How Climate Change Drives Conflict In Africa

Climate change is fast becoming a reality that no person or government can ignore. Yet it is being ignored despite the myriad of ways it is affecting the day-to-day lives of many. From the food people eat to the way the food is grown, all of this and more is being affected by climate change. On the African continent, these effects can culminate in violence in some places. The Daily Vox team takes a closer look. 

UN Report 

In 2007, a United Nations (UN) report was released that said “conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, which threaten to trigger a succession of new wars across Africa unless more is done to contain the damage.” 

Released by the UN Environmental Programme, the report raised concerns that tensions between pastoral communities and farmers could be ignited because of the disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes in the Sudan area. 

Speaking then as UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon said: “Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” 

The report went on to say that “no peace will last without sustained investment in containing environmental damage and adapting to climate change.” This report was from twelve years ago. 

Some of the ways the landscape of African countries are set to change due to climate change is sea-level rise, dangerous seaways, food insecurity, increased migration, and water weaponisation. 

In 2018, the president of the UN Security Council addressed the council. He said the council recognises the “adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes on the stability of West Africa and the Sahel region.” He emphasised during his speech “the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies by governments and the United Nations relating to these factors.” 

Sudan conflict

In December 2018, Sudanese people took to the streets in protest against rising bread prices. This was of course not the main reason for the protests. The people were in fact protesting against the thirty-year rule of Omar Al-Bashir. However, the rising bread prices were an indication of how climate change can affect the economic and political situation of a country. Rising bread prices of course arise from rising flour prices which are linked to shortages in the staple production. It might not be the main reason but it was an effect. 

Khartoum, the capital city and other parts of the city has been experiencing serious environmental degradation due “extensive deforestation and droughts, which have conspired to make it vulnerable to climate-related hazards.” The floods, dust storms and heat waves all pose serious threats to the people living in these areas.

Yet, there is an even bigger problem when looking at climate change on the continent. This can be seen in examples from countries found in the Sahel and the Maghreb.  


In March 2019, 154 Fulani men, women and children were killed in central Mali. During June 2019, Dogon people were killed by armed assailants in their villages. This is part of ongoing violence between the Dogon and Fulani people in the area. There have been many conflicts between the farmer Dogon people and the Fulani herders in central Mali for a long time. 

Speaking to The Daily Vox, Ryan Cummings, director of Signal Risk said that in parts of the Sahel region of Africa and Maghreb the impacts of climate change can be seen. 

“What’s happening in those countries is that predominantly pastoralist communities who tend to be nomadic and move around seasonally from one kind of grazing area to another,” Cummings said. He adds that the issue of climate change and other climatic factors “means there is less available to graze on or the land they would migrate to hasn’t be replenished.”  

This changing of grazing patterns is what exacerbates conflict between these two groups. Many of the nomadic/pastoral communities in these countries do not have any rights to land claims. With the nomadic people moving onto the farming communities land, the cattle are grazing on the land allocated for agriculture. 

 “This has created significant cycles of conflict” according to Cummings. 

Climate change and extremism 

Geopolitically climate change has affected these areas by impacting on extremism. Cummings says that there are suggestions in Mali that the Fulani people are associated with people “claiming to be sympathetic towards extremist groups or are aligned with those groups on the basis of self-protection.” As these pastoral communities occupy a space on the fringes of society, they are often victims to violence from the state. 

The extremist groups that operate in these areas offer protection to these groups. They offer  “protection that the state would otherwise provide” says Cummings. In all of these countries, it is existing political, social and economic conditions that have been exacerbated because of climate change. 


In Nigeria, Cummings says the insurgency from Boko Haram emerged out of social conditions. 

“But a major part of how the insurgency spread to the neighbouring region is around the Lake Chad area,” Cummings said. 

With rising temperatures and erratic rain patterns, this has led to food insecurity for fishing communities around Lake Chad. 

“The unpredictability of rains means that people are just giving up,” Janani Vivekananda, author of a report on climate change in Lake Chad said. “After the third or fourth failed harvest, not knowing when to switch from fishing to farming, the offer of a livelihood of food every day and business loans becomes more attractive.” 

Cummings echoes this point saying that the difficulties facing the communities makes “recruitment amongst Boko Haram easier.” 

Climate change and conflict

There have been many papers and policies compiled about how climate change and conflict are intertwined. Yet in an African context, it would be impossible to attribute conflict to only one factor. Cummings says conflict on the continent is “multifaceted in that regard.” 

One definite issue is the state’s inability to problematise and deal with the problems facing its people. The state is unable to intervene. People are losing their livelihoods because the grazing land is drought-stricken or when crops are lost because of floods.  

“The problem is that the state never had the infrastructure to deal with this or the degree of influence to deal with the problem. The disconnect between the center and periphery has just kind of been amplified through climate change,” said Cummings. 


There is no easier way to look at solutions for this issue. Climate change is a global issue. It is caused by the interconnected globalised world. Yet the global world does not always understand the nuances of how climate change affects the African continent and the “Global South”. In fact governments within those countries sometimes don’t even understand how to deal with climate change. 

The state needs to be strengthened to deal with the fallout of climate change. This means there needs to be stronger, uncorrupt state institutions that work for all the people in the country. There needs to be an understanding that climatic changes aren’t just seasonal and require long lasting suitable policies to address the issues. More than that governments and those with power need to take climate change seriously. 

Featured image via Flickr