Land-Use Conflicts in the African Sahel

Source:  CCR

Reference
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.

Additional References
Bassett, T.J. 1988. The political ecology of peasant-herder conflicts in the northern Ivory Coast. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 78: 453-472.

Behnke, R.H., Scoones, I. and Kerven, C. (Eds.). 1993. Range Ecology at Disequilibrium: New Models of Natural Variability and Pastoral Adaptation in African Savannas. Overseas Development Institute and International Institute for Environment and Development, London, United Kingdom.

Benjaminsen, T.A. 2008. Does supply-induced scarcity drive violent conflicts in the African Sahel? The case of the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. Journal of Peace Research 45: 831-848.

Benjaminsen, T.A. 2009. Klima og konflikter I Sahel – eller politikk og vitenskap ved klimaets nullpunkt [Climate and conflicts in the Sahel - or politics and science at the Ground Zero of climate change]. Internasjonal politikk 67: 151-172.

Benjaminsen, T.A. and Ba, B. 2009. Farmer-herder conflicts, pastoral marginalization and corruption: A case study from the inland Niger delta of Mali. Geographical Journal 174: 71-81.

Benjaminsen, TA., Maganga, F. and Abdallah, J.M. 2009. The Kilosa killings: Political ecology of a farmer-herder conflict in Tanzania. Development and Change 40: 423-445.

Bonfiglioli, A.M. and Watson, C. 1992. Pastoralists at a Crossroads: Survival and Development Issues in African Pastoralism. United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office, Nairobi, Kenya.

Ellis, J.E. and Swift, D.M. 1988. Stability of African pastoral ecosystems: Alternate paradigms and implications for development. Journal of Range Management 41: 450-459.

Grandin, B.E. 1987. Pastoral Culture and Range Management: Recent Lessons from Maasailand. ILCA Bulletin 28. International Livestock Center for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Hagberg, S. 2005. Dealing with dilemmas: Violent farmer-pastoralist conflicts in Burkina Faso. In: Richards, P. (Ed.). No Peace, No War: An Anthropology of Contemporary Armed Conflicts. James Currey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Hesse, C. and MacGregor, J. 2006. Pastoralism: Drylands’ Invisible Asset? Developing a Framework for Assessing the Value of Pastoralism in East Africa. IIED Issue Paper 142. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, United Kingdom.

Moritz, M. 2006. The politics of permanent conflict: Farmer-herder conflicts in northern Cameroon. Canadian Journal of African Studies 40: 101-126.

Nordas, R. and Gleditsch, N.P. 2007. Climate change and conflict. Political Geography 26: 627-638.

Turner, M. 1998. The interaction of grazing history with rainfall and its influence on annual rangeland dynamics in the Sahel. In: Zimmerer, K. and Young, K.R. (Eds.). Nature’s Geography: New Lessons for Conservation in Developing Countries. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, USA, p. 237-251.

Turner, M. 2004. Political ecology and the moral dimensions of ‘resource conflicts’: The case of farmer-herder conflicts in the Sahel. Political Geography 23: 863-889.

 

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