Environmental Change and Insecurity in the Sahel: The Roles of Civil Society and local Non-Governmental Organizations in Building Resilient Communities

Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob's picture
February 16, 2022 to February 17, 2022
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations, Peace History / Studies, Political Science, Environmental History / Studies

Extreme poverty is heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where 86% of the world’s extreme poor are projected to live by 2050. Further compounding the problem is Africa’s rising population. Africa currently has 18% of the world’s youth population. This is projected to rise by 51% by 2050.  Countries in the West African Sahel have even more compounding problems such as desertification, high illiteracy, gender and social inequalities, terrorism and violent extremism. The Sahel has witnessed a steep rise in the scale and sophistication of attacks and operations by terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State particularly since the territorial demise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.[1] The proliferation of non-state armed groups, including jihadists and bandits in the region have been linked to environmental degradation, rising poverty and weak statehood.[2]  

There is a strong body of research across various cases that shows linkages between environmental scarcity (caused by climate change and environmental degradation, dwindling resources, uncontrolled population growth, and social strain) and violent conflicts.[3] There is also a strong international and policy awareness of the nexus of climate change and insecurity as it affects the Sahel. For example, the EU’s Sahel Strategy (2011) and the 2015 Regional Action Plan, the Alliance for the Sahel Development Programme (2018), the G7’s Sahel Partnership Action Plan (2019), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification as well as various African Union (AU) Declarations and institutional setups, have all acknowledged the nexus of environmental degradation and extremist/ethnic violence in the Sahel.

However, there has been a tendency to present simplistic one-size-fits-all narratives of the climate change-violence nexus. Local governments and political actors have been quick to further this narrative as it lowballs poor governance and the failure of states to meet their basic responsibilities to their citizens, which then exacerbates the interaction of the impacts of climate change (such as desertification, droughts, flooding, land degradation) with multipliers such as food, water and health insecurity, migration as well as economic, social, political and demographic pressures. These, combined with unrestrained competition for scarce resources often drive citizens to seek alternative spaces for protection, community, belonging and identity.

There is also the securitization narrative. A decade-long French-led military intervention in the region has contributed to an overly securitized narrative of the crises in the Sahel, which often undermines more development-oriented and people-centered responses.

This hybrid conference seeks a nuanced understanding of the nexus of climate change and conflict in the Sahel and the mitigating roles of local actors in the region. It explores how civil society, faith-based and non-governmental organizations (can) contribute to building resilient communities in the face of environmental scarcity, extreme poverty, population growth, extremist violence and weakening state institutions. 

Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • Local, community-led approaches to prevent or address the spread of violent conflict, extremism and hate.
  • Local, community-led approaches to strengthening environmentally stressed and/or divided communities.
  • Lessons learned from local poverty alleviation, education, environmental mitigation and conflict prevention efforts.
  • Lessons from local approaches to the rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders.
  • Modes of local community-led governance in contexts of limited statehood.
  • Formal and informal, customary/traditional and non-traditional processes in reconciliation, reintegration, restorative justice, conflict resolution and prevention.
  • Women and/or youth in local environmental mitigation, peacebuilding and community resilience efforts.
  • Local efforts to mitigate the impacts of large or sudden shocks (e.g., climate change, natural and man-made disasters, social unrests, health emergencies) particularly on the most vulnerable groups.
  • Transnational/transboundary natural resource dynamics and pressures.
  • Local manifestations of the intersections of climate change, population growth, conflicts and governance.
  • Online, offline, and/or hybrid peacebuilding/environmental mitigation strategies.
  • Lessons learned from local approaches to support sustainable livelihoods and reduce vulnerability to environmental change and resource scarcity.
  • Lessons from local approaches to establish a framework and local capacity for good resource governance.
  • Lessons from approaches to strengthen the capacity of civil society to engage in local governance processes.
  • Lessons from local approaches to early-warning, risk assessment, risk reduction and scenario analysis to identify and prevent conflicts.
  • Lessons from locally-led institutions and agreements for managing transboundary resources.
  • Lessons from community-resilient COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives.

Submission Requirements

Submissions should prioritize community-led responses and approaches and context-specific dynamics (such as specific conflicts, locations, social groups, etc) or comparative dynamics or broader trends.

We encourage contributions from researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

We particularly encourage case studies and primary research on novel community-led or based approaches. We also encourage papers that explore how communities, governments at local and regional levels in the Sahel region work towards achieving the SDGs and that provide new insights on how to develop more resilient societies.

Submissions must be sent to conference@aun.edu.ng by January 21, 2022, and should include an abstract of 200-300 words, brief biography of the author(s).

Accepted papers will be published in an edited volume. For questions, please contact Dr. Lionel Rawlins (lionel.rawlins@aun.edu.ng) or Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob (jacob.jacob@aun.edu.ng)


[1] See, for example, ACLED: https://acleddata.com/#/dashboard and MENAstream: https://menastream.com/blog/

[2] See, for example, ICG, “The Central Sahel: Scene of New Climate Wars?”, Crisis Group Africa Briefing 154, April 2020.

[3] See, for example, Thomas Homer-Dixon, “Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: evidence from cases”, International Security 19, no. 1, 1994.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob (jacob.jacob@aun.edu.ng) or Dr. Lionel Rawlins (lionel.rawlins@aun.edu.ng

Contact Email: