ResearchPDF Available

When Rising Temperatures don't lead to Rising Tempers: Climate Change and Insecurity in Niger


Abstract and Figures

There are often assumptions made about the role of climate change impacts in aggravating insecurity in the Sahel. In this report, we investigate those assumptions by focusing on the increasing insecurity in northern Niger. We carried out life histories with 29 smugglers of people, drugs and arms to find out what factors influenced them to take up smuggling. Where possible we also interviewed smugglers' fathers to understand how their livelihood choices differed from their sons. We find that, rather than being a recent trend, a major shift out of pastoralism occurred during the smugglers’ fathers’ generation. The life history data also shows that most smugglers were attracted to the smuggling industry, not out of desperation to escape desertification and resource scarcity, but because of the potential to earn substantially more than what they were earning as day-labourers at the mines, or as gardeners, mechanics or motorcyclists. Our study shows how, rather than climate change being a dominant driving factor behind the proliferation of armed networks in northern NIger, global politics interact with trading practices and corruptible state officials to produce a political economy that incentivises young people to become smugglers. We argue that this matters as assuming that climate change increases conflict justifies a securitised response to climate change.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Aoife McCullough, Leigh Mayhew and Sarah Opitz-Stapleton,
with Agali Abouka and Djibrilla Mohamed Botto
Working paper
Agali Abouka is a researcher based in Agadez, Niger. He was
formerly a people smuggler. Alongside, his research, he works
to support the return of migrants from Europe, Libya and Algeria.
Agali also manages an IT shop and a construction company.
Djibrilla Mohamed Botto is a masters student in Food Security and
Nutrition at Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey, Niger. His area
of specialisation is the socio-economic impacts of irregular flooding
in Niger. He holds a BSc in sociology. He is originally from Iferouane,
Agadez Department.
Leigh Mayhew is a Research Assistant within ODI’s Risk and Resilience
programme. His research focuses on climate security, and the complex
and contested links between changes in the climate, and conditions
of peace, conflict and security.
Aoife McCullough is a PhD candidate at the London School
of Economics focusing on state legitimacy and securitisation in Niger.
Aoife was formerly a Research Fellow with the Politics and Governance
team at ODI. Aoife has carried out extensive research in Niger,
including on radicalisation, voter engagement and poverty escapes.
Dr Sarah Opitz-Stapleton is a Research Associate in the Risk and
Resilience programme. She works at the intersection of climate services,
social vulnerability and risk analysis for climate adaptation and disaster
risk reduction programmes in Asia and Latin America. Sarah has a PhD
in Environmental Studies and MS in Hydrology Civil Engineering.
Executive summary 4
1. Introduction 9
1.1 The climate-conflict-security debate 9
1.2 Aims of this study 15
2. Armed smuggling networks in northern Niger 18
3. Analysis of life histories 27
3.1 Demographic characteristics of smugglers 27
3.2 The shift out of pastoralism 29
3.3 Livelihood decision making across generations 36
3.4 Smuggling is a livelihood of first resort 41
4. So why the proliferation of armed networks
in northern Niger? 43
5. Implications of a focus on climate change 57
5.1 Policies and programmes 58
5.2 The depoliticisation of rising insecurity in the Sahel 62
5.3 The criminalisation of African men 64
6. How to adjust our response to rising insecurity
in northern Niger 65
Bibliography 70
Annex 1: Method 79
List of boxes
List of figures
Figure 1: Reconstructed Sahel/Sudan average annual
rainfall anomalies 22
Figure 2: Annual precipitation variability 23
Figure 3: Changing livelihoods across three generations in northern Niger 31
Figure 4: Changing livelihoods across the generations 32
Figure 5: Number of oasis gardens, Aïr Mountains, 1914–2018 34
Figure 6: Breakdown of livelihoods practiced by family heads in 1985 35
Figure 7: Spread of professions among smugglers’ fathers 36
Figure 8: Average monthly earnings across a range of professions
in northern Niger 42
Figure 9: Factors influencing the increase of armed networks
in northern Niger since the 1970s 54
Box 1: The difficulty in detecting the influence of climate change
in Sahelian droughts 20
Box 2: Uranium mines in northern Niger 30
EU: European Union
IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
ISGS: Islamic State in Greater Sahel
JNIM: Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin
UNCCD: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
NSAGs: Non-State Armed Groups
UN: United Nations
Trading settlement
Gold mine
Oasis village
Military contingent
National boundary
Places cited in study.
Executive summary
In this report, we explore the complex and tangled links between
climate variability/change and the proliferation of armed
networks operating in northern Niger. We do this by examining
the factors influencing livelihood choices among 29 smugglers
of people, arms, drugs and gold working across Niger. We chose
to focus on these smugglers because they are now invariably
armed and operate in coordinated networks. To understand
how factors may be changing over time, we also interviewed
smugglers’ fathers. We analysed whether extreme weather events
and climate variability influenced livelihood choices, but also paid
attention to how changes in the political and economic context
impinged on their life trajectories.
The latest thinking on the link between climate change and
conflict is that climate variability and change act as intermediary
sources of risk and as ‘threat multipliers’. Rather than acting as
a direct driver of conflict, climate conditions interact with existing
socioeconomic and environmental conditions to increase the
probability of conflict in some situations. In an influential report
commissioned by the Group of Seven (G7), a series of compound
climate-fragility risks were identified that have the potential
to exacerbate fragility. These included livelihood insecurity, and
extreme weather events and disasters. In this report, we examine
whether the presence of both livelihood insecurity and extreme
weather events has increased the probability of the emergence
of armed networks in northern Niger. Our study aims to address
the growing need to build an evidence base on climate change,
livelihood insecurity and recruitment into armed networks.
Based on the life history data, we find that, rather than being
a recent trend, a major shift out of pastoralism occurred during
the smugglers’ fathers’ generation. Partly influenced by the
droughts during the 1970s and 1980s, but also by the changing
economy, these men began divesting from livestock and investing
in small-irrigated gardens. There were also new employment
opportunities at local uranium mines, on construction sites
in Algeria and Libya and in small-scale services for the growing
urban centres of Agadez and Arlit. Smugglers’ grandfathers
predominantly worked as pastoralists but their sons’ response
to increasing livelihood insecurity in the face of a prolonged
drought was not to join armed networks. Rather, they responded
to these pressures by increasingly investing in garden plots and
seeking new forms of employment.
The life history data also shows that most smugglers were
attracted to the smuggling industry, not out of desperation
to escape desertification and resource scarcity, but because of the
potential to earn substantially more than what they were earning
as day-labourers at the mines, or as gardeners, mechanics
or motorcyclists. A people smuggler could earn 100 times more
than a day labourer at the uranium mines, and seven times
more than a driver for a Chinese oil company. All the smugglers
we interviewed were earning at least £2,000 per month. In Niger,
the annual per capita income is £383. The risks were high but
smugglers were willing to take them for the financial rewards,
at least until they could earn enough money to buy a house and
a plot of land. This is not a story of young people turning to illicit
activities due to rural to urban migration from regions affected
by desertification and resource scarcity. It is a story about
choosing livelihoods that make the most sense economically
to meet life goals. Indeed, many smugglers invested their profits
in irrigated gardens in the river beds and oases around Agadez
and dreamed of retiring from smuggling to manage a garden.
To explain the increase in armed networks operating across
northern Niger and Mali, we need to understand the economic
and political factors influencing decisions that traders
operating in this region make. Trade routes between North and
Sub-Saharan Africa have always been lucrative but there has been
a massive increase in the value of goods traded over the past 20
years. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, trade was dominated
by indigenously produced goods such as salt, dates, livestock and
millet. In the 1960s and 1970s, a robust trade in subsidised food
products and plastic goods developed from the industrialising
economies of Algeria and Libya. Due to sanctions imposed on
Libya in the 1980s, demand for contraband cigarettes increased.
In the 2000s, as the demand for cocaine increased in Europe and
former Eastern Bloc countries, a number of traders in West Africa
responded by switching to from cigarettes to cocaine. The transition
to trading in illegal drugs has resulted in Nigerien smuggling
networks being linked to international criminal networks. As the
value of the cargo increased, banditry also became increasingly
lucrative, with smugglers arming themselves to protect their trade.
The proliferation of armed smuggling networks intensified with the
collapse of Gadhafi’s regime and an increase in the flow of weapons,
with most initially transported to Mali but over the past few years,
Nigerien smugglers have begun to invest in them to protect their
valuable cargo.
In 2015, the Nigerien government banned the transport of
foreigners north of Agadez, under pressure from the European
Union (EU). This meant that people smugglers, who had been
operating at the softer end of the smuggling business, now
needed to link with more professional criminal networks to allow
continued access to smuggling routes. The increase in the use
of arms has therefore been an outcome of policies outlawing
trade in certain goods (cocaine and migrants) or limited supply
in formal markets (gold and arms), thereby increasing demand
through informal channels that can flourish in a region that
is difficult for the Nigerien state to secure. These economic
and political factors occur against a backdrop of state collusion
in smuggling, making it difficult to produce a coordinated
response to the increase in armed networks.
Our study shows how, rather than climate change being
a dominant driving factor behind the proliferation of armed
networks in one region, global politics interact with trading
practices and corruptible state officials in northern Niger
to produce a political economy that incentivises young people
to become smugglers. In the near future, threats such as global
financial instability, market volatility, increasing support for
protectionism and rising nationalism are likely to have a much
greater impact on the proliferation of armed groups in northern
Niger than climate variability and change. A strategic intervention
to address insecurity in northern Niger would account for global
political and economic threats, and identify ways in which those
threats can be managed to promote sustainable livelihoods that
don’t need to be armed protection: global financial stability,
market volatility and climate change intersect and need
to be treated as part of a complex system.
An overemphasis on the contribution of climate variability and
change to the rise in armed networks matters for several reasons.
First, it results in programmes that work to support people
to adapt to climate change, in the name of addressing insecurity.
We already see this happening with major stabilisation
programmes in northern Niger that are financed by the United
Nations (UN) and the EU and include climate change adaptation
components. Second, the focus on climate change shifts attention
away from the influence of national and international actors in
shaping an illicit economy that requires armed protection, along
with links to both international criminal gangs and to officials in
the Nigerien state who enable trade to happen. Such discourses
depoliticise the dynamics of rising insecurity and national and
international culpability. The depoliticisation of rising insecurity
means that Western agencies can appear to be investing
to address the causes of rising insecurity while maintaining
friendly relations with the Nigerien government and the parts
of their own governments involved in reproducing the military
security complex. Third, assuming that climate change will
increase insecurity is used to justify a securitised response
to climate change. In the Sahel, this includes governments
justifying an increased foreign military presence across the
region in anticipation of increased climate-related insecurity
and increased involvement of the military in humanitarian and
development activities linked to a growing climate challenge.
Climate change poses challenges in the Sahel – and in some
situations, conflict makes people more vulnerable to its effects
by disrupting markets and limiting both their movement
and their livelihood options. It is critical to use appropriate
approaches to address these genuine risks. However, the
securitisation of these challenges may hamper rather than help
design the right interventions. Finally, the assumption that young
men and women living in the Sahel will be more likely to turn
to criminal activity when climate-sensitive livelihoods become
increasingly insecure risks criminalising a whole generation of
West Africans. The findings from this study indicate that, when
faced with increased insecurity in pastoralism, young men in the
1970s and 1980s did not turn to criminal activity. The question
we need to ask is not why so many young people are turning
to criminal activity today in northern Niger but why this is so
much more profitable than most other professions available
to young people. By shifting our attention to the political
economy of the smuggling industry, we can begin to design
economic opportunity interventions that can contribute
to managing the proliferation of armed networks.
1.1 The climate-conflict-security debate
A brief overview of the discourse
State-based armed conflict, non-state armed conflict and
one-sided violence against civilians are complex phenomena
driven by multiple factors. The linking of environmental
pressures with types of conflict, particularly armed struggles
over natural resources and environmental degradation, emerged
as a scientific and policy concern some thirty years ago
(Homer-Dixon, 1994). In parallel, the natural hazards and
disasters community began exploring the links between natural
disasters and both community-level conflicts and civil wars
(Dynes and Quarantelli, 1971).
image:a disused
ghetto in
agadez, where
migrants used
to stay before
embarking on
their journey
across the
sahara, taken
by aoife
Initially, research was dominated by empirical studies that tried
to test whether climate variability and change1 could be directly
linked with increases in conflict, with preliminary enquiries
demonstrating that it is difficult to make direct links, as conflict
arises in the face of multiple drivers beyond ‘just’ environmental
and climate change (for an overview see Detges, 2017; Selby,
2014; Forsyth and Schomerus, 2013; Scheffran et al., 2012). More
recently, there has been a shift towards understanding climate
variability and change as intermediary sources of risk and as threat
multipliers. Rather than acting as a direct driver of conflict, climate
conditions interact with existing socioeconomic and political
conditions, to increase the probability of conflict in some situations
(see Gilmore, 2017; Feitelson and Tubi, 2017; Busby, 2018).
