Page 23 - Respond 2016 Magazine
P. 23

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           What is alarming about the Sahelian conflicts is their organic   ‘In a very short time,’ according to ecologist Charles Grémont, ‘the
           growth: under comparable circumstances, a Hobbesian struggle   multiple ties with the people and resources of the Niger valley that
           breaks out, and the result is bloodshed.             had long been fundamental to the history of the southern Tuareg
                                                                were cut off.’
           Defining this ‘war’ by ‘climate’ is also contentious, given the variety
           of contributing factors. These include the dispersal of Colonel   It is from climate-based developments like this that the present-day
           Gaddafi’s weapons in Libya, which has increased access and   armed conflict in Mali can be traced.
           affordability of small arms in countries such as Chad, Nigeria and
           Burkina Faso.                                        For observers of the Sahel, the growing intersection of conflicts is
           Land privatisation is key, so too governmental policies on
           agriculture and land tenure, development projects such as dam-  Fulani herders in Nigeria have been accused of transporting
           building on the Niger river, embezzlement of drought relief funds,   weapons to Boko Haram; Arabic and Tuareg clans have linked up
           population growth and issues of political representation.  in Northern Mali; and across porous borders, the arms business has
                                                                proven as successful as the long-standing trades in narco-trafficking
           As ecologist Hélène Claudot-Hawad points out, ‘in the Sahara the   and people-smuggling.
           modern states are viewed as machines for turning out minorities
           who are relegated to the margins’. This marginalisation, as much as   There are too many variables to label this simply a ‘climate
           climate, impels the conflicts today.                 war’; rather, it is a series of conflicts deeply coloured by climate.
                                                                Mitigation and adaptation, as set out at the UN’s 2015 climate
           No war has a single cause. ‘Climate war’ draws attention to the   summit in Paris are essential elements in reducing these conflicts.
           role played by drought and desertification in the diminution of
           resources.                                           If rainfall is likely to decrease, and temperatures to rise, as the
                                                                IPCC’s 5th Assessment suggests, the resource competition is only
           It also directs analysts beyond political sloganeering to the practical   likely to intensify.
           phenomena that enable political leaders to marshal their recruits.
                                                                Without more holistic engagement and an increase in the quality
           In Mali, for example, the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s abruptly   and output of investment, these conflicts are likely to proliferate
           lowered the flood level of the Niger river, prompting rice farmers   more widely, intersect more tightly, and increase their impact
           to move closer to the river-bed. As a result, Tuareg herdsmen were   outside the region.
           unable to feed their animals from the nutritious bourgou-grasses
           flanking the river.                                  Nick Jubber is a writer and a traveller. His latest book, The Timbuktu
                                                                School for Nomads: Across the Sahara in the shadow of jihad, is
                                                                published by Nicholas Brealey

                                                                                                          Droughts in the Malian Sahel between the 1960s and 1980s reduced vegetation

                                                                                                            and water availability, forcing herders to roam further (Pic: Nick Jubber)

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