Does Climate Change Drive Land-Use Conflicts in the Sahel?

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Benjaminsen, Tor Arve; Koffi Alinon; Halvard Buhaug & Jill Tove Buseth (2012) Does Climate Change Drive Land-Use Conflicts in the Sahel?, Journal of Peace Research 49(1): 97–111.

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While climate change scenarios for the Sahel vary and are uncertain, the most popularized prediction says there will progressively be drier conditions with more erratic rainfall. According to some, an increase in violent conflicts over scarce resources should also be expected. This article investigates the climate–conflict nexus in detail, focusing on a distinct area at the heart of the Sahel, the inland delta of the Niger river in the Mopti region of Mali. Two complementary analytical approaches are applied. The first consists of collection and analysis of court data on land-use conflicts, 1992–2009, from the regional Court of Appeal in Mopti. 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. Second, we carried out a qualitative analysis of one of the many land-use conflicts in the region. Again, we find that factors other than those directly related to environmental conditions and resource scarcity dominate as plausible explanations of the violent conflict. We argue 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.

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