This change in thinking is perhaps best illustrated by the
New Climate for Peace report commissioned by the Group
of Seven (G7) in 2015. The G7 is composed of representatives
from seven of the most ‘advanced’ economies, designated
by the International Monetary Fund. In this report, climate change
is described as ‘a global threat to security in the 21st century’
(Rüttinger et al., 2015). As climate change stresses the world’s
economic and social systems, with institutions and governments
unable to manage such stress or absorb shocks, there is a risk that
the instability of states and societies may increase.
The report identifies seven ‘compound climate-fragility risks’ that
could emerge when climate change interacts with other social,
economic and environmental pressures (Rüttinger et al., 2015).
1 At the time of writing, the reviews of knowledge on links between conflict
and climate change acknowledge numerous challenges in both attribution
and comparisons between studies. For example, some have featured
inappropriate and non-robust climate analysis. There has also been also
lack of agreement on definitions of conflict and how to standardise
sensitivity analysis between climate variables and conflict indicators.
These seven situations where multiple pressures and threats
interact have the potential to increase the risk (probability)
of fragility. The seven compound climate-fragility risks are:
1. Increased local resource competition
2. Livelihood insecurity and migration
3. Extreme weather events and disasters
4. Volatile food prices and provision
5. Transboundary water management
6. Sea-level rise and coastal degradation
7. The unintended effects of climate policies.
It is the second of these climate-fragility risks that is of interest
this study. Here, Rüttinger et al. argue that where individuals
depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods such as agriculture
and pastoralism, and where there is a lack of legal alternative
livelihoods, individuals could become increasingly involved
in criminal activities (ibid: 26). Of particular concern are young,
men, who are identified as vulnerable to ‘criminal activities’
such as drug trafficking and armed groups (ibid: 28).
The climate-conflict-security debate in the Sahel
Insecurity has risen over the last 10 years in the Sahel (Armed
Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED, 2019) and
as researchers and policy-makers search for reasons to explain
the sudden increase, climate change may seem like a strong
candidate. Mean temperatures and the number of extreme heat
events are increasing (for more details on the evidence
of climate change in the Sahel, see Text Box 1). In a region where
77% of the population relies on climate sensitive livelihoods,
rising temperatures are likely to negatively impact their crop
yields, increasing their food insecurity in the absence of support
measures like crop insurance, irrigation, access to financing and
good natural resource governance. A number of recent studies
strongly argue for a link between climate and insecurity in the
Sahel, with some suggesting that climate change serves
to directly aggravate insecurity and fragility.
For example, a report by the think tank Adelphi, financed by
the German Foreign Office, explores the links between climate
and non-state armed groups (NSAGs), including both criminal
networks and insurgent forces in the Lake Chad region. Echoing
arguments within the New Climate for Peace report, the study
argues that climate variability and change should not be seen
as a direct cause in the growth of non-state armed groups,
but through their interaction with other drivers of fragility,
‘contribute[s] to creating an environment where NSAGs can
thrive’ (Nett and Rüttinger, 2018: 55). The authors use the
decreasing water levels in Lake Chad as evidence of climate
change and, in this way, link reported increased competition over
resources as a result of the lake retreating with climate change.
In fact, in another report, it has been argued that the shrinking
lake created additional fertile ground for cultivation (Magrin
and Perouse de Montclos, 2018). The water levels in Lake also
fluctuate massively over decades (Vivekananda et al. 2019; Margin
and Perouse de Montclos, 2018). In another more recent report
on the interaction between climate change and conflict in Lake
Chad (financed by the United Nations Development Programme
and the Foreign Offices of Germany and the Netherlands),
Vivekananda et al. (2019) conclude that climate change plays
a role through ‘undermin[ing] already fragile economies and
livelihoods’ (ibid: 13). In this report, the authors use a conflict
analysis to identify the drivers of conflict and then analyse
how climate change impacts would interact with those drivers
of conflict. This is a useful approach to assess conflict-related
risks and develop scenario planning but does not provide
empirical evidence of the role that climate-related impacts
play in driving the conflict.
In a report commissioned by the World Bank, Alda (2014)
attempts to empirically demonstrate a link between ‘climate
change related events’ in the Sahel and the onset of conflict
in the following year. Alda defines drought as a climate change
related event and runs regressions to check whether it increases
the likelihood of a conflict event. Yet, as will be discussed
in Box 1, not all droughts in the Sahel are influenced by climate
change. Alda reports some evidence of a link using probit
regression analysis, but is not able to replicate this when using
a structural equation model. Despite inconclusive findings,
Alda predicts that young people faced with decreasing natural
resources as a result of climate change may find themselves
attracted to the ‘illicit sector’, particularly those who migrate
to urban areas (Alda, 2014: 16). The report states that there is already
evidence to suggest unemployed young people have been a target
for armed groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and,
in a region where trafficking is prominent, those who are unable
to find ‘formal means of employment…will likely find themselves
increasingly recruited by organised crime groups’ (ibid: 16).
Benjaminsen et al. (2012) sought to empirically test the theory
that droughts lead to increased conflicts between pastoralists
and herders. The researchers used weather data and the number
of land disputes filed in court over the 1990s and 2000s in central
Mali to examine whether droughts led to an increase in land
disputes. Even when the time taken to bring a case to court
was adjusted for, they did not find any significant correlation.
It is, of course, possible that only a limited number of people
would consider filing their land dispute in court, meaning
this study does not prove that droughts do not play a role in
increases in land disputes. In considering how climate variability
may contribute to increased tensions between farmers and
pastoralists, it is important to look at the wider socioeconomic
and political dynamics. For example, in central Mali, Walch
(2017) highlights that, while increased climate ‘unpredictability’
is reducing water and grazing lands, traditional mechanisms that
work to resolve land and access disputes are on the decline.
As a result of the state using traditional customary systems
to favour certain communities, these forms of governance have
lost legitimacy (Walch, 2018: 18).
Two studies have used spatial analysis to attempt to demonstrate
a link between the impacts of climate change and conflict in the
Sahel. A United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
(UNCCD) report from 2014 uses analysis of countries that are
experiencing desertification along with the number of terrorist
attacks to argue that terrorist attacks have been more frequent
in countries experiencing desertification. By including northeast
Nigeria in the Sahel, the report shows an elevated number
of terrorist attacks for the region. However, in-depth analysis
of the causes of the violence in the Boko Haram crisis dismisses
desertification as a significant factor (Magrin and Perouse
de Montclos, 2018). In another study that used spatial analysis,
this time commissioned by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), regressions were run
on climate change, measured by rainfall variability, and security
events (Hissler, 2010). However, the study’s definition of what
constitutes a security event is so broad (it includes food insecurity
and health crisis) that that it arguably begins to lose analytical
meaning. Even with this broad definition, Hissler only finds
statistically weak correlations between rainfall variability
and security events.
Many of these studies do not employ robust climate analysis.
As detailed in text Box 1, the Sahel has a naturally harsh climate
characterised by heat extremes and dry spells. A drought,
on its own, is not necessarily caused by or attributable to climate
change. In an arid and naturally extreme region such as the Sahel,
effective socioeconomic and agricultural droughts, respectively,
can occur without any changes to rainfall, simply because many
people are living in an area and this means there are more
drawing down water supplies than the region can support. More
broadly, there is a lack of attribution studies testing the extent
to which climate change has played a role in a particular drought.
Thus, while many researchers and policy-makers argue that
climate change contributes to increased insecurity in the Sahel,
there is very little empirical evidence supporting this argument.
1.2 Aims of this study
In the Sahel, there are several different conflict dynamics,
some of which overlap. Across northern Mali and Niger, there
has been a proliferation of armed networks, mainly involved
in smuggling drugs, arms, people and gold. Some of these
networks have links with jihadist groups (Lacher, 2012). Across
central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria, there
are increasing outbreaks of conflict between pastoralist and
farmer groups (International Crisis Group (ICG), 2016; 2017;
2018;). These conflicts are escalated by the involvement of proxy
government militia groups and jihadist groups, with some taking
the view that French forces and their allies (Barkhane),
the G5 Sahel forces and the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA)
are either working to manage the conflict or are themselves,
further aggravating the situation (ICG, 2019a; 2019b). In northeast
Nigeria and around Lake Chad, the Boko Haram crisis features
a different set of conflict actors, where the violence is mostly
driven by fighting between Boko Haram/ Islamic State
in West Africa Province and the Nigerian state/Multinational
Joint Task Force.
The study behind this report focused on the proliferation
of armed smuggling networks in Niger. We aimed to gather
qualitative data in a specific case study context to check whether
the argument that climate change and variability is contributing
to the proliferation of armed criminal networks across the Sahel
can be substantiated there. We were interested in addressing
two important concerns:
1. There is a need for greater understanding of the interplay
between climate variability and change, livelihood security
and ‘illicit’ forms of livelihood. We will provide qualitative
data that can be used to enrich a debate that has been
dominated by quantitative data (Detges, 2017). Through
collecting qualitative data, we can gain more insights into
the nuances of the relationship between a changing climate
and people’s decisions to join armed groups.
2. Secondly, the narrative that climate change presents a security
threat to the Sahel also has implications in terms of policy.
We have already seen a number of development initiatives
that aim to prevent young people engaging in ‘illicit’ activities
through mitigating the effects of climate change
(e.g. the UNCDD Sustainability, Stability and Security
initiative). Without empirical evidence to demonstrate that
climate change increases the risk of conflict breaking out,
we may be misdiagnosing the factors incentivising young
people to join armed networks in the Sahel.
Our study interrogated the assumption that climate variability
and change is contributing, in direct or indirect ways, to the
proliferation of armed networks in the Sahel. We used life history
interviews with 29 smugglers of arms, drugs, people
and gold in northern Niger to gather data. We based our
approach on an understanding that the decision to become
a smuggler is a livelihood decision, examining how extreme
weather events influence livelihood decisions and looking
at the factors incentivising young people to quit climate
sensitive livelihoods, with a particular focus on pastoralism.
As the climate in the Sahel is one of extremes, extreme weather
events are not necessarily indicative of climate change.
Droughts are periodic and can last decades in the Sahel
(see text Box 1 for more details). However, as some climate
models project increasing frequency of extreme weather events,
it is useful to examine how people have reacted to extreme
weather events over the last 50 years and whether their
reactions/methods of adapting can be linked to the current
proliferation of armed smuggling networks. To do this, we
carried out interviews with 16 fathers of smugglers to understand
the factors that influenced their choice of livelihood. The research
took place in Agadez and the surrounding villages, Emzaghar,
Tabelot mine and Ingall in February and March 2019 (for more
details on the method, see Annex 1).
Smuggling has been a feature of the economy in northern
Niger for the past 70 years. However in the late 1990s, smuggling
networks started arming themselves and became increasingly
linked with transnational criminal networks and occasionally
connected with violent extremist groups such as al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb and Movement for Oneness and Jihad
in West Africa (Lacher, 2012). There has been a notable increase
in armed banditry in northern Niger (Pellerin, 2017). The latest
Small Arms Survey notes that Niger used to mostly serve as
a transit country for weapons. Over the past five years, there
has been an increase in demand for weapons within Niger. Arms
seized have included explosives and small arms, along with light
weapons and associated ammunition, such as mortar rounds and
machine guns (Tessières, 2018).
image: street
in agadez,
taken by aoife
Drug traffickers tend to be the most heavily armed, carrying
machine guns, while people smugglers are more likely to carry
AK rifles (ibid.). The gold rush that started in early 2014 generated
further levels of violence targeting the increased movements
of cash and gold between the main gold-extraction sites and
major towns (Pellerin, 2018; Tessières, 2018). In 2016, the majority
of armed attacks on convoys were on roads linking the main gold
mines (Tessières, 2018).
The smugglers we interviewed were involved in people, drugs,
arms, fuel and gold smuggling. Smugglers usually engage in
a mix of activities. For example, in 2014, a convoy of six pickups
transporting three tons of ammunition from Libya to Mali
was targeted by operation Barkhane, the French-led counter
insurgency operation across the Sahel (with a focus on Mali),
in northern Niger. One of the drivers, although not formerly
a member of any group, trafficked drugs and provided logistical
support to violent extremist groups including couriering vehicles
and flash drives (Tessières, 2018). Most people smugglers now
combine people smuggling with tramadol smuggling. Tramadol
is an opioid manufactured in Nigeria and smuggled through Niger
to Libya where there is a high demand for opioids.
Smugglers range in the degree to which they are connected
to the ‘harder’ end of criminal activity. As Brachet (2018) notes,
the networks smugglers are connected to are not necessarily
transnational organised crime networks but rather loose groupings
that allow different sub-groups of drivers and intermediaries
to operate their business. In 2015, the Nigerien government
introduced new legislation criminalising the transport of foreigners
north of Agadez (Loi No 2015-36), effectively banning people
smuggling. As a result, people smugglers, who had generally
previously operated towards the ‘softer’ end of smuggling, now
needed a more complex network of contacts in order to facilitate
their route. These resulting networks include connections with
the Nigerien police, the gendarmerie and customs, as well as
with harder criminal networks. Those high up in such networks,
otherwise known as les patrons have connections with the judiciary
and with politicians.
