbours and the international community need to invest in a major peacebuilding campaign that focuses on the roots of the conflict, not on its consequences. While people in the north had had longstanding political grievances, their socioeconomic situation had been severely affected by water shortages and desertification due to climate change and other environmental factors.

On March 23, 2019, in central Mali, some 160 civilians – mostly semi-nomadic herders of Fulani ethnicity – were killed, allegedly by Dogon communities, who are mostly farmers. The international community looked first to ethnic divisions and radicalisation to explain the attack. But the reality is that diminishing access to water and fertile land have long pitted herders against farmers.

 Herder communities’ access to and control of land is decreasing and they are increasingly feeling that the government is taking no action to alleviate their problems. As a result, herders have come to perceive themselves as “victims” of partisan governance and are taking up arms as the way to correct the injustices they face. Climate change has fuelled tensions not only in the north and the centre, but also increasingly in the relatively more stable south. The Sikasso region in southern Mali has also seen frequent incidents of violence between farmers, pastoralists and state employees tasked with forest protection over the use of land and natural resources.

The Inner Niger Delta, which stretches over central and southern Mali, has been particularly affected by climate change, as rainfall has diminished by 30 percent over the past 50 years and there has been a mean annual temperature increase of 0.8 degrees Celsius. The alternation of droughts and floods has diminished crop yields and affected herding and fishing. According to recent estimates, if no action is taken, this situation could result in the loss of welfare ranging from $70 to $142m and an increase of those at risk of hunger from 44 percent to more than 70 percent of the Malian population.

Mali is not the only country severely affected by climate variability in the region and there is an increasing risk that the conflict raging within its borders can spill over to its neighbours. The disruption of weather patterns and the mismanaged human responses have created environmental degradation that has undermined the livelihoods of the whole Sahel region, which has been proclaimed “ground zero” of climate change because of its significant vulnerability to its effects.

The international community need to assist Sahelian governments in resource management as much as they have in maintaining security through enhancing welfare provision, good land governance, and justice system reforms that reinforce equitable access to water and land.

Mali needs climate solutions, not more troops | Opinions News | Al Jazeera

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