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Planetary Security Conference 2019: Spotlight Region Mali

A street scene from Menaka, northern Mali, during the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.

The Planetary Security Conference 2019, which concluded on 20 February, saw a number of workshops being held on the Sahel region and specifically Mali, one of the Conference’s three spotlight regions. These workshops examined the region’s climate-water-security risks as well as the #doable actions and solutions to address these issues.

The workshop ‘From local conflicts to regional solutions’ explored prospects for development and stability in Mopti and created a dialogue between people from central Mali and the international community, while ‘Joint Solutions for Water and Security Risks in Mali’ focused on climate impacts on the Inner Niger Delta and their interaction with inter-communal conflicts. A special session presented concrete project experiences in Mali and discussed 'Taking action to reduce security risks by enabling better management over natural resources'.

With the endorsement of several speakers and convenors including Boubacary Bah, Drissa Doumbia, Diallo Tata Touré, Hamidou Oumarou, Hartmut Behrend, Tor Benjaminsen and Caroline Figueres, this blend of impressions provides an overview of the issues and #doable solutions discussed.

  1. In Central Mali, there is an urgency to improve the governance of scarce natural resources, in a context of population growth and diminishing water availability. This is expected to be aggravated by climate change as, without adaptative measures, rising temperatures will reduce crop production and increase evaporation, and rising climate variability (more periods with heavy rain and more dry periods) will diminish availability of water at the right time and the right place.
  2. At an increasing number of sites in central Mali this scarcity, in the absence of sound natural resources management, already creates acute competition for natural resources, which triggers local conflicts. However, the situation is highly variable - there are many locations where it is not too late to prevent conflict. And where conflicts exist already, peace building must go hand in hand with developing new perspectives for the population, especially the youth. Technically, the potential is there and the populations are often aware of that. At PSI 2019’s Mali sessions, the beginning of a constructive dialogue emerged about what is needed to realize this potential.
  3. At many locations of central Mali there is still a resilient population with good relations between population groups. These are sometimes already looking for ways to make the most efficient use of natural resources through the use of new production technologies (including solar energy), but they also need help to become innovative, to be able to invest and realize the enormous potential that exists, by developing their activities on a larger scale. In addition, a minimum level of security must be ensured through enhanced dialogue and governance, including dialogue between the local governments, and between them and national governments.
  4. Key is decentralization: a resilient population should define its own investments in sustainable development at the ‘right’ geographical scale. They should do this in long-term permanent dialogue with international partners who have knowledge about sustainable value chains, and who can help to invest in that. The current bottleneck is that the dialogue between villages and populations groups is at a too small scale, that international partners cooperate insufficiently with each other, and that funding often stays in Bamako. Donors can support a whole set of specific investments into climate resilience; they could link their programs to priorities set by the populations. Decentralization must, in rural areas, contribute to the peaceful management of social relations and, in doing so, not only through the empowerment of customary management bodies and institutions, but also by the need to achieve an ultimate linkage between them and the official normative frameworks in force.
  5. The conference presented also a large set of measures for adaptation to climate change which have a large potential for mitigating the conflicts between herders and sedentary farmers in vast areas of Central Mali. Measures need to be developed in a consultative process between the local population and governmental organizations and donors. These measure contribute to reducing resource scarcity of nutrients and water and thus to improving food security, a main cause of conflict.
  6. One example where this bottleneck is directly addressed is the Sourou case: the geographical area of platform dialogue is defined by the scale of natural resources issues (in this case the “communes” affected by the Sourou river). Like in the Niger’s Inner Delta case, the platform itself needs to make assumptions about “upstream” actors with whom the platform must deal but over whom it has no power. Management of the issue of access and control of natural resources must be beyond the geographer's approach. It must be able to overlap cultural domains for the simple reason that it will put into action local mechanisms of prevention and possibly conflict management. This assumes that cultural domains often share the same values and very often have a strong awareness of local authorities.
  7. The “commune” and the “cercle” are adequate levels of organization where traditional leadership and formal leadership can meet each other and where they can synchronize their plans or make joint plans. These local plans need to be linked by dialogue and joint action planning at a somewhat larger scale level to enable the joint management of natural resources and the development of value chains. A key question is, to which extend are the traditional governance systems (loi coutumière) still legitimate and unavoidable systems to connect with and to drive change. These dialogues are of utmost important to create awareness about sustainable development scenarios and where applicable the inevitability of transitions of the traditional ways of living. Women and youth should be involved in these dialogues.
  8. Also, the state of Mali must leave ownership of investments in sustainable development to the local population and it must create conditions that facilitate decentral leadership. Like in the Sourou case, the current availability of the internet (see is a huge help to create collaboration and transparency over groups in larger areas. Local populations need help to organize such processes of joint assessment of opportunities and risk, and joint planning. The MaliFolkeCenter, the ANICT and the Banque de Développement du Mali (all involved in channeling climate finance) need to be driven from the bottom-up and even facilitate the bottom-up process. The recent Decree on Strategic Environmental Assessment can help the local authorities to structure these processes, but their financing is still uncertain and the responsible ministry still must learn how – as SEA authority - it can facilitate local populations to do this.
  9. The state of Mali also must actively facilitate the local populations; e.g. by allowing climate funds to be directed to the support of locally owned plans, by listening to local populations what kind of security measures it requires – and by implementing these measures. The same goes for specific national policies with direct implications for local planning, like land ownership and the right of communes to unite in any way they like and to make joint plans and to negotiate with partners without first getting permission from the state. The Sourou case for example shows that time and flexibility is lost by first getting permission to unite, and then the population needs to plan in great uncertainty as it cannot itself negotiate with the Sourou water management authorities.
  10. Decision-support systems for sustainable (i.e. inclusive) planning should be meaningful for the required decentralized governance processes, and these systems should help to understand the large-scale impacts of major infrastructure decisions that are not in the power of local communities, but that nonetheless may determine their future. The experts who understand these systems should be available at prices affordable to local communities, to participate in the governance processes (planning and mandatory strategic environmental assessment). They should also be available to the decision-makers about large infrastructures (dams, irrigation, river management), when these make environmental impact assessments.
  11. Given these challenges, it will not only be useful to view areas as nodes of joint learning dialogue, planning and learning. It is also necessary to learn from these experiences and to create an indicative roadmap. A restitution meeting in Mali following the conference PSI 2019 may serve to discuss this option. It is an option to link this learning process to a possible process the environment ministry may anticipate putting its new SEA Decree into practice: SEA may be helpful to create inclusive, transparent and justifiable planning processes.


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