Even when smugglers are operating as part of a network,
they do not enjoy full protection. Members of the police force,
gendarmerie and judiciary are posted at another location,
exposing smugglers to new officers who have not been integrated
into their patronage system. European police forces are also
putting pressure on Nigerien forces to make arrests. During
the field research, five smugglers were arrested outside
of Agadez. More recently, a patron, who goes by the name
of Abdallah Malohiya, was arrested as a result of a combined
investigation by European and Nigerien police forces.2
Box 1: The difficulty in detecting the influence of climate change
in Sahelian droughts
In studies that attempt to demonstrate the link between climate
change and conflict, extreme weather events, such as droughts and
floods, are often used as proxies for climate change. However, as we
discuss below, the normal climate in the Sahel is one of extremes
– of heat and rainfall scarcity and variability – and long-term direct
observation data that spans a minimum of 30 years (but preferably
longer), to robustly analyse trends in both climate normals and
extremes is missing for some areas. As such, what one study defines
as a ‘drought’ may fall within the natural variability of the Sahel.
Furthermore, studies that have failed to employ vigorous climate
niger/a-48483492. Accessed 26.04.19.
analysis or account for decadal variability, as discussed below, may
inappropriately ascribe relationships between climate and conflict.
Niger is characterised by desert and semi-arid lands, where rainfall
is normally scarce and erratic, with high temperatures and high
evapotranspiration. It lies at the edge of the large-scale West African
Monsoon system that brings the majority of annual rainfall across
the semi-arid and arid Sahel region (countries surrounding the
Gulf of Guinea to roughly 18°N bordering the Sahara Desert) between
June and September. The monsoon is characterised by high natural
interannual, interdecadal and spatial rainfall variability; some places
in the Sahel might receive good rains while other areas are dry in the
same year (Agnew, 1998; Nicholson et al., 2012). Hulme (2001: 19)
notes ‘there is no such thing as ‘normal’ rainfall in the Sahel. What
matters is the … spectrum of rainfall variability in space and time’.
Simultaneously, the region is very hot, with mean daily minimums
ranging from 11.5°C in January to 33.6°C in June and mean daily
maximums from 28°C (January) to 41.2°C in May. Together, the high
temperatures and variable rainfall create the fragile semi-arid grassland
and savannah ecosystems that give way to the Sahara Desert. High
natural rainfall variability and temperatures, coupled with competition
over natural resources, contribute to environmental degradation
and water scarcity.
Monsoon rainfall in the Sahel is strongly linked with ocean-atmospheric
relationships. Precipitation analysis indicates that decadal drought
patterns tend to repeat in 30 to 50-year cycles linked to multi-decadal
cycles in sea temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean. This
occurs with year-to-year variability in monsoon rains, which is related,
among other climate factors, to the El Niño Southern Oscillation and
the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (Nicholson, 2013;
Giannini et al., 2008). The monsoon winds and moisture content weaken
as they flow further inland from the Bay of Guinea, bringing less and
more erratic rainfall to areas bordering and into the south Sahara,
such as northern Niger.
Rainfall amounts across Niger during the monsoon range from
500-600 mm/year in the south – lying between roughly 12°N
to 14°N – and decrease to 100-200 mm/year north to approximately
18° latitude, where amounts dwindle further to less than 100 mm/year
in far northern Niger (Nicholson, 2013; Funk et al., 2012; Larrasoaño
et al., 2013). Spatial rainfall variability also increases with latitude,
with the possibility of no rainfall for some areas of northern Niger,
even while others in the country are receiving ‘normal to excess’
amounts in any given year.
The severe multi-decadal drought spanning the early 1970s to late
1980s throughout regions of west Africa contributed to significant
famine, loss of lives and livelihoods across multiple countries already
stressed with geopolitical transitions and volatility (Hulme, 2001;
Dai et al., 2004). The severity and duration of the droughts have raised
questions as to whether their magnitudes were unprecedented, what
might be expected for rainfall over the next few decades,
and what role climate change has played and will play in future
water security, livelihoods and socio-political stability in Niger.
Figure 1: Reconstructed Sahel/Sudan average annual rainfall
anomalies from station data, European explorer records and
oral traditions of various Sahelian peoples over the last 200
years. The y-axis shows anomaly departures from mean annual
rainfall over the period 1800-2000
Source: Nicholson et al. 2012: 1277. Figure reproduced with permission
A review of two centuries of climate records from European explorers,
spanning the early 1800s to the present day, along with the oral traditions
of various Sahelian peoples (Nicholson et al., 2012; 2018) and lake
sediments from West Africa, reveal that such multi-decadal droughts
have occurred regularly throughout the last 3,000 years (Shanahan et al.,
2009); the recent multi-decadal drought is actually a relatively frequent
event in the historical record (Paeth et al., 2017). The period of 1800-
1850 saw a prolonged and severe drought of a greater magnitude than
the most recent dry period (Figure 1). Paleoclimate records indicate that
the region has actually experienced severe droughts lasting multiple
centuries, with one enduring from ~1400 to 1750 (Shanahan et al.,
2009): extreme rainfall variability across space and time is the norm for
the region. This means present-day droughts must be considered to be
partially within this natural variability and a climate change signal
in precipitation maybe difficult to untangle for multiple decades.
Figure 2: Annual precipitation variability (black line) and
statistically significant increasing trend (blue line, p-value =
0.047) over 1981-2018 using area-averaged CHIRPS rainfall data
(Funk et al., 2015) for northern Niger (north of 16°N). Annual
totals have increased by approximately 10mm over the past few
years when compared with the early 1980s
precipitation (mm)
Source: the authors
Monsoon rains have been increasing since the late 1990s for the
eastern Sahelian regions north of 12.5°N, including Niger, but
have not recovered to match the rainfall amounts seen in the 1950s
(Odoulami and Akinsanola, 2018; Paeth et al., 2017). The increases
in average monsoon rainfall have been unevenly distributed across
Niger, with the southern crop-growing regions receiving about 8% less
rainfall between 2000 and 2009 than the 1920 to 1969 average
(Funk et al., 2012). Areas of Niger north of 16°N have also experienced
slightly increasing annual rainfall amounts. This has been largely due
to a recently stronger monsoon (see Figure 2) though not to the extent
seen in the early 1900s. However, these recent trends should not
be expected to continue indefinitely in the future. Monsoon rainfall
will continue to be highly variable.
Available precipitation data also shows that some areas of the Sahel
have had fewer days of rain, with the amounts concentrated in shorter
events, which can contribute to flooding. The intense rainstorm
around Niamey on 26 August, 2017 dropped ~100mm of rain in
a day and contributed to injuries as well as infrastructure destruction
and damage, for example. However, detecting whether these recent
monsoon precipitation increases are part of a statistically significant
long-term trend is challenging due to poor observational records
and challenges in rainfall reanalysis datasets (e.g. from the European
Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the Climatic
Research Unit (CRU) and the Climate Hazards Group InfraRed
Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS)). Poor spatial coverage
of weather stations, including an overall reduction in their number
across Niger since 2005 (Funk et al., 2015) challenges efforts to track
extremes in monsoon rains, though satellite-derived datasets are
helping to fill some of the ground-based observation gaps.
There is still some uncertainty about how the West African Monsoon
might evolve under different climate change scenarios and the extent
to which recent variations have been influenced by them
(Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018; Paxian et al., 2016; Paeth et al., 2017;
Nikulin et al., 2018). It is known that the Atlantic Ocean is warming
and that this process is highly influenced by climate change, but what
long-term implications this will have for the West African Monsoon
are not well known. Some climate models suggest the Sahel may
experience a drier monsoon – contributing to more agricultural,
hydrological and socioeconomic drought, partly due to a possible
increase in the ocean conditions known to lead to a weak or failed
monsoon. Other models suggest that climate change might shift ocean
conditions to be more conducive towards a strengthening of the
monsoon rainfall (Giannini et al., 2008; Paxian et al., 2016; Nikulin
et al., 2018). There is also uncertainty regarding how the nature of rain
events within the monsoon might change. This includes the question
of whether the trend of fewer rainy days but more intense rain events
seen in some areas might continue into the future. There are also still
large discrepancies in what the climate models project for shifts
in rainfall extremes, depending on which method is used for estimation
(Badr et al., 2016; Vizy et al., 2013; Akinsanola and Zhou, 2018;
Diedhiou et al., 2018).
Mean annual temperatures across most of Niger have increased
by 0.6 to 0.8°C since 1990 (Funk et al., 2012), which is consistent with
observed mean global warming of 0.87°C (IPCC, 2018). Heatwaves
specific to northern Niger are difficult to access due to a lack of
area-observation temperature data. However, for the Sahel as a whole,
heatwaves – particularly those between March and July – became
warmer during the 1950–2012 period and the spatial extent of the Sahel
experiencing them increased. However, they did not become more
frequent or last longer (Barbier et al., 2018). For example, night-time
temperatures during heatwaves (March to July) have warmed by about
0.5°C/decade, while daytime heatwave temperatures have warmed
by 0.3°C/decade over the Sahel as a whole – though there are stark
spatial differences. The changes in the nature of Sahelian spring
heatwaves became stronger after approximately 1990 (Oueslati
et al., 2017). Many of the past few years, such as from 2010 onward,
have seen record-breaking hot temperature anomalies globally, not
just in Niger or the Sahel. (One exception to this was 2017, when
Niger was ‘cooler’ than normal.) Mean temperatures are expected
to increase between 3°C and 6°C by 2100 (World Bank, 2019), with
large rises in the number of hot days and nights and heatwaves
expected (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018). There is a potential for greater
spatial and temporal monsoon rainfall variability due to climate
change imposed on natural variability. Coupled with the warmer
temperatures, these will enhance evaporation and soil moisture loss,
contributing to water security issues and agricultural droughts. Many
of the crops grown across the Sahel, such as maize, sorghum and
cocoa, are particularly sensitive to extreme temperatures. Along with
this, crop yield reductions are likely to occur, even without accounting
for uncertainties in rainfall (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018).
This overview of climate data for the Sahel shows how difficult it is
to demonstrate a link between climate change and rising insecurity.
However, following the example of others (Adelphi and WEF), our
study adopted the broader category of climate that includes climate
variability and climate change. When gathering the life histories,
we focused on how extreme weather events, such as droughts and
flooding, influenced people’s livelihood choices. These extreme
weather events may represent the extreme climate variability
characteristic of the Sahel, but but as under some climate change
projections they are likely to increase in frequency, intensity
and duration, it is worth examining how people have responded
and continue to respond through their livelihood strategies.
3.1 Demographic characteristics
of smugglers
The sample was dominated by Tuareg people, although there
were also small numbers of Tubus, Hausa and Arabs The Kel
Ewey were the most represented Tuareg confederation. This
was to be expected as the Kel Ewey have a long history in trade.
Confederations traditionally based around Kidal in Mali, such
as Ifoghas, were also represented in the sample, demonstrating
links between Nigerien based smugglers and those in Mali.
Former slave owning and enslaved Tuareg sub-tribes were
represented in the sample, indicating that smuggling cuts
across social class within ethnic groups.
image:one of
the researchers
at tabelot
goldsite, taken
by djibrilla
The age of smugglers ranged from 23 to 41, with a median age
of 29. Approximately 50% of the sample grew up in urban centres
such as Agadez, Arlit and Iferouane, while others grew up
in villages in the Aïr Mountains or in the major oases of the
Tenere desert (Bilma and Kawar). This finding contradicts
the idea that rural migrants to urban areas are more vulnerable
to engaging in illicit activities (e.g. from Alda, 2014). We found
that those who grew up in urban areas were mostly the sons
of labourers at the uranium mines, tradespeople (electricians
and welders), office assistants, livestock traders and marabouts.
Those who grew up in rural areas were sons of farmers who
predominantly engaged in a mix of agriculture and tending small
herds of goats. Three smugglers in the overall sample had fathers
who engaged in full time pastoralism including camels. Those
who grew up in Bilma and Kawar had fathers who traded in salt,
dates, clothes, shoes and fabric.
Contrary to the widespread perception that poverty drives
young men to join armed groups, the majority of smugglers
came from families who were categorised as ‘medium wealthy’.
In our sample, there were also smugglers who came from
wealthy families. Interestingly, one of the families categorised
as wealthy were still engaged in pastoralism. There were also
a number of smugglers from poorer families. Some of these
engaged in mix of agriculture and small-scale livestock breeding
but more were working in low-skilled and poorly paid jobs
in services at the uranium mines.
Most of the sampled smugglers had a primary education,
with many completing at least two years at secondary level.
Two of the smugglers had university degrees. The smugglers’
level of education was much higher than that of their fathers’,
most of whom had only attended local Qur’anic schools.
Several studies describes smugglers as Tuareg ex-rebels
(e.g. Brachet, 2012). In this sample, a minority of smugglers were
ex-rebels, while some had participated in the Libyan uprising.
But most smugglers had not participated in either the Tuareg
rebellion nor the Libyan uprising. It is possible that, initially,
smugglers – in particular people smugglers – were mostly ex-rebels,
but as young men saw how profitable the profession was, over the
last decade, ex-rebels fast became a minority among smugglers.
