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The Security Challenges of Pastoralism in Central Africa
The Security Challenges of Pastoralism in Central Africa
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The U.N. Security Council Finally Considers Weighing In on Climate Security
The U.N. Security Council Finally Considers Weighing In on Climate Security
Report 215 / Africa

The Security Challenges of Pastoralism in Central Africa

Sensible, inclusive regulation of pastoralism that has mitigated tension in parts of the Sahel should be extended to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), where conflicts have worsened with the southward expansion of pastoralism.

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Executive Summary

The southward seasonal migration of pastoralists with their cattle is a source of friction that has long been ignored in Central Africa. In the last few years, conflicts between pastoralists and local communities have intensified because of a combination of factors: worsening security; climate change, which drives herdsmen further south; the multiplication of migration roads, especially transnational routes; the expansion of cultivated areas and an increase in cattle herds, which have deepened the competition for natural resources. Though security challenges related to pastoralism are not equally serious in the three countries examined in this report (Chad, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo), governments should take them seriously and promote a regulation of transhumance that includes all relevant actors.

Pastoralism generates wealth and economic interdependence between farmers and cattle herders in some African countries, but it also causes tension and conflicts. Most of these result from competition for vital resources such as water or pasture­lands. In Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and north-east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the conflicts appear to be especially complex, mainly because pastoral ecosystems go beyond national borders and transhumance creates new settlement fronts.

Transnational livestock migrations, particularly by Chadian herdsmen to CAR, have led to clashes between pastoralists and the local population. Even before the start of the CAR crisis in late 2012, violence had taken an alarming turn: after Chadian pastoralists looted their villages, several thousand CAR inhabitants fled their home and sought refuge in internally displaced camps in the country’s north. Weak bilateral cooperation between Chad and CAR on transhumance has contributed to an increase in violence, a change in cattle migration roads, and the emergence of new groups of pastoralists and livestock farmers with different motives and more weapons.

In Orientale Province, in DRC, the recent migration of Peul Mbororo herdsmen from several Central African countries has led to an often tense coexistence with the local population and the Congolese authorities. The latter have at times cracked down on pastoralists, at others started to accept their presence – a moratorium on expulsions was implemented in 2012. But the government has not provided an adequate and effective response to problems caused by the recent settlement of pastoralists in Orientale Province. It should consider their temporary regularisation, which would likely bring economic benefits to the province, in particular through the development of cattle farming in low-populated areas.

Some Sahel countries such as Niger or Chad have received support from donors to regulate pastoralism and have tried to mitigate conflicts. For their part, the CAR and DRC do not regulate transhumance and are unable to deal with increasing violence between communities. Moreover, other priorities top their security agenda. But while national authorities, located hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the rural areas affected, ignore frequent violence related to pastoralism, local populations, which are the main victims, cannot afford to do so. Deep-rooted issues can degenerate into intercommunal conflicts, and constitute a major factor in the confrontation between the Fulanis and anti-balaka militias in CAR.

The CAR and DRC should regulate the movement of pastoralists by considering some of the measures implemented in Chad. Chadian authorities, together with international partners such as the French Development Agency (AFD) and the European Union (EU), undertook to secure cattle migration roads, amend the pastoral code and reinforce the cattle farming sector. The CAR and DRC should also take steps to improve peaceful coexistence between the Fulani community and the Congolese population, including by promoting a transhumance charter between the populations of Chad and the CAR.

The Congolese government, which intends to boost the agricultural sector, could carry out these measures immediately. In the CAR, implementation depends on the current crisis ending and tension between N’Djamena and Bangui calming. But discussing transhumance under the supervision of the regional organisation in charge of pastoralism before the cattle migration starts this year could be an opportunity to normalise relations between both countries and tackle a dangerous problem.

Op-Ed / Global

The U.N. Security Council Finally Considers Weighing In on Climate Security

Originally published in World Politics Review

The United Nations Security Council may be about to pass its first-ever resolution on the implications of climate change for peace and security. The council has talked about climate security since 2007, and it has acknowledged that environmental challenges such as droughts and degradation of farming land can fuel conflicts in regions like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. But it has not laid out a systematic approach to assessing these risks or responding to them.

