How Climate Change Is Escalating The Devastating Conflict In Mali

Only two months ago, Mali witnessed one of the deadliest acts of bloodshed in the country’s history, as over 150 people were killed by rival gangs. Two days ago, on June 18th, over 40 people were killed by the same type of attack. The ongoing situation in Mali has resulted in a breakdown in law and order, with the government struggling to respond. The motives behind such attacks, however, which stem from long-rooted social grievances as a result of poor resource management, are continually neglected.

Conflict in Mali is typically framed between pastoralists and herders who share the same water and land. Katiba Macina, for example, a jihadist insurgency group, has captured popular support in vastly rural areas where the government is absent. In response to this, government forces have opted for a military response to the threat of terrorism by attempting to regulate communal areas. However, as documented by Human Rights Watch, this has worsened the situation and has resulted in serious human rights violations ranging from torture to extrajudicial killings.

The countless deaths amid the ongoing razing of villages risks the normalization of violence, according to a report by Al Jazeera. Speaking about the recent attacks, Alioune Tine, a human rights adviser in Mali, described the normalization of violence as a motivating factor for human rights abuse, “impunity for these crimes gives the perpetrators a sense of immunity – and these human rights abuses, documented almost every week for more than a year, could be characterised as crimes against humanity.” Intrinsic to the nature of the conflict, the impacts of climate change have aggravated these human rights abuses as competition for land strains society. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), “tensions have sharpened in recent decades as both human and livestock populations have burgeoned while natural resources have dwindled due to environmental change.” This competition for natural resources thus aggravates pre-existing divisions among ethnic groups and contributes to the violence that is witnessed today.

Social tension over access to pasture is inherent in Malian society. The impact of climate change, however, has illuminated the clear divide between different ethnic groups and the strong competition for natural resources. As detailed by ICG, this divide is aggravated by the Malian government’s inability to facilitate effective resource management, thus resulting in a sense of victimization among pastoralists. Therefore, relying on social grievances, terrorist groups in Mali, such as Katiba Macina, can recruit disgruntled members of the population. In an interview with a Malian minister, ICG details the role of the government in enabling conflict, “the government’s logic is simple: terrorism must be combated militarily, but the causes of terrorism must be addressed through good governance and development.”

Clearly, climate change has increased competition over resources, with both land and water resources shrinking in size and availability. It is also clear from this that the Malian government’s ability to distribute resources equally throughout society is key in facilitating peace. Doing this will prevent disgruntled members of the population from joining the various terrorist groups that depend on social grievances against the state. Regulating access to natural resources will also connect various parts of society – where the state was previously unknown – together. As Nadia Ahidjo from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa suggests, a key step in doing this is through a long-term human security approach which addresses real causes of concern in society via local development. Against a background of government abuses and extrajudicial killings, this is desperately needed to build confidence among the various ethnic groups and to unify the population behind the state instead of terrorist groups.