3.2 The shift out of pastoralism
Using the data from the life histories of smugglers and their
fathers, we were able to examine shifts in livelihoods across three
generations. The data shows a significant shift out of pastoralism
between the grandfathers’ and the fathers’ generations. During
the grandfathers’ generation, roughly spanning 1955 to 1985,3
over 50% of the sample engaged in pastoralism or a mix
of pastoralism/spiritual activities/trade. There were some traders
among the smugglers’ grandfathers who traded in livestock,
millet, sorghum, wheat and maize in exchange for dates, salt
and natron. Others engaged in agriculture in the oasis gardens
in the Aïr Mountains, growing wheat, maize, tomatoes and
onions. This sample indicates that during the grandfathers’
generation, pastoralism was the main productive activity
in northern Niger.
By the father’s generation, roughly spanning 1975 to 2009,
only one interviewee remained in pastoralism at the end of his
working life. A common strategy used by smugglers’ fathers was
3 The timeframe was calculated by using the father’s age to estimate
the average 30 years of productive labour from age 20 to age 50 of the
grandfathers’, fathers’ and average 24 years of the smugglers’ generation.
to diversify into agriculture. Thus, instead of investing
in replenishing herds, smugglers’ fathers invested in cultivating
new plots of land along riverbeds in oases. At that time, families
either bought land from entrepreneurs who invested in wells
or were allocated small plots of land by their chiefs. Capital was
required to invest in oxen, ploughs, seeds and water pumps.
The family normally provided the capital needed. However, the
profitability of the oasis gardens was not that high, transport was
limited and it was difficult to take produce to markets. Those
with gardens closer to Agadez or Arlit were able to benefit from
the growing urban population at those centres, where people
were working in state administrative offices and in uranium mines
and had higher incomes for purchasing food.
Box 2: Uranium mines in northern Niger
Uranium mines were first opened at two sites near Arlit in northern
Niger in the early 1970s. A French company AREVA owns the
license for the two mines SOMAIR (Société des Mines de l’Air) and
COMINAK (Compagnie minière d’Akokan), which have produced
approximately 3,500 tons of yellow cake, or uranium concentrate
a year, used to fire nuclear power plants in France (Reuters, 2017).
SOMAIR is the sixth largest uranium mine in the world (Winde et al.
2017) while COMINAK is the largest underground uranium mine in
the world. In 2007, a smaller third mine, SOMINA (Société des Mines
d’Azelik), opened in Ingall. A group of Chinese companies led by the
China International Uranium Corporation (SinoUranium) own the
license. In 2009, AREVA opened up the Imouraren mining site, 80km
southwest of Arlit. This was forecast to be the second largest producer
of uranium worldwide and Africa’s largest open pit mine. However,
with the fall in the price of uranium following the 2008 global
Grandfather Father Current
Figure 3: Changing livelihoods across three generations in northern Niger
Source: Life history interviews
1945 1950 1955 19601925 1930 1935 1940 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020
Pastoralist Agriculture Trader Labourer Driver Mechanic Teacher Smuggler Blacksmith
Family 1
Family 2
Family 3
Family 4
Family 5
Family 6
Family 7
Family 8
Family 9
Family 1 0
Family 1 1
Family 1 2
Family 1 3
Family 1 4
Family 1 5
Figure 4: Changing livelihoods across the generations
with approximate dates of working life for smugglers,
their fathers and grandfathers
Source: Life history interviews
recession, work at Imouraren has been suspended.4 The combined
production from SOMAIR, COMINAK and SOMINA amounts
to about 8% of the world’s uranium (Winde et al., 2017). However,
although large amounts of uranium are mined at Arlit and Ingall,
overall production is only 1.6% of national gross national product
(GDP) (ibid.). Although it is difficult to get exact estimates, COMINAK
employs 1200 employees, including eight expatriates, 130 technicians,
730 skilled workers and 300 subcontractors, while SOMAIR employs
approximately 1000 (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015).
Our interviews revealed that the shift away from agriculture
and pastoralism into jobs in service provision, along with wage
labour at the uranium mines, happened over the course of the
fathers’ working lives. Whereas almost 70% of the sample started
out in agriculture or pastoralism, only 30% were still engaged in
agriculture or pastoralism by the end of their working lives. Some
worked as wage labourers in the mines or in service provision
in urban areas (drivers or tailors), while others migrated to Libya
for gardening work. Of note is that those able to save from their
new jobs often invested their savings in a garden for retirement.
Although they left agriculture to earn more, the fathers we
interviewed still considered investing in land a worthwhile
investment. Even today, there is quite a difference between what
an agrarian labourer earns working in another person’s garden
and their own land plot. On average, a labourer working in the
oasis gardens in Agadez earns CFA200,000 – CFA300,000
for the onion season (five months). A landowner can earn
up to CFA2 million for the same season. Thus, investing savings
in oasis gardens can be a good retirement strategy. Indeed, the
number of irrigated gardens in the Aïr Mountains has significantly
increased over the last 20 years (see figure 5). Thus, while
there has been a shift from pastoralism, the numbers of people
engaged in agriculture – either full or part time – does not seem
to be decreasing. More research is needed to understand the
dynamics of the increase in irrigated gardens in the Aïr Mountains.
Figure 5: Number of oasis gardens, Aïr Mountains, 1914–2018
Sources: Spittler, 1993 (for data from 1914–1983), interview with Ahmed
Ouha, President of Chambre Regionale d’Agriculture d’Agadez (RECA),
2 March, 2019, Agadez
Based on his detailed ethnography of the oasis village
of Timia in the Aïr Mountains, Spittler’s breakdown
of the livelihoods practiced by the family heads in 1985 gives
us an idea of the degree to which the Nigerien Tuareg people
were already diversifying out of pastoralism. This supports
our findings from the life history interviews (Figure 6).
In Spittler’s sample, 33% were still engaged in camel
breeding and salt trading, while 26% were working full time
in agriculture and 9% were working in what were termed
as ‘modern professions’ such as teachers, health care workers
and miners. It is interesting to note that only one family head
No of gardens
was working in the uranium mines and only six had migrated
to Algeria, Libya and Nigeria. A German-funded development
project was a much bigger employer of people than the mines.
Figure 6: Breakdown of livelihoods practiced by family heads
in 1985 in the oasis village of Timia, Aïr Mountains. N = 377
Source: Spittler, 1989
*Note: ‘Traditional professions’ included blacksmiths, marabouts, jewelers etc
‘Modern professions’ included teachers, administrators, miners and drivers
Looking at the larger sample of 25 smugglers, we can compare
the spread of professions of their fathers compared with the
spread of professions that Spittler documented in Timia in 1985.
As the median age of smugglers was 29, we can estimate that
in 1985, most of their fathers were just at the beginning of their
working lives. In the sample of smugglers’ fathers, we note
a higher proportion engaging in modern professions
(wage labourers, tradespeople, office assistants at uranium
mines and bureaucrats) and a lower proportion engaging in
pastoralism, compared with the sample from Timia. The sample
of smugglers includes men who grew up in both urban and rural
Camel breeding/
salt trading
Day labourers on a GTZ
development project
‘Traditional professions’
‘Modern professions’
areas. Thus, it is not surprising that these men are more likely
to be sons of tradespeople, office assistants and bureaucrats.
This comparison once again highlights that the move into
smuggling is not one out of pastoralism due to the effects of
climate variability or change. Rather, it stems from a mix of urban
and rural young men responding to a fast-changing economy.
Figure 7: Spread of professions among smugglers’ fathers. N = 25
3.3 Livelihood decision making
across generations
Our interviews revealed discernible changes in the way
that smugglers and their fathers made decisions about their
livelihood activity. Almost everyone in the smugglers’ fathers’
generation started their working-life by doing what their own
Modern profession
‘Traditional professions’
Source: Spittler, 1989
*Note: The terms ‘modern professions’ and ‘traditional professions’
are drawn from Spittlers categorisations to allow comparisons.
‘Modern professions’ included teachers, administrators, miners, drivers.
‘Traditional professions’ included blacksmiths, marabouts, jewelers etc
fathers had done. Smugglers’ fathers said their decisions
to engage in agriculture or pastoralism were influenced by
their heritage and everyone in their village doing the same
thing. For example, in response to the question about why
he decided to engage in agriculture one of our interviewees,
Ibrahim*,5 answered:
“Like father, like son. Such is the reproduction of society.
Ibrahim sought advice from his parents but his engagement
in agriculture felt more like an inheritance, rather than
a livelihood decision.
There was also a sense of limited exposure to other possibilities.
Smugglers’ fathers were less likely to leave their village to gain
a secondary education and, as a result, had fewer options. Fathers
talked about engaging in agriculture because that was the only
thing they knew how to do. Those who grew up in rural villages
felt that they didn’t have the necessary networks to enable them
to obtain jobs in other areas. One way of for smugglers’ fathers
to build up a network was to initially work with their fathers.
Djibril* was born in Goûgaram, but his family had to leave during
the Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s as the Nigerien army killed their
livestock. They moved south towards Tahoua where Djibril felt
obliged to support his father in tending to his livestock. However,
he also admitted that he didn’t have any other choices:
“I didn’t have any other choice but to help my father
and learn how to rub shoulders and have an active life.
In contrast, through attending secondary school in the towns
of Agadez and Arlit, smugglers were much more likely to have
their own diverse networks by the time they sought employment.
5 These are not the real names of the interviewees.
Although most smugglers’ fathers had initially engaged
in the same livelihood as their fathers, many changed direction
some years later. This was especially common among those
who started in agriculture. For example, Moussa* began
by tending the garden belonging to his family. He then decided
to train as a mechanic, specialising in motor pumps. Moussa
commented that he made this change to increase his earnings
as he couldn’t cover all his expenses and those of his family with
just a gardening income. In terms of Moussa’s decision to invest
time in learning how to be a mechanic, his uncle was already
a mechanic and so offered to train him. This meant that while
Moussa was diversifying away from what his father had done,
his decision about what livelihood activity to engage in was still
influenced by the skills and knowledge in his family.
While some went to Libya for several years and worked
in gardens there, there were more examples of fathers leaving
agriculture by using their family connections to members based
at the mines in Arlit. Through these connections, smugglers’
fathers had opportunities to learn to drive, learn a trade or work
as day labourers at the sites.
Others followed what their fathers had done but adjusted their
activities to a changing economy. Mohammed’s* father, a Toubou
based in Dirkou, had traded in salt, dates and natron in exchange
for millet, maize and sorghum with Tuareg pastoralists from the
Aïr Mountains. Mohammed started out by continuing in this
trade but then thought of a new idea:
One fine day, an idea to construct a life for myself came into
my head. The activity was still in trading but to trade in luxury
goods, such as rugs, mattresses and ‘Arab couches’ that were
being produced in Libya. I sold these goods to traders who came
from Agadez and Arlit.
Mohammed was reacting to a newly urbanised population,
many of whom were either working at the uranium mines at Arlit
or in government offices in Agadez. These people often wanted
to buy furniture for their new mudbrick and cement houses.
Mohammed was able to invest in building up some stock with
seed funding from his father. In contrast, only 30% of smugglers
began their career by doing what their father had done. Most
of those who started out by following their fathers’ paths had
grown up in villages and were uneducated. There were some
smugglers who grew up in urban areas and described following
in their fathers’ footsteps, with the only difference being that
their fathers were guides in the desert for tourists, whereas they
were guides for migrants. Those who were born in villages, but
moved to towns to access secondary education did not return
to their villages to engage in pastoralism or agriculture. Instead,
they used their education to find jobs in growing sectors of the
urban economy in northern Niger, such as in money exchange,
car sales and, ultimately, gold and people smuggling.
Through either growing up in urban areas or moving to urban areas
to access secondary school education, smugglers were exposed
to a much wider range of possibilities and a more diverse
network of contacts that were not necessarily confined to family
connections. Hamidou* started out driving a waste collection truck
in Arlit, a job that his father arranged for him. However,
he experienced a lot of shame and discrimination while working
as a waste collector so when he heard about an advertisement for
a job as a driver in a security company, he applied straight away.
Through his job at the security company, he met a Tuareg who was
involved in people smuggling. Through this contact, he was able
to start working as a people smuggler.
In Agadez, foreigners from across West Africa were setting
themselves up as coxeurs: intermediaries between migrants
and smugglers, often providing accommodation while migrants
saved up money for their journey and arranging money transfers
from migrant families to smugglers. This influx of foreigners
with a much wider network across West Africa opened up new
opportunities for young male Nigeriens. Hamissou*, the son
of a bureaucrat was introduced to an Ivorian who needed
a house to accommodate migrants. By arranging a house for
the Ivorian, Hamissou saw an opportunity to lease properties
to foreigners and eventually established his own business
running ‘ghettos’.
Smugglers’ friends were much more likely to influence their
livelihood decisions than their fathers. Many smugglers described
seeing how well their friends were doing as smugglers and asked
them to integrate them into their networks.
The fluidity of networks and ease with which young men were
able to gain access to work in smuggling through relatively loose
networks contrasted with the widespread perception that
an office job, especially one in the bureaucracy, requires the
right connections (McCullough, Schomerus, and Harouna 2017).
