A New Climate for Peace: Mali
Drought and the Tuareg Rebellion
In 2012, a coup d’état overthrew the government of Mali. The destabilization of the country before and after the coup was fuelled by several external factors—including the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, the Arab Spring, the war in Libya, international terrorist groups, and illicit trade of drugs and arms—along with internal issues, such as the country’s slow decentralization, corruption, northern separatism, demilitarization, high population growth, youth unemployment, and the rebellion of the Tuaregs, which played an important catalytic role.
The arid north of Mali, home to only 9 percent of the population, is a climate vulnerability hotspot. The cumulative effects of more frequent severe droughts, increasingly erratic rainfall, and rampant desertification have badly undermined natural resource-dependent livelihoods
and communities’ capacity to recover from shocks. The 2005, 2010, and 2011–12 droughts degraded the water table, killed off livestock, and spurred a mass exodus of young people. Along with resource scarcity, unemployment, economic fragility, weak governance, terrorism, and crime have combined with the many other grievances to underpin several Tuareg rebellions, including the 2012 rebellion led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, whose loss of control and the subsequent insurgency in northern Mali by Islamist militants led to an international military intervention.
The root causes of conflicts within Mali are complex and interlinked, though most of the grievances arise from entrenched economic and political marginalization of certain groups. Since independence, successive ‘anti-nomad policies’ have undermined pastoralists’ access to grazing land and water, leaving them more vulnerable to environmental stress. Land tenure reforms, development policies, and political reforms during the intense modernization of agriculture in the 1960s successively fuelled the feeling of abandonment among pastoralists. Many other drivers have also spurred grievances, such as the government’s violent repression of rebellions, wider regional instability in Niger and Libya, and NGO reports that the government embezzled international drought relief aid.
The state’s inability to meet the basic needs of the population or to deal with the country’s successive environmental and political crises have eroded its credibility and legitimacy, weakening the social contract between some Tuareg and Arab populations and the Malian government. The security vacuum in the northern part of the country enabled criminal groups to proliferate; and in turn, chronic insecurity contributed to forced migration and the destruction of food and livestock, maintaining the vicious cycle of violence and instability.
Although constitutional order was restored following the 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections, and today economic recovery seems possible, Mali is still suffering from multiple interconnected crises, which together place immense stress on a country highly vulnerable to both climate change and conflict.
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