Mahammoud Traore, 75, supports a family of 21 people through farming in Dougouninkoro, Mali, but new weather patterns mean they can no longer harvest enough for their food stores to last the whole year. JAKE LYELL/ALAMY
This followed July’s sudden military coup in Niger and was justified by the goal of countering the rise of extremism across the region. Yet this response illustrates exactly what is wrong with the West’s relationship with Africa, as it fails to understand that we need the deeper causes of our insecurity to be addressed.
As a Gambian parliamentarian, I saw first-hand how the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened in my country in 2017 in response to the coup. But although our neighbours used military force to demonstrate the unity of intent, there was not a single casualty from the initial incursion.
The EU plans will involve training security forces in four countries around the Gulf of Guinea and supporting them to deploy services in their northern regions, towards the Sahel. It follows a three-year military mission to Niger, launched by the bloc last year, and military involvement in Mozambique, where European energy majors Total and Eni are developing gas projects. Military training in Mali was suspended after the coup there in 2020.
The US has also had a significant military presence on the continent – in the form of both military bases and training programmes – for decades.
But there is no military solution to either this crisis, or rising insecurity across the Sahel. Niger is not the Gambia; it is a larger country whose instability will be significantly more challenging to contain. An ECOWAS intervention in Niger would inevitably involve bloodshed, harming civilians and thus destabilizing an already fragile region.
The simple fact is that the rise of militarism has gone hand in hand with the rise in poverty, food insecurity, economic crises and extreme weather linked to climate change. Just look at Niger, which has suffered nine droughts and five floods over the last 20 years, decimating its rural heartlands. Water shortages have triggered a food crisis every four years.
These worsening conditions are interacting with rapid population growth, poor governance, failing institutions, collapsing public services and ultimately mounting popular disillusionment with the status quo – all exacerbated by decades of structural adjustment. Together, such conditions create a perfect storm for extremism. Conflicts over land and resources become normal.
To belittle the role of climate change in these crises seems to me obscene. It also offers a convenient excuse – there is someone else to blame: the peculiarities of African history; tribal differences. Recognizing the role of the climate crisis does not exclude poverty, ethnic tensions or failing political institutions, but it means these are all interlinked – and that Western nations bear a historic responsibility.
According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the Sahel is one of three ecological hotspots ‘particularly susceptible to collapse’. A second hotspot is in the Southern African belt from Angola to Madagascar.
Developing countries did not create the climate crisis. While the West built its prosperity using fossil fuels, we are now being asked to endanger our efforts to industrialize by avoiding them
Last year, a group of African scholars described the string of conflicts across the Sahel as a form of ‘eco-violence’, involving simultaneous environmental, social and political failures. From the Sahara to Darfur and across Africa, climate change is trapping African communities into devastating feedback loops of violence and displacement.
Fourteen years ago, governments of the Global North pledged to ‘mobilize’ $100 billion a year to support Global South nations in mitigating climate change and adapting to its profoundly destabilizing impacts. Although this pledge is a fraction of the several trillions we actually need, they have failed year after year to meet it. Some 70 per cent of this financing also comes in the form of private loans, which has compounded debt crises in these countries.
Taking the climate seriously
If the West continues to treat this rising wave of violence as an unfortunate anomaly to be beaten down with the stick of military force, not just the Sahel but many other parts of Africa will end up suffering social and economic breakdown along with the intensifying climate crisis.
The Nairobi Declaration, which came out of the first-ever Africa climate summit held at the beginning of September this year in the capital of Kenya – an extraordinary united voice representing the 54 member states of the African Union – is a significant milestone in efforts to rectify this problem. It demanded that the international community take urgent action to remove the structural barriers preventing Africa from accessing the funds it needs to break out of this vicious cycle.
Perhaps even more significant, the Nairobi summit has called for reform of global financial institutions – a project being supported by the current COP28 presidency – as well as global taxes on fossil fuel trade, shipping and aviation, and a possible financial transaction debt. Concessional finance (loans at advantageous rates), reducing the debt burden, and tackling tax avoidance are among the measures discussed in Nairobi and being pursued by the COP28 presidency which could help provide the funding needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change in Africa.
Developing countries did not create the climate crisis. While the West built its prosperity using fossil fuels, we are now being asked to endanger our efforts to industrialize by avoiding them – even as the West denies us the critical finance to develop green alternatives.
That is why I will be supporting the negotiations at COP28 this year on behalf of the Gambian government. Because we need an alternative approach to Africa: instead of reacting to coups and security crises in piecemeal fashion, we have to deal with their deeper causes, one of which is climate change and its relationship with development. Without developing nations receiving the financing they need to accelerate clean energy and slash carbon emissions, we will have no chance of salvaging the 1.5C safe limit adopted by the Paris Agreement; nor will African nations be able to free themselves from the compounding feedback loops of eco-violence.