Land-Use Conflicts in the African Sahel
Benjaminsen, T.A., Alinon, K., Buhaug, H. and Buseth, J.T. 2012. Does climate change drive land-use conflicts in the Sahel? Journal of Peace Research 49: 97-111.
Writing as background for their study Benjaminsen et al. (2012) say that “during the last few years, violent land-use conflict in the Sahel has become the most popular example of the alleged link between global climate change and conflict,” noting that “many politicians and international civil servants seem particularly attracted to this idea,” as described in the study of Benjaminsen (2009). And they indicate that this idea “was also at the core of the decision to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to former US vice-president Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
Focusing on an area in the heart of the Sahel – the inland delta of the Niger River in the Mopti region of Mali – in the present study Benjaminsen et al. collected data on land-use conflicts that occurred within that region between 1992 and 2009 from the regional Court of Appeal in Mopti, after which they compared the court data with contemporaneous climatic data. And in a second approach to the subject, they conducted a qualitative analysis of one of the many land-use conflicts in the region: a farmer-herder conflict, where young men from the village of Karbaye fired on a group of herders from the neighboring village of Guirowel, who were bringing livestock to a pond close to their homes, killing as many as five of them and injuring some 15 to 30 others.
With respect to the findings of the initial thrust of their study, the four Norwegian researchers found that “a comparison of the conflict data with statistics on contemporaneous climatic conditions gives little substance to claims that climate variability is an important driver of these conflicts.” And they go on to say that they “interpret this finding as indicative evidence that land-use conflicts in the delta region are shaped by political and economic texts (e.g., confidence in the judicial system, economic opportunities, and learning) rather than climate variability.” As for the second part of their study, they also concluded that “factors other than those directly related to environmental conditions and resource scarcity dominate as plausible explanations of the violent conflict,” arguing that “three structural factors are the main drivers behind these conflicts: agricultural encroachment that obstructed the mobility of herders and livestock, opportunistic behavior of rural actors as a consequence of an increasing political vacuum, and corruption and rent seeking among government officials.”
The findings of Benjaminsen et al. – and those of many others whom they cite (Grandin, 1987; Bassett, 1988; Ellis and Swift, 1988; Bonfiglioli and Watson, 1992; Behnke et al., 1993; Turner, 1998; Turner, 2004; Hagberg, 2005; Hesse and MacGregor, 2006; Moritz, 2006; Nordas and Gleditsch, 2007; Benjaminsen, 2008; Benjaminsen et al., 2009; Benjaminsen and Ba, 2009) – give further credence to the conclusion of Nordas and Gleditsch (2007) that even the IPCC, which “prides itself on being a synthesis of the best peer-reviewed science, has fallen prey to relying on second- or third-hand information with little empirical backing when commenting on the implications of climate change for conflict,” because real-world evidence for their climate-change-causes-conflict claim is just not there, at least in the case where the climatic change involves warming.
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