Often, the journey to becoming a smuggler was preceded
by a short period of, described by the interviewee as, ‘building
up’ his network. For some interviewees, this took place through
spending time in Libya; for others, it involved working
as a motorcyclist in Agadez, running messages for coxeurs
or working as a mechanic for smugglers.
3.4 Smuggling is a livelihood
of first resort
The common narrative around young African men joining
armed groups is that poverty drives to them to join such groups
as a last resort. Our life history interviews with smugglers
in northern Niger revealed the extent to which smuggling
is perceived as a good profession to be involved in, despite
the risks. The incomes that can be earned through smuggling far
outstrip the incomes that can be earned from other professions.
Even jobs with non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
or with foreign oil companies pale in comparison to what can
earned through smuggling (see figure 8). When describing the
conditions of work, smugglers acknowledged the risks but found
the benefits outweighed the risks. They described their work
conditions to us as ‘very reasonable’ or ‘impeccable’.
For some of the smugglers we interviewed, the job was a high
octane profession with high risks that they were willing to engage
in for several years to save money, build a house and have some
capital to set themselves up in another business. Interestingly,
some were investing their profits in land in oases so they could
get back into agriculture when they retired from smuggling.
As mentioned previously, there is a large difference between
what a labourer earns working in agriculture and what the
land owner can make. Thus, while some smugglers started
in agriculture and then progressed onto smuggling due to not
earning enough, it was still worthwhile to them to invest their
savings in land. This contradicts Alda’s argument (2014) that rural
youth, facing depleted natural resources, are migrating to urban
areas and becoming involved in illicit activities. In fact, both
urban and rural youth are engaging in illicit activities and many
of those rural youth are investing their profits in agricultural land
so they can return to rural areas when they are older.
Coxeur before the ban
Black market petrol
seller at gold site
People smuggler
before the ban
Telephone credit
seller at gold sites
Gardener in Libya
Driver for Chinese
oil company
Driver for
Pastoralist (herder)
Gardener in Niger
Gold miner (day labourer)
Driver for Nigerian company
Motobike driver
Day labourer at uranium mines
Figure 8: Average monthly earnings across a range
of professions in northern Niger
Source: Life history interviews and key-informant interviews
Change in the type of goods traded
Trade routes between North and Sub-Saharan Africa have always
been lucrative but there has been a massive increase in the value
of goods traded over the past 20 years. During the 19th and early
20th centuries, trade was dominated by indigenously produced
goods such as salt, dates, livestock and millet. Before colonisation
disrupted trade routes, skins, ivory, ostrich feathers and slaves
were transported from Kano across the Sahara and into Libya
(Mortimore, 1972). The 1960s and 1970s saw the development
of a robust trade in subsidised food products and plastic goods
from the industrialising economies of Algeria and Libya. Trade
was disrupted by the Tuareg rebellions in Niger and Mali between
1991 and 1995, and suffered further following the April 1992
embargo between Libya and the international community
image: an
in agadez,
taken by aoife
in the fallout over the Lockerbie bombing. While formalised trade
decreased, a huge contraband trade in cigarettes developed as
cigarettes imported in Cotonou were smuggled into Libya to meet
demands for international brands (Grégoire and Pellerin, 2019).
By the end of the 1990s, trucks carrying cigarettes also started
transporting hashish from Morocco (ibid.). Demand for cocaine
increased in Europe and the former Soviet Union countries in the
2000s (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2010)
and a number of Sahelian traders responded by switching from
cigarettes and hashish to cocaine. It is estimated that at this time,
15% of all cocaine produced worldwide passed through the
Sahel (Julien, 2011). The flow of cocaine and hashish through
the Sahel was enabled by state officials across Mali, Niger, Algeria
and Libya (Grégoire and Pellerin, 2019). This transition to trading
in illegal drugs resulted in Nigerien smuggling networks being
linked to international criminal networks. Meanwhile, the value
of the cargo meant that banditry became increasingly lucrative
requiring smugglers to arm themselves. The proliferation of armed
smuggling networks intensified with the collapse of Gadhafi’s
regime and an increase in the trade in weapons. Most weapons
were initially transported to Mali but Nigerien smugglers began
to invest to weapons to protect their valuable cargo.
The outbreak of the Libyan civil war and subsequent overthrow
of Gadhafi had a significant impact on trade. At first Niger
benefitted, as the dinar devalued, it was able to cheaply import
trucks, cars, equipment and manufactured goods. On the export
side, however, trade was depressed. There was a drop in the
flow of livestock and the cigarette business was badly squeezed
as Libyans lost purchasing power. Drug traffic continued but
on alternative routes, due to operations of the French and
Nigerien armies controlling the Niger/Libyan border. Trade with
Algeria initially increased to compensate for the decreased
demand for livestock from Libya but in an effort to control border
activities, Algeria closed the Niger/Algerian border for all but
one day every two weeks (ibid.). In the initial years following the
collapse of Libya, there was a brisk arms trade between Libya and
Niger, with most of this destined for Mali. Libya continues to be
a source for illicit weapons in Niger, including converted
blank-firing handguns. However, trafficking from there has
declined since 2014 due to the depletion of Gadhafi’s stockpiles,
renewed demand in Libya due to intensification of conflict there,
and increased levels of surveillance and counteraction in Niger
with the deployment of Operation Barkhane (Tessières 2018).
These fluctuations in flows of goods and in price make trade
a highly risky venture. The increasing control of main border
crossing creates incentives for traders to consider alternative
routes, even for prosaic items such as domestic goods and
household consumables. However, using alternative routes requires
being armed to protect against coupeurs de route (‘bandits’).
So while the transition from trading indigenously produced
consumables and household good to drugs has resulted in trading
in much higher value goods and a need for armed convoys,
the counter reaction of national and international security
agencies has also resulted in even traders specialising in food
and household goods taking alternative, more dangerous routes
and needing arms to protect themselves on those routes when
travelling them.
Change in migration law
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an increase in the flow
of migrants from across the Sahel, including from Nigeria,
Mali, Ghana etc., who sought work in Algeria and Libya.
This was partly due to droughts in combination with the other
socioeconomic and political factors. The majority of these
migrants did not engage in illicit activity when they reached
Agadez. Rather, they sought out truckers who would take them
to Libya and Algeria to work on construction sites and in oasis
gardens (Brachet, 2012). Following UN sanctions for the Lockerbie
bombing, Qaddafi sought to attract support from African states
by speaking publicly in favour of African immigration to Libya
(ibid.). Algeria fluctuated in its position on the legality or illegality
of African migrants. In the late 1980s, for example, the state began
to clamp down on illegal migration (Bredeloup 1995).
Despite these risks, demand for transport through Niger to Libya
and Algeria continued to grow. During the rebellion in the 1990s,
transport became more difficult, with all vehicles travelling north
of Agadez requiring a military convoy. Brachet argues that
rather than putting a stop to Saharan travel, the rebellion
marked the establishment of transportation networks and
an institutionalisation of the role of the Nigerien state agents
in the Saharan migration system. By the end of the 1990s, roughly
100,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa travelled via Agadez
to Libya and Algeria each year. Eighty to 90% returned home
after a few months or years, while the other 10 to 20% tried
to enter Europe (Brachet, 2009).
Until 2010, as part of a deal struck with the EU, the Libyan
government policed the flow of sub-Saharan migrants through
Libya. When Libya collapsed, the route to Europe suddenly
seemed unimpeded. By 2016, an estimated 330,000 migrants
were passing through Agadez to travel onwards to either Algeria
or Libya.6 However, in 2015, under pressure from the EU,
the Nigerien government passed the migrant ban
6 Statistical Report: Niger, November 2016, IOM, Geneva, 2016,
Accessed 27.05.19.
(Loi-No 2015-036) that outlawed the transport of foreigners
north of Agadez. This law has resulted in a decrease in the
number of migrants passing through northern Niger but people
smuggling remains a significant economy, providing a steady
source of income for young men still willing to take the risk.
As this activity continues to be an extremely lucrative business,
links between smuggling networks and the political elite remain,
with the networks becoming more professional (Molenaar, 2016).
Thus, in 2015, the transport of people into Libya and Algeria –
which had been carried out openly and in relatively large numbers
since the 1980s – was now a criminal activity. Those who wanted
to continue with their livelihood widened their links with different
elements in the state to ensure that they were able to get past the
initial checkpoints outside Agadez and then armed themselves
during the journey on alternative routes between Emzaghar
and the Libyan border. Other people smugglers have refocused
their activities on trading tramadol produced in Nigeria
and sold in Libya but also increasingly in demand in Niger
(Micallef, Horsley and Bish, 2019).
Gold rush in northern Niger
Since 2014, northern Niger has been experiencing a gold rush
in artisanal gold-digging. The gold was initially discovered
in Djado, east of Agadez, and Tchibarakaten, north of Agadez.
Before the Djado site was closed by the government in 2017,
there were 11,000 miners operating and a reported 70 tons of
gold extracted (Pellerin, 2017).7 Four thousand miners continue
to operate at Tchibarakaten (ibid.). Meanwhile, a new site has
opened up at Tabelot. International actors are involved in both
7 These figures should be taken as estimates only, as numbers
vary according to season and, as Pellerin notes, are based on
anecdotal evidence.
the extraction and trade of gold, including defectors from the
Chadian army unit based in Kidal as part of the UN mission
in Mali, and Sudanese, Malian and Burkinoise miners (ibid.).
Large Libyan business networks are involved in processing and
trading the gold on the international market. Nigerien authorities
have deported hundreds of Chadian and Sudanese and their
presence may have been one of the reasons for closing the
Djado site. Armed banditry has increased in Agadez since
the discovery of gold at Djado and Tchibarakaten and both
Tessières (2018) and Pellerin (2017) attribute this increase
in banditry to the increasing numbers of convoys transporting
gold from the mines to processing sites in Libya or Agadez.
Pastoralism is on the decline but climate variability
is not the only driver of the decline
As droughts are a normal part of the Sahelian climate, Tuareg
pastoralists have developed strategies to adapt to dry periods.
Among the Kel Ewey Tuareg, who traditionally live in the oasis
villages in the Aïr Mountains, camels and donkeys were moved
down towards Kano in northern Nigeria between November
and April. This allowed the Kel Ewey to provide fodder for their
camels during the dry season and buy millet to bring back
to their villages. In Kano, the Tuareg sold salt and dates
in exchange for millet (Spittler, 1993; Mortimore, 1972). In 1913,
in response to what colonial officials described as a ‘disastrous
drought’ (Zinder archives, 1914), Tuaregs from the Aïr Mountains
travelled 150km further south from Kano to find grain to buy.
By travelling further south, they were able to find sorghum instead
of millet but lost many camels to tropical diseases (Spittler, 1993).
As early as the 1920s, the Tuareg started diversifying into
small-scale agriculture, growing wheat, maize and vegetables
in oases, although this activity tended to be carried out by lower
class Tuareg (Mortimore, 1972). This change was a response
to the combination of a sedentarisation policy by French colonials
and an adjustment to a changing economy. Indeed, in response
to a Tuareg revolt against the French in Agadez in 1917,
the French expelled the Tuareg and decimated their camel herds.
The military administration that followed the revolt provided
incentives to agriculture and plantations and emphasised
the value of a sedentary society (ibid.).
Following independence, the new Nigerien government failed
to support pastoralist livelihoods. In 1954 and then again
in 1961, Diori’s administration tried to curtail Tuareg movement
south by designating the north a pastoral zone and setting
limits to the areas where pastoralists could freely graze their
animals. Diori’s administration also introduced a tax on the sale
of livestock that reduced pastoralists’ income (Spittler, 1993).
Meanwhile development programmes launched by the state
with international funding provided support for farmers while
neglecting pastoralists (ibid.). This combination of factors meant
that the impact of the droughts of 1973–1974 were particularly
harsh. Although investment in oasis gardens had lessened the
impacts of droughts over the preceding decades, the wells
dried up during 1973. Because the animals remained in Nigeria
throughout the year, fewer animals were available to work the
water pumps in the oasis gardens in Niger. Many gardens were
subsequently abandoned in 1974 (ibid.).
The droughts of 1981 and 1985 decimated the camel herds
of Tuareg pastoralists. However, the scale of animal mortality was
not necessarily due to the length or severity of the drought but
a combination of economic and resource management factors
(Spittler, 1993). With the upsurge in garden cultivation in the
Aïr Mountains, there was an increase in the number of oxen
bred to pull ploughs and work water pumps, placing stress
on the ecological carrying capacity of the area. The oxen were
fed fodder from trees that were normally used to feed camels.
As the drought continued, there was increasingly less fodder
to fatten the camels in time for the journey across the Ténéré
desert to buy salt. In a normal year, about 2000 camels would
be taken to Bilma to load up with salt before travelling south
to Nigeria to trade the salt for millet. By 1984, most pastoralists
had lost two-thirds of their camel herd and only 50 camels
travelled to Bilma (ibid.). This meant that the Tuareg pastoralists
had extremely small amounts of salt to trade for millet, reducing
their ability to restock their grain houses.
