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Freie Universität Berlin (2018)

Drought, Infrastructure and Conflict Risk in Sub-Saharan Africa

Detges, Adrien

Titre : Drought, Infrastructure and Conflict Risk in Sub-Saharan Africa

Auteur : Detges, Adrien

Université de soutenance : Freie Universität Berlin

Grade : Doctor rerum politicarum (Dr. rer. pol.) 2018

Résumé partiel
Recent years have seen a surge in the number of scientific studies, reports and newspaper articles portraying possible connections between climate variability and violent conflict. As sudden changes in temperature and precipitation are expected to become more frequent in certain areas due to climate change, researchers and decision-makers alike have become increasingly worried about the security implications of extreme events such as droughts and floods. Concerns are that such events could undermine people’s livelihoods, exacerbate social tensions and eventually contribute to political instability and violence, with crises in Syria, Darfur and the Western Sahel being frequently mentioned as examples. Yet, despite the vocal nature of those linking climate variability and violent conflict risk and the plausibility of some of their arguments, the empirical connection between the two phenomena is far from evident. Overall, we observe that violence is a far less common reaction to climatic shocks than peaceful adaptation or just silent suffering. Where it emerges, the relationship between climate variability and violent conflict is complex and contingent on further conflict-enabling societal conditions. Systematic knowledge about these conditions and the way in which they shape climate-conflict dynamics remains currently limited, which restricts our ability to understand climate-conflict linkages and assess potential climate-security risks. The present dissertation addresses this gap. Particular emphasis is placed on road and water infrastructures and on the way in which they influence the relationship between drought and conflict risk in Sub-Saharan Africa. Extreme precipitation shortfalls and their disastrous consequences for rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism are frequently discussed in the literature as possible threats to the peace and stability of African states. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that key infrastructures, such as roads and water delivery systems, would mediate the relationship between drought and conflict risk : a) they facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, give access to alternative sources of water and thereby reduce the vulnerability of drought-affected rural communities b) they signal the government’s commitment to protect its constituents from climatic hazards and thereby help maintaining more harmonious relations between drought-stricken communities and public authorities c) they create particular strategic opportunities and constraints for armed groups and thereby influence military planning and action. Yet, little systematic research has been conducted hitherto on an explicit connection between drought, infrastructures and conflict risk in Sub-Saharan Africa. The present dissertation addresses this lacuna both theoretically and empirically. From a theoretical perspective, it identifies possible mechanisms linking drought, infrastructures and conflict risk. Particular emphasis is placed on identifying motivations and opportunities for violence under conditions of climatic stress and on understanding how these are influenced by the presence or absence of relevant infrastructure. The empirical implications of this work are tested in three research articles that shed light on different facets of the supposed relationship between drought, infrastructures and conflict risk. The first analysis emphasises the strategic role of road and water infrastructures and the way in which they can provide incentives or disincentives for violence in a drought-prone environment. The second analysis is concerned with the possible influence of infrastructures on political attitudes and support for political violence among drought-stricken people, while the third analysis emphasises issues of distributional justice in the provision of essential infrastructures and how those are likely to affect conflict risk in times of drought. Collectively, the results of the dissertation show that infrastructures make a difference when it comes to the conflict-exacerbating potential of droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Roads and water infrastructures are found to play a key strategic role in armed contests over climate-sensitive natural resources in Kenya’s drought-prone North. Here, major roads act as a constraint to livestock raiding and communal clashes over grazing land by allowing police and security forces to quickly intervene in local disputes, while deep wells are key assets in territorial conflicts and are also a privileged spot for livestock raiding (Article I). Similarly, I find that structurally neglected administrative regions in Sub-Saharan Africa with poor overall access to improved water sources and paved roads are more likely to experience violent conflicts following drought (Article III). These results corroborate previous arguments that climate variability per se is unlikely to augment the risk of violence, unless it interacts with other issues, such as low levels of economic development, high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, ineffective institutions and major social inequalities. They also show that climate-conflict linkages in African countries are shaped by factors and decisions at the discretion of national elites and international donors, and thereby encourage climate-conflict analyst to emphasise not only the ‘natural’ but also the social, economic and political dimensions of the climate-security nexus. The results of the dissertation also give some indication as to the mechanisms connecting drought, infrastructures and conflict risk in Sub-Saharan Africa. Article I supports an opportunity narrative, whereby violent actors seeking access to climate-sensitive natural resources act rationally according to situational opportunities and constraints for violence. Seen through this lens, infrastructures matter for climate-conflict connections if they determine the feasibility and likely benefits of military actions, given the means and goals of local armed groups. The results of the dissertation also support a grievance narrative that connects climate variability and conflict risk. Together, Article II and III suggest that the drought-conflict-infrastructure nexus in Africa can be understood through the lens of popular dissatisfaction with biased development policies and unequal access to essential services ; in particular if lack of access results in an impediment to cope with extreme weather events among disadvantaged people.

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Page publiée le 26 novembre 2018