This could be about to change, as Niger and Ireland—two elected members of the council—plan to table a resolution on climate security this week. The draft asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to prepare a global study of climate security risks. It also encourages U.N. peace operations to pay more attention to these threats. These are quite tentative steps, but they would put the U.N.’s treatment of climate security on a sounder footing.

Coming after the underwhelming outcome of last month’s Glasgow summit on climate change, a Security Council resolution on the topic would also offer an encouraging signal about multilateral institutions’ capacity to respond to global warming. Yet the resolution could still fall victim to major power tensions at the U.N., as China and Russia may block it.

The proposed resolution enjoys widespread support among council members. Germany convened talks on a similar text last year, but shelved it when the climate-skeptical Trump administration promised to veto it. This year, the Biden administration indicated it would support a resolution. This encouraged Ireland and Niger to lead discussions on a new draft, with help from Norway and Kenya. Twelve of the 15 council members back the resolution.

Council members say that it is important that their African colleagues have led the charge on the resolution. Nigerien and Kenyan officials have been clear that they see climate change as threatening their national security, making it hard for its opponents to say it is unnecessary.

A chorus of other states inside and outside the council have flagged their support. Small island states have been vocal about the threat of rising seas to their existence, and Vietnam organized an informal council discussion of sea level rise last month ahead of the Glasgow summit.

Yet the resolution has had powerful opponents. China and Russia have voiced doubts about the proposal. India, an elected member of the council, has also been dismissive. The three skeptics say that there is still not enough evidence of the links between climate change and conflict to warrant a Security Council resolution. They also argue that the council risks trespassing on topics that other multilateral bodies, such as the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCC, should handle.

Some other major non-Western economies have flagged similar concerns, perhaps because they worry that the Security Council could one day start interfering in their industrial policies, even if the current resolution does nothing to lay the groundwork for such a move. Indonesia and South Africa, which held council seats in 2019 and 2020, refused to back Germany’s initial effort to develop a resolution. Brazil, which will join the body in January, has indicated that it doesn’t consider the current draft resolution a priority.

Niger holds the rotating presidency of the council in December and wants agreement on a resolution before a high-level council meeting on Dec. 9, which the country’s president will chair. Backers of the resolution argue that China’s position will be crucial. Diplomats note that their Chinese counterparts have couched their criticisms of the initiative in quite moderate terms. They suspect that Beijing is worried about the reputational damage of blocking a resolution that enjoys broad international backing.

China gained credit in Glasgow by agreeing to a joint statement with the U.S. on the two powers’ continued commitment to cooperation in containing global warming. Beijing could see similar advantages in acquiescing to the Security Council resolution, especially as it enjoys U.S. support. If China backs the text or abstains on it, rather than vetoing it, Russia might also let it pass, to avoid a rupture with its main ally at the U.N. If neither Beijing nor Moscow is willing to use its veto, India will not be able to stop the resolution from passing.

Without an overall framework to guide its work and generate momentum, the council’s engagement on climate matters will remain haphazard and advance more slowly.

How important is this resolution? If either China or Russia does choose to block the initiative, those council members that worry about climate security will not give up on the topic. They can continue trying to insert references to climate-related threats into the texts of the mandates of individual U.N. peacekeeping missions and political offices. Germany and Niger launched an informal council working group on climate security last year to discuss such issues. Yet without an overall framework to guide its work and generate momentum, the council’s engagement on climate matters will remain haphazard and advance more slowly.

If, on the other hand, the resolution passes, it could spur efforts inside and outside the U.N. to come to grips with the challenges of climate security. As a point of comparison, Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security—passed in 2000—has acted as the basis for policy debates about gender and conflict for over two decades. The U.N., other multilateral organizations and concerned governments have a lot of work to do to grasp how processes associated with climate change, such as desertification and forced migration, will influence future conflicts.

If the Security Council can spark more thinking on these themes, the resolution will be worthwhile. In the short term, it could also make the Security Council look a little more relevant to international debates about the climate crisis. All too often, the council seems to be trapped in sterile and unproductive debates about conflicts, like the war in Syria, that it is unable to solve. A climate security resolution would not resolve those arguments. But it would be an opportunity for the council to show that it can adapt to evolving global threats.


UN Director
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Pyotr Kurzin
Former Crisis Group UN Assistant