The droughts of the early 1980s were widespread across the
Sahel, forcing up the price of millet and sorghum further south
in Nigeria. This meant that even if the Tuareg travelled further
south, as they had done during previous droughts, their small cargo
of salt bought reduced quantities of grain. Thus, while the increase
in garden cultivation had contributed to households’ coping
mechanisms during droughts in the 1920s and 1940s, the increase
eventually reached a tipping point where the number of oxen
consuming wild fodder started to weaken supplies for the camels.
This set off a chain of negative impacts when pastoralists were
not able to sufficiently fatten their camels during years
of drought. One of their strategies to cope with climate extremes
had ultimately made their particular mode of transhumance more
difficult. As cheaper imported salt became more widely available,
with an urbanising population increasing demand for vegetables,
it made sense to divest from camels and invest in land and
water pumps.
During the 1990s, there was a withdrawal of state support
for pastoralists as part of structural readjustment. Combined
with a massive devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994,
this served a further shock to the industry. The shift out
of pastoralism was reflected in the rapid increase in population
of Agadez between 1982 and 2003. In 1982, Agadez was
a small town of 33,000 people. By 2003, it had tripled in size
to a population of 161,988 (Chaibou, 2005).
Those who continued to practice pastoralism faced increased
restrictions on their movements. The privatisation of land and
water sources, along with a hardening of borders throughout
the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, hampered the mobility of pastoralists
(Marty and Bonnet, 2006; Thebaud et al., 2018), which in turn
impacted on their ability to cope with naturally high rainfall
variability in the harsh hot and arid environment.
High temperatures and periodic droughts have led to the
ecosystem in the Sahel becoming fragile. Water resources
are naturally scarce and it’s very easy to overuse and deplete
groundwater resources. The areas southwest of the Aïr Mountains
in northern Niger are underlain by the Iullemeden Aquifer System
(lAS) (Hearns, 2009; Moulla et al., 2011). The lAS is a large system
containing multiple aquifers and providing water supplies
to many of the main population areas in Algeria, Mali, Benin,
Niger and Nigeria (ibid.). There are basement and igneous
aquifers to the east of the lAS, covering our study area and
underlying the Aïr Mountains. These are not easily recharged,
as rainwater has difficulty infiltrating rock (Upton et al., 2018).
The Iullemeden Basin is also mineral rich, including the significant
uranium deposits that support mining. However, while mining
has historically offered economic alternatives, it also presents
direct competition to pastoralists and agriculturalists, as well
as towns, for groundwater resources. Mining operations are
water-intensive. In 40 years of operation, it is estimated that
a total of 270 billion litres of water have been used in the
uranium mines around Arlit alone (Dixon, 2010). Water
extractions are exceeding aquifer recharge rates in the lAS and
aquifer levels have dropped in many locations (Hearns, 2009).
Follow-up studies are planned to further quantify groundwater
availability and the sustainability of current pumping practices
(GroFutures, 2019). These will also support future assessments
about water security in the face of changing demographics,
urbanisation, shifting economies and climate change.
The manufacture of the armed smuggler
in northern Niger
Dry spells, droughts and hot temperatures are normal features
of the semi-arid and arid climates in the Sahel. People living
in northern Niger coped with this natural variability during the first
half of the 20th century by engaging in transhumance, allowing
them to move their herds further south in times of prolonged
drought. As the economy started to change in 1960s, Tuareg
pastoralists became increasingly monetised and diversified into
other professions, travelling to Libya and Algeria to work
on construction sites and large-scale agriculture projects.
The opening of the uranium mines in the 1970s created
a significant number of jobs, both at the mines themselves and
in the services developed to cater to mine employees. Tuareg
pastoralists, for the most part uneducated, worked as day labourers,
office assistants and in services. At the same time, many Tuareg
pastoralists invested their savings in irrigated gardens, to limit their
exposure to drought, while securing a source of food. Thus, the
big shift out of pastoralism happened during a very different time,
during smugglers’ fathers’ generation, although it continues today.
When the major shift out of pastoralism happened, young Nigerien
men did not join armed networks or indeed terrorist groups. They
adapted to and continue to adapt to a changing economy, in which
smuggling to markets such as Europe is lucrative.
The main growth areas in the economy today, offering the
best returns on investment, are in drugs, arms, gold and people
smuggling. Through these goods, young Nigeriens can connect
to a global market and benefit from regional and global prices.
The line between trade and smuggling in the border areas
has always been blurred, as custom duties have never been
uniformly applied to all goods (Brachet, 2012). However,
the goods traded are deemed illegal globally. This raises the
stakes. The combined illegality and profitability of smuggling
now requires greater protection and more complex networks
to ensure that goods reach their destination. Whereas before,
customs officers have taken a small bribe on smuggled pasta,
semolina and mattresses, bribes are now required by the police,
the gendarmerie and even within the judiciary. While banditry
has always been a risk for smugglers operating across the Sahel,
the value of the goods now being transported has drawn more
young people into either armed smuggling networks or banditry.
In 2015, people smuggling became illegal. This now means that
most of the profitable forms of trade are deemed illegal, both
nationally and internationally. It can be argued that the increasing
insecurity across Mali, northern Niger and Libya creates a vicious
circle where the only trade that can survive the increased costs
of protection and multiple bribes is illicit goods. As Raineri (2010)
notes, the increase in insecurity in Niger has proved detrimental
to less profitable trafficking and increased the incentives to get
involved in this area.
The increase in young people joining armed networks
is a function of the securitised trade economy that has developed
in the Sahel, rather than the shift out of pastoralism. Brachet
(2012) has argued that the category of ‘people smugglers’ has
been manufactured through a change in legislation, making what
was once an openly performed activity become an underground
Trade with Libya
increases as sanctions
open up new
opportunities for
Nigerien traders.
Trade in American
cigarettes booms,
contravening Libyan
Demand for cocaine
increases in Europe.
The Sahel route proves
an efficient trade
route for cocaine.
The value of goods
traded increases
further and smuggling
networks become part
of a global system of
drug trafficking.
Moroccan hashish is added
to trucks carrying cigarettes
linking Nigerien smugglers
with transnational drug
trafficking networks. The
value of goods increases.
The benefits of
attacking convoys
carrying cocaine
increases. Convoys
start carrying arms
for protection.
The flow of migrants
through northern
Niger increases as
Libya becomes
a difficult but possible
route to Europe.
Migrant smugglers
carry arms to protect
against attacks.
The overthrow
of Gaddafi shifts
control of smuggling
routes. Trade in arms
from Libya to Mali
increases, supplying
the armed uprising
and subsequent low
level insurgency
against the Malian
state and Barkhane.
Gold is discovered at
two sites in northern
Niger. Banditry and
the sales of weapons
The most profitable
enterprises in northern
Niger are in smuggling
goods in demand by
the global economy.
Increasing numbers
of young men join
these networks to
earn a steady income.
Networks are becoming
increasingly hierarchical
with those at the top
earning huge profits.
Droughts decimate
livestock herds.
Pastoralists diversify into agriculture,
wage labour on mines, services, trade and
migration. Goods are transported informally
across borders but are of low value and do
not impact the global economy.
Figure 9: Factors influencing the increase of armed networks in northern
Niger since the 1970s
Source: the authors
criminal one. It could equally be argued that the increase
in armed networks across northern Niger is manufactured
through a combination of banning migrant transport and the
failure to legalise the drugs industry, creating a highly profitable
supply chain that works best when state officials are corruptible
and a controlled arms industry, in turn, creates demand for
smuggled weapons. Rising temperatures across the Sahel and
high rainfall variability may make farming and pastoralism more
difficult, but climate factors alone do not create the conditions
for armed networks to proliferate.
The profitability of trade in migrants, drugs and arms is attractive
and there were several examples of young men in our study who
had decided to quit pastoralism to join an armed network. But
these men did not perceive the difficulties in pastoralism related
to extreme climate events as the reason why they decided
to join an armed network. Rather, it was the extreme advantages
that joining an armed network afforded them. These men could
access a globalised market through trading in drugs, arms and
migrants. Livelihoods based on local or regional economies
cannot compete in scannot compete against such globalisation.
Even in the absence of rising temperatures in the Sahel, it is likely
there would be a shift out of pastoralism and agriculture
in favour of the opportunities in international trade and other
more lucrative livelihoods.
Based on analysis of the life histories of armed smugglers
operating in northern Niger, we find that political economy factors
play a greater role in incentivising young people to join armed
networks than the effects of climate variability and change. The
overemphasis on the contribution of climate factors to the rise
in armed networks matters for several reasons. First it results
in programmes that work to assist populations in adapting
to climate change in the name of addressing insecurity. While
supporting populations to cope with the effects of climate change
is worthwhile, we argue that these initiatives will have a limited
effect on the numbers of young people joining armed networks.
Second, the focus on climate change may shift attention away from
the influence of national and international actors in shaping and
facilitating an illicit economy that requires armed protection.
image: house
in agadez,
taken by aoife
The discourse linking climate change to rising insecurity
depoliticises the complex dynamics that lead to the conditions
where armed networks can operate. The depoliticisation of rising
insecurity means that Western agencies can appear to be investing
to address the causes of rising insecurity while maintaining friendly
relations with the Nigerien government and the parts of their own
governments involved in reproducing these conditions. Finally,
the idea that young African men resort to violence when they face
livelihood insecurity – partly affected by climate variability and
change – risks criminalising a whole generation of Africans. We
examine each of these implications in more detail in this section.
5.1 Policies and programmes
In this subsection, we examine examples of major UN– and
EU–funded stabilisation programmes in the Sahel to illustrate
in more detail why the overemphasis on the contribution
of climate change to the rise in armed networks matters. In 2013,
the United Nations Security Council adopted the UN Integrated
Strategy for the Sahel, which aims to address the region’s
political, security and developmental challenges in a holistic
manner. In preparation for the strategy, the United Nations
Secretary-General produced a situation report on the Sahel,
making links between individual vulnerability connected to
climate change, negative coping strategies and the recruitment
of young people into armed groups. The report argues that
‘[p]overty and destitution are also among the underlying reasons
why children from the region are associated with armed groups,
as demonstrated by reports of cross-border recruitment of
children from Burkina Faso and Niger by armed groups in Mali…’
(United Nations Secretary-General, 2013: 4). Building
on this diagnosis, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNDOC) released a document outlining its contribution to the
UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. Within the document
it contextualises the ‘interconnected challenges’ facing the
region, again by listing climate change as a contributing factor
(UNDOC, 2013: 1). In addition, it states that along with other
factors such as an absence of state authority, corruption,
availability of arms, the ‘collapse of the traditional pastoral
economy’ has ‘created the ideal environment for illicit
trafficking’ (UNDOC, n.d.).
The UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel has since been updated
with the UN Support Plan for the Sahel in 2018. Its areas
of priority include climate action and, separately, women and
youth employment. While these are two separate priority areas,
the strategy does warn that a ‘demographic bulge combined
with climate change could worsen the phenomenon of violence
and conflict’ (UN, 2018: 6). As part of the strategy, it therefore
includes the promotion of employment opportunities for young
people, ‘through innovation training, technological innovation,
skills and entrepreneurship development’ (ibid: 14).
Individual UN agencies also make the connection between
environmental conditions, youth employment and stability within
the Sahel. The UNCCD launched its Sustainability, Stability and
Security initiative (also known as 3S), which aims to increase
stability by improving youth employment opportunities through
land restoration projects that aim to tackle what it describes
as the ‘root causes of instability in Africa’, such as migration,
conflict and environmental degradation (UNCDD, n.d.). The
strategy warns that young people, particularly in rural areas, are
‘[t]rapped on degraded land, in a cycle of increasing desperation,
frustration and social exclusion, at risk of exposure to extremist
activity and conflict’ (UNCDD, 2018: 1).The strategy warns
that extremist groups are able to ‘capitalise’ on a ‘sense
of hopelessness’ by offering ‘lucrative opportunities as part
of their recruitment campaigns’ (UNCDD, 2018: 5). Niger
is a signatory to the project and Agadez has been selected as the
pilot project for the 3S initiative. This is titled Restoring degraded
lands to create jobs for migrant reintegration in west Africa and
prevent radicalization. The stated aims of the project include the
creation 470 jobs for ‘unemployed youths, returning migrants
and former smugglers’ (UNCDD, 2018: 10).
The EU has also designed a series of interventions in the Sahel
based on the understanding that climate change contributes
to rising levels of insecurity. In framing the region’s challenges
within the its Strategy for Security and Development for the Sahel,
the EU states that the Sahel ‘faces simultaneously the challenges
of extreme poverty, the effects of climate change, frequent food
crises, rapid population growth, fragile governance, corruption,
unresolved internal tensions, the risk of violent extremism and
radicalisation, illicit trafficking and terrorist-linked security
threats’ (EU, 2011: 1). The strategy lists what it refers to as ‘four
complementary lines of action’, where its highlighted areas
of action are placed under ‘Development, good governance and
internal conflict resolution’. One such action point is ‘to mitigate
the impact of climate change effects’ (EU, 2011: 7).
Finally, one of the more recent and high-profile international
interventions, the Alliance Sahel, was launched in 2018. This
programme has been designed as the development wing
of the G5 Sahel initiative. Along with the EU, it includes
a consortium of donor governments, international financial
institutions and the United Nations Development Programme.
In its evaluation of the challenges facing the region, it notes
that factors such as extremism, a lack of economic, education,
employment opportunities and climate change all contribute
to instability within the Sahel (The Alliance Sahel, n.d.).
A press release highlights that, as well as addressing issues such
as governance and youth employment, climate change mitigation
can aid the stabilisation of the region (The Alliance Sahel, 2018).
Both climate change and youth employment are identified as two
of the six priority areas for the initiative. Regarding the latter, entry
points include both support for ‘mechanisms’ that encourage
job creation, education and training directed towards market
requirements (The Alliance Sahel, n.d.). For example, one project
in the Lake Chad region aims to build ‘economic recovery and
reinforce resilience to climate and social cohesion’. It includes
the creation of job opportunities through ‘supporting agricultural
micro business and apprenticeships’ and additional areas such as
natural resource management (The Alliance Sahel, 2018). By trying
to help people back into the ‘traditional’ livelihoods of agriculture
and livestock rather than moving them into 21st century jobs, such
initiatives fail to understand the political economy of northern
Niger. Furthermore, as agriculture is further automated and fewer
people are needed to do physical labour, such programmes run the
risk of perpetuating inequalities by not assisting such populations
in technological and capacity building ‘leapfrogging’.
This is not to say that climate variability and change are
not playing a role in multiplying existing socioeconomic and
environmental pressures that contribute to conflict in the Sahel.
However, as seen in northern Niger, climate change is not the
most important factor contributing to the rise of armed networks.
Currently, poorly nuanced climate change arguments downplay
the other concurrent drivers of insecurity.
While vulnerability to climate change is increased by many
of the same sources of risk that contribute to fragility (such
as unstable governments, corruption and lack of accountability),
explaining everything in terms of climate change means that less
attention is paid to the sources of risk that existed prior to – and
separate from – climate change.
5.2 The depoliticisation of rising
insecurity in the Sahel
The concern that a focus on climate change depoliticises
conflict analysis and subsequent responses has been raised
before. Scholars warned of these risks when narratives linking
the conflict in Darfur with climate change were used by Bashir’s
administration to justify a focus on addressing environmental
degradation in Darfur (Verhoeven, 2011). Narratives linking climate
change with rising conflict form part of the ‘anti-politics’ machine,
whereby ‘impersonal forces’ – such as climate change – replace
political actors in the ‘political economy of African development’
(Hartmann, 2014: 760). Climate security narratives may also act to
serve Western security ambitions on the continent. The linking of
climate change to security threats works to justify both increased
involvement of the US military in decision-making related
to international development and humanitarian aid, and the
increasing presence of US forces on the African continent
(ibid: 773–775). In a recent interview, Lieutenant Gen Thomas
Waldhauser, Commander of the United States Africa Command
(AFRICOM), stated that ‘climate and environmental challenges
on the continent really do start to contribute to security
challenges’ and that ‘[s]ome of the groups in the northern
Mali-Niger area there, they leverage these challenges
to recruit…’ (Cerre, 2019). Furthermore, think tanks linked
to the US military have promoted the narrative that insecurity
in the Sahel can be attributed to climate change
(Verhoeven, 2014: 801).
As was the case in Sudan, governments in the Sahel can
instrumentalise environmental narratives that help them stay
in power while suppressing opposition by using anti-terrorism
measures. Since the 2012 crises in Mali, there have been increasing
links made between ‘global warming, desertification and
environmental migration with extremism and Tuareg rebellions’
(ibid.). This has included the Malian government. In 2013, referring
to the Great Green Wall initiative targeting desertification
in the region – through employment – Mali’s Director for Forestry
claimed to offer a ‘solution’ in the fight against extremism (Haines,
2013). Policy recommendations flowing from this diagnosis, where
international actors work alongside the Malian government
to ‘rationalise natural resource management’, are reminiscent of
the agricultural policies of the past: promoting private ownership
of land and encroachment on pastoralist livestock corridors, and
policies that favoured southern elites at the expense of northern
communities (Verhoeven, 2014: 801). Verhoeven (2014) argues that
such new policies were not unique to Mali, ‘but part of a broader
transformation of the political economy of the Sahel…’(ibid.).
Indeed, the authors of the Adelphi report studying the
relationship between climate change and non-state armed
actors warn of a possibility that the increased use of the narrative
that climate change drives conflict could also serve as a means
to distract from national governments’ inability to address the
conflict in the Lake Chad region (Nett and Rüttinger, 2015: 19).
We would go further than this and argue that the focus
on climate change as a primary or principle driver of conflict
distracts from international agencies’ and governments’
unwillingness to engage in the more difficult task of addressing
the structural drivers of conflict, including their own roles.
The poor state of governance and uneven economic development
in Niger is linked to a legacy of colonialism and ongoing resource
exploitation, where Western governments and corporations are
happy to support the status quo provided the resources continue
to flow. Conversely, Western governments have to be seen
to be doing something to stem the tide of immigration, drugs
and contraband into the EU, but won’t recognise their role or
legacy in enabling the problems. In this respect, climate is being
politicised as a convenient scapegoat because the ‘blame’
is more global and abstract.
5.3 The criminalisation of African men
Despite the incredible profits to be earned in smuggling, only
a portion of young men in northern Niger engage. There are
equally large numbers of young men affected by Sahelian weather
extremes who seek to make a living for themselves by gaining
work in the bureaucracy, setting up boutiques and restaurants
in Agadez, or training to be mechanics or welders. The life
histories of our interviewees illustrate the range of livelihoods that
smugglers engaged in before they started smuggling. Smuggling
is the most profitable profession available but not all young men
pursue it as a career.
There is a strong ‘Malthusian logic’ underpinning current
commentary on the links between climate change and conflict
in Africa (Hartmann, 2014). By viewing the growing population
in Africa as a ‘powder keg … [with members] set even more
violently against each other by climate change’, young Africans
living the Sahel become a ‘strategic threat’ legitimising security
responses by both domestic or international actors.
This narrative contributes to the idea that young Sahelian men
are incapable of resisting the lure of illicit activity when faced with
economic hardship. For example, Haugueland warns that in areas
like northern Mali, a combination of ‘unemployment, droughts
and social stagnation are rampant’ and ‘jihadist groups can easily
recruit from a pool of dissatisfied young men seeking status,
money and power’ (2017: 6).
Through our analysis of the political and economic trends leading
to the proliferation of armed groups in northern Niger, we show
that climate variability and change is one threat among many
that policy-makers need to consider. While people in northern
Niger have historically reacted to climate extremes in a harsh arid
environment by changing their livelihoods and diversifying their
investments, livelihood choices are also made in response
to a rapidly changing economy, changes in national regulations
and oscillating geopolitical relations.
To be clear, climate change is a big threat and presents many
risks. Globally, climate extremes are in increasing in frequency
and seasons are shifting; in particular, rainfall in the monsoon
regions is becoming more variable and difficult to predict
(IPCC, 2014 and 2018). Some conflict-climate studies have
image: street
in agadez,
taken by aoife
attributed extreme weather events across the Sahel to climate
change. Regardless of whether the data exists to support
these claims, the lack of adequate social protection, structural
weaknesses and socioeconomic development challenges increase
people’s vulnerabilities and exposure to climate-related shocks
and stresses. With the help of funding from international donors,
the Nigerien state has invested in a comprehensive early warning
system for droughts and crop failures, but is less prepared for the
more complex climate change risks related to shifting seasons.
Furthermore, climate-related risks – including food and water
insecurity, health, and environmental degradation – will continue
to grow in the future. This is not only due to climate change, but
also due to increasing population, urbanisation, resource pressures,
and lack of pollution and environmental management controls.
However, when assessing the rising insecurity in northern Niger,
our analysis indicates that the threats of financial instability in the
West and rising support for protectionist and nationalist policies,
together with an escalation in the ongoing war on drugs, are
likely to have a greater impact on rising insecurity in northern
Niger than increasing climate variability or change, at least over
the near-term. After the financial crisis in 2008, the price of gold
increased dramatically. While this has stabilised, it remains at an
all-time high, making the opportunistic (and unregulated) mining
of gold in underdeveloped mines in Djado and Tchintabaraden
worthwhile. Until either the price of gold drops or the Nigerien
state posts a dedicated police force to these mines, miners will
continue to invest in arms to protect their investments.
Migration and people smuggling is another area of economic
activity strongly influenced by international policies and politics.
As European governments seek to react to the increasing
influence of populist political parties, they need to be able
to demonstrate a tough position on illegal immigration.
By putting pressure on the Nigerien government to ban the
transport of foreigners north of Agadez, the EU effectively made
the livelihoods of hundreds of people transporters illegal.
As long as this law remains in place, transporters will continue
to expand their links with criminal networks so they can continue
to facilitate the transport of migrants across West Africa to North
Africa and Europe. Finally, as long as the international war on
drugs continues, the route through the Sahara will remain a viable
option. It is virtually impossible to police all routes through the
desert and the high profits mean those involved in drug trafficking
are willing to travel via riskier and more difficult routes.
These threats can lead to a number of risks – social, economic
and political – in an environment where state officials are prone
to capture, government accountability is limited, education levels
are low and the economy is undiversified.
We argue that instead of engaging in single hazard risk analysis,
where single climate-related hazards such as drought are
identified as the principle risk driver, we need to engage
in a multi-hazard risk analysis that explicitly acknowledges
the interactions between multiple threats, including economic
and financial instability and geopolitical volatility. These threats
to livelihoods in northern Niger are transboundary and occur
simultaneously, contributing to societal and economic transitions.
Policies and programmes for development – with aims such
as reducing poverty; improving food, water and energy security;
and promoting sustainable and equitable use of resources – need
to be ‘risk-informed’. This entails acknowledging that there are
multiple threats and factors inclusive of and beyond climate
variability and change that act together to present risks
to achieving development outcomes. Development initiatives
need to take a risk-informed approach to considering,
not only these external sources of risks, but how particular
policies or programmes could increase inequalities and
vulnerabilities – indeed create risks – if not undertaken
resiliently or sustainably. Crucially, they also need act on such
knowledge and examine changes and trends in technologies
and economies that may render some livelihoods obsolete.
For instance, agriculture is becoming increasingly globally
mechanised and now requires fewer people.
Development programmes that focus solely on helping traditional
livestock or agriculturally-based livelihoods to be resilient
to climate change are ignoring the risk that they may be locking
some populations into low-remunerative livelihoods rather than
providing the skills to deal with digital transformations, thus
furthering economic divides between countries. Risk-informed
development enables people – and the systems they depend
on – to be resilient in the face of multiple shocks and stressors,
rather than locked into preparing for an unguaranteed single
future. Risk-informed development is about increasing people’s
options in the face of all types of change, not reducing them.
Such an approach aims to help them achieve sustainable
livelihoods and economies, which in turn helps create more
equitable societies.
Using a risk-informed approach to address rising
insecurity in northern Niger would involve:
considering ways to formalise trade without negatively
affecting traders who already respect the law
addressing corruption in the security forces and state
collusion at the highest levels in trafficking
tackling the incredible wage differential between working in
uranium mines run by international companies and smuggling.
A risk informed approach to rising insecurity in northern
Niger would involve acknowledging the complex political
economy of trafficking and the role it played in the deals that
the government made with rebel leaders during the 2007/2008
uprising. As Raineri (2019) argues, preserving a delicate balance
between different elites’ access to trafficking routes is a key
strategy that the Nigerien government uses to stabilise northern
Niger. Similarly addressing corruption in the security services
would involve recognising that the bribes earned by officials
from smuggling represent a crucial income flow that the Nigerien
security forces would not be able to operate without (Tinti and
Westcott, 2016). In the context of armed networks in northern
Niger, we find that initiatives to address the impact of climate
variability and change may be worthwhile but they are unlikely
to have a significant effect on the numbers of young people
joining these networks.
ACLED (2019). Ten conflicts to worry about in 2019.
Akinsanola, A. and Zhou, W. (2018) ‘Projection of West African summer
monsoon rainfall in dynamically downscaled CMIP5 models’
Climate Dynamics (
Alda, E. (2014) Rising tempers, rising temperatures: a look at climate change,
migration and conflict and the implications for youth in the Sahel.
Washington D.C.: World Bank
The Alliance Sahel. (n.d.) ‘Education and youth employment’. Webpage.
The Alliance Sahel (
The Alliance Sahel (2018) ‘The Sahel Alliance officially announces the
implementation of over 500 projects for a total amount of EUR 6bn
to be disbursed between 2018 and 2022’. Press release. The Alliance
Sahel (
Badr, H., Dezfuli, A., Zaitchik, B. and Peters-Lidard, C. (2016) ‘Regionalizing
Africa: Patterns of Precipitation Variability in Observations of Global
Climate Models’ Journal of Climate 29: 9027-9043
Barbier, J., Guichard, F., Bouniol, D., Couvreux, F. and Roehrig, R. (2018)
‘Detection of Intraseasonal Large-Scale Heat Waves: Characteristics and
Historical Trends during the Sahelian Spring’ Journal of Climate 31: 61-80
Benjaminsen, T. A., Alinon, K., Buhaug, H. and Buseth, J.T. (2012) ‘Does
Climate Change Drive Land-Use Conflicts in the Sahel?’ Journal of Peace
Research 49 (1): 97–111 (
Benjaminsen, T.A. and Ba, B. (2018) ‘Why do pastoralists in Mali join
jihadist groups? A political ecological explanation’ The Journal
of Peasant Studies 1–20
Boas, M. (2015) ‘Crime, coping and resistance in Mali-Sahel periphery’
African Security: 8(4): 299–319
Born, C. and Vivekananda, J. (2018) Lake Chad region – climate related
security risk assessment. Stockholm: Expert Working Group on Climate
Related Security Risks
Brachet, J. (2012) ‘Movement of people and good. Local impacts
and dynamics of migration to and through the Central Sahara’
in J. McDougall and J. Scheele (eds.) Saharan Frontiers. Space and
Mobility in Northwest Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Brachet, J. (2018) ‘Manufacturing Smugglers: From Irregular
to Clandestine Mobility in the Sahara’ The ANNALS of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science 676 (1): 16–35.
Bredeloup, S. (ed.) (1995) ‘Dynamiques migratoires et recompositions
sociales en Afrique de l’Ouest’ Mondes en Développement 23 (91):
132 (
Busby, J. (2018) ‘Taking stock: the field of climate and security’
Current Climate Change Reports 4(4): 338–346
Cerre, M. (2019) ‘In Niger, rising temperatures mean barren fields – but
fertile ground for terrorism’. PBS, 16 April (
Chaibou, M. (2005) ‘Productivite zootechnique du desert: le cas du bassin
laitier d’agadez au Niger.’ Montpellier: Université de Montpellier II
Conte, B. (1994) ‘L’apres-Devaluation: Hypotheses et Hypotheques’
Politique Africaine 54: 32–46
Dai, A., Lamb, P., Trenberth, K., Hulme, M., Jones, P. and Xie, P. (2004)
‘The Recent Sahel Drought is Real’ International Journal of Climatology
24: 1323-1331
Detges, A. (2017) Climate and conflict: reviewing statistical
evidence – a summary for policy-makers. Berlin: Adelphi
Diallo, O.A. (2017) ‘Ethnic clashes, jihad and insecurity in central Mali’
Peace Review 29(3): 299–306
Diedhiou, A., Bichet, A., Wartenburger, R., Seneviratne, S., Rowell, D.,
Sylla, M., … and Affholder, F. (2018) ‘ Changes in climate extremes over
West and Central Africa at 1.5°C and 2°C global warming’ Environmental
Research Letters 13: (
Dixon, A with Chabrol, R., Chareyron, B, Dawe, A., Schulz, N., Teule, R.,
… and Tumer, A (2010). Left in the Dust. AREVA’s radioactive legacy
in Niger’s desert towns. Greenpeace
Dynes, R. and Quarantelli, E. (1971) Community Conflict: Its Absence
and Its Presence in Natural Disasters. Preliminary Paper #18.
Delaware: Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware
Economist Intelligence Unit (2015). ‘Uranium workers
end three-day strike.’
subtopic=Fore_4%20A.Accessed 21.05.19
EU (n.d.) ‘EU Emergency trust fund for Africa. Sahel & Lake Chad’. Webpage.
Brussels: European Union (
EU (2011) Strategy for security and development in the Sahel.
Brussels: European Union
Feitelson, E. and Tubi, A. (2017) ‘A main driver or an intermediate variable?
Climate change, water and security in the Middle East’ Global
Environmental Change (2017): 39 – 48
Forsyth, T. and Schomerus, M. (2013) Climate change and conflict:
a systematic evidence review. London: Justice and Security Research
Programme, International Development Department, London School
of Economics and Political Science
Funk, C., Rowland, J., Eilerts, G., Adoum, A. and White, L. (2012)
A Climate Trend Analysis of Niger. Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS)
Fact Sheet 2012-3080. United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Funk, C., Peterson, P., Landsfeld, M., Pedreros, D., Verdin, J., Shukla, S.,
and Michaelsen, J. (2015) ‘The climate hazards infrared precipitation
with stations – a new environmental record for monitoring extremes’.
Scientific Data 2, article number: 150066 (2015)
Gilmore, E.A. (2017) ‘Introduction to a special issue: disciplinary
perspective son climate change and conflict’ Current Climate
Change Reports 3: 193–199
Giannini, A., Biasutti, M. and Verstraete, M. (2008) ‘A climate model-based
review of drought in the Sahel: Desertification, the re-greening
and climate change’ Global and Planetary Change 64: 119–128
Grégoire, E. and Pellerin, M. (2019) ‘Les échanges transsahariens
au fil du temps et des aléas politiques’ Hérodote 172 (1): 153–69
GroFutures (2019) ‘New field experiments assessing groundwater storage
in the Iullemmeden Basin (Niger/Nigeria) (
Haines, G. (2013) ‘“Green Wall” to target Sahel terrorism’, BBC,
3 May (
Hartmann, B. (2014) ‘Converging on disaster: climate security and the
Malthusian anticipatory regime in Africa’ Geopolitics 19(4): 757–783
Haugueland, R. (2017) ‘Sharia as “desert business”: understanding the links
between criminal networks and jihadism in northern Mali’ Stability
Journal 6(1): 1–15
Hearns, G. (2009) Terminal Evaluation of UNEP/GEF Project GF/1030-03-06
(4728) Managing Hydrogeological Risk in the Iullemeden Aquifer System
(lAS). United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Hissler, S. (2010) Econometric study on the impact of rainfall variability
on security in the Sahel region. Paris: Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jacob, D., Taylor, M., Bindi, M., Brown, S., Camilloni,
I., … and Warren, R. (2018) Impacts of 1.5°C of Global Warming on
Natural and Human Systems. In: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCCC
Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-
industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways,
in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of
climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
[Masson-Delmotte, V., Zhai, P., Portner, O., … and Waterfield, T. (eds.)].
UK: Cambridge University Press
Homer-Dixon, T. (1994) ‘Environmental scarcities and violent conflict:
evidence from cases’ International Security 19(1)
Hulme, M. (2001) ‘Climate perspectives on Sahelian desiccation: 1973-1998.
Global Environmental Change 11(1): 19–29
International Crisis Group (2016). Central Mali: An Uprising in the Making?
Africa report No 238. Brussels: International Crisis Group
International Crisis Group (2017). The Social Roots of Jihadist
Violence in Burkina Faso’s North. Africa report No 254.
Brussels: International Crisis Group
International Crisis Group (2018) Stopping Nigeria’s spiralling farmer-herder
violence. Africa report No 262. Brussels: International Crisis Group
International Crisis Group (2019). ‘Central Mali: Putting a Stop to Ethnic
Cleansing.’ Interview.
Julien, S. (2011) “Le Sahel comme espace de transit des stupéfiants.
Acteurs et conséquences politiques.” Hérodote 142(3): 125–42.
Lacher, W. 2012. “Organised Crime and Conflict in the Sahel Sahara Region.
Washington D.C: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Larrasoaña, J., Roberts, A. and Rohling, E (2013) ‘Dynamics of Green Sahara
Periods and Their Role in Hominin Evolution’ PLOS One 8(10): e76514
Marty, A. and Bonnet, B. (2006) ‘Nord Tahoua (Niger): Le Pastoralisme Survit
Aux Changements.’ Grain de Sel
Magrin, G. and Perouse de Montclos, M-A. (2018). Crisis and Development.
The Lake Chad region and Boko Haram
Micallef, M., Horsley, R. and Bish, A. (2019). The Human Conveyor Belt
Broken – Assessing the Collapse of the Human-smuggling Industry
in Libya and the Central Sahel. The Global Initiative Against
Transnational Crime and Clingendael
Molenaar, F. (2016) ‘Irregular Migration and Human Smuggling Networks
in Niger’. The Hague: Clingendael
Mortimore, M. (1972). ‘The Changing Resources of Sedentary Communities
in Air, Southern Sahara’. Geographical Review 62(1): 71–91
Moulla, A., Smati, A., Adjomayi, P., Boukari, M., Thiam, A., Kone, S., …
and Zouari, K. (2011) Integrated and Sustainable Management of Shared
Aquifer Systems and Basins of the Sahel Region: Iullemeden Aquifer
System. Report of the IAEA-Supported Regional Technical Cooperation
Project RAF/7/11: Iullemeden Aquifer System. Vienna, Austria:
International Atomic Energy Agency
Muggah, R. and Cabrera, J.A. (2019) ‘The Sahel is engulfed by violence.
Climate change, food insecurity and extremists are largely to blame’.
World Economic Forum, 23 January (
Nett, K. and Rüttinger, L. (2016) Insurgency, terrorism and organised crime
in a warming climate – analysing the links between climate change
and non-state armed groups. Berlin: Adelphi
Nicholson, S. (2013) ‘The West African Sahel: A Review of Recent Studies
on the Rainfall Regime and Its Interannual Variability’.
ISRN Meteorology, 2013 (
Nicholson, S., Dezfull, A. and Klotter, D. (2012) ‘A two-century precipitation
dataset for the continent of Africa’. Bulletin of the American
Meteorological Society (doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00212.1)
Nikulin, G., Lennard, C., Dosio, A., Kjellström, E., Chen, Y., Hänsler, A.,
… and Maule, C.F. (2018) ‘The effects of 1.5 and 2 degrees of global
warming on Africa in the CORDEX ensemble’. Environmental Research
Letters 13 (doi:10.1088/1748-9326)
Odoulami, R. and Akinsanola, A. (2018) ‘Recent assessment of West
African summer monsoon daily rainfall trends’ Weather 73(9): 283–287
Oueslati, B., Pohl, B., Moron, M., Rome, S. and Janicot, S. (2017)
‘Characterization of Heat Waves in the Sahel and Associated
Physical Mechanisms’ Journal of Climate 30: 3095-3115
Paxian, A., Sein, D., Panitz, H., Warscher, M., Breil, M., Engel, T., … and
Paeth, H. (2016). ‘Bias reduction in decadal predictions of West African
monsoon rainfall using regional climate models.Journal of Geophysical
Research: Atmospheres 121:1715–1735 (doi:10.1002/2015JD024143)
Paeth, H., Paxian, A., Sein, D., Jacob, D., Panitz, H., Warscher, M., …
and Ahrens, B. (2017) ‘Decadal and multi-year predictability of the
West African monsoon and the role of dynamical downscaling’
Meteorologische Zeitschrift 26(4): 363–377
Pellerin, M. (2017) The gold rush in northern Niger. Geneva: Small Arms Survey
Raineri, L. (2019) ‘Cross-Border Smuggling in North Niger: The Morality
of the Informal and the Construction of a Hybrid Order’ in A. Polese,
A. Russo and F. Strazzari (eds.) Governance Beyond the Law. The Immoral.
The Illegal. The Criminal. 227–46. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan
Reitano, T. and Shaw, M. (2014) People’s perspective of organised
crime in West Africa and the Sahel. Paper 254. Pretoria: Institute for
Security Studies. See
Rüttinger, L., Smith, D., Stang, G., Tanzler, D. and Vivkananda, J. (2015)
A new climate for peace: taking action on climate and fragility risks.
Berlin: Adelphi, International Alert, Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars and European Union Institute for Security Studies
Scheffran, J., Brozoska, M., Kominek, J., Link, M. and Schilling, J. (2012)
‘Climate change and violent conflict’ Science 336: 869-871
Selby, J. (2014) ‘Positivist climate conflict research: a critique’
Geopolitics 19(4): 829–856
Shanahan, T.M., Overpeck, J.T., Anchukaitis, K.J., Beck, J.W., Cole, J.,
Dettman, D.L., … and Scholz, C.A. (2009). ‘Atlantic forcing of persistent
drought in West Africa’ Science 324: 377–380
Spittler, G. (1993) Les Touaregs Face Aux Sécheresses et Aux Famines.
Paris: Karthala
Tessières, S. de. (2018) ‘At the crossroads of Sahelian conflicts: insecurity,
terrorism, and arms trafficking in Niger’. Geneva: Small Arms Survey
Trémolières, M. (2010) ‘Security and environmental variables: the debate
and an analysis of links in the Sahel’. Paris: Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Tinti, P. and Westcott, T. (2016) ‘The Niger-Libya Corridor: Smugglers’
Perspectives’. Paper 299. Dakar: Institute of Security Studies
Thebaud, B., Christian C., Arnaud F. and Powell, A. (2018) ‘10 Key Findings
on Livestock Mobility in West Africa – A Reality Check’. Nordic
Consulting Group, CIRAD-PPZS, Dakar and Acting for Life
UN (2018) UN support plan for the Sahel: working together for a prosperous
and peaceful Sahel. New York: United Nations
UNCCD (n.d.) ‘Sustainability, Stability, Security (3S Initiative)’. Webpage.
Bonn: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
UNCