As the founder and executive director of the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies on the Sahel, I was fortunate to present my work October 3 at the Foley Institute.
I spoke on climate change, conflict, and migration in the West African Sahel and then had a Question/Answer session with Professor Peter Chilson, a writer and journalist who has written about the ongoing civil war in my home country of Mali.
The Sahelien countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger face multiple crises of climate change, the rise of violent extremist groups, ethnic-based armed militias, and the decline of democratic forms of government. Our discussion explored clashes between sedentary farmers and pastoral herders. These groups compete for shrinking land resources hit hard by intensifying drought. The tensions are exacerbated by historical issues, both ethnic and religious. I explained how violent extremist groups have exploited old grievances to make alliances with some pastoral groups. I emphasized how the combination of conflict and environmental degradation has displaced millions of people within the Sahelien countries and spurred millions more to try and leave Africa by crossing the Sahara and eventually the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Finally, we talked about my work on-the-ground to negotiate between the groups in conflict to find solutions that involve nuanced, context-sensitive strategies addressing governance, corruption, and equitable resource access.
About 80 people attended, including faculty, students, and people from the community of Pullman, Washington. This in the Inland Pacific Northwest, a part of the United States where I have never been. So, I was meeting with fresh faces, which is critical because I am always trying to tell the Sahel story to new people. It’s important that a scholar like me, working in a region torn by conflict and climate change, exchange ideas with people who are curious to talk with an eyewitness to events.
Thank you to the WSU Foley Institute and to its faculty members and specialists on African studies.