macroafricaintel | Climate change & conflict in West Africa (3)

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Related conflicts, including criminal violence such as banditry, kidnapping, and political assassinations, are most severe in Nigeria. Pastoralists in Nigeria have invaded farms, colonized villages along their grazing routes and meddled in the local politics of farmer communities with relative impunity. In response, some Nigerian state governments implemented grazing bans. A proposed organized settlement programme by the government for pastoralists in the greener south has been met with political resistance.

Nigerian authorities view the root of the crisis as the shrinking of Lake Chad. Food shortages and violence have already forced at least 2.4 million people to flee the Lake Chad area. In March 2017, the United Nations (UN) Security Council identified climate change (drought, crop failure, etc.) and ecological changes as factors responsible for Lake Chad’s instability. The UN plans to facilitate raising $50 billion to regenerate Lake Chad by transferring water from more abundant Central African lakes. One UN goal is to create more jobs in the area.

Lessons from the Arab Spring
Unprecedented mass protests across the Middle East between 2010 and 2012 dubbed the “Arab Spring” is an outlier. Neither is the case related to local farmer-pastoralist conflict, nor are local climate change effects believed to have been a contributing factor. Instead, drought-induced wheat production shortfalls in China led to a global wheat shortage, driving bread prices up to unbearable levels in Egypt, a major global wheat importer, and elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa. Still, the authors argue that although global warming may not have directly triggered the Arab Spring, it may have generated conflict that fed its flames.

World wheat prices more than doubled in 2010 due to extreme climatic events in the breadbasket nations of Russia, Ukraine and Canada. Due to their low incomes and reliance on imported wheat, many countries in the North African and Middle Eastern regions fell prey to the resulting price increases. Governments that failed to meet their citizens’ needs for food security appeared less legitimate, leading to protests and ultimately to violence. Thus, institutional weakness (exacerbated by the use of new communication channels) may have enabled the wave of rebellions and revolutions across the region.

Managing farmer-herder conflicts: The case of Ghana
Farmers and nomadic Fulani pastoralists in Ghana clash violently every year; especially during the dry season from December to March. These conflicts have multiple causes, including scarcity of pasture and water resources due to climate change, cattle rustling and weak laws governing ranching. Ethnic differences are an added cultural factor: “farmers construct Fulani identity as non-Ghanaian.” There is a historical basis for this distinction: the Fulani originally migrated to Ghana from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali early in the 20th century. They did so in search of pasture, water, land and better economic opportunities.

A recent rise in farmer-herder conflicts in Ghana follows increased cow purchases, as a signal of increased wealth from agricultural development. The combination results in less grazing land, yet more cows that need pasture. When we add increased migration of Fulani herders to Ghana from drought-hit Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, we see the seeds of conflict.

Whether in times of peace or conflict, farmers and herders in Ghana have a history of cooperating with one another as “cultural neighbours”. This pattern of cooperation takes the form of neighbourly interactions, intermarriages, friendships, trade, and resource sharing. However, recent increases in conflict among members of the two groups spurred the Ghanaian government to institute a ranching programme. This intervention led to a reduction in the number of violent conflicts among members of the two groups in the pilot area of the programme. This success suggests such interventions by the state might serve as a template for other West African countries grappling with similar issues.

Article was first published by the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Nanyang Business School, Singapore. References are in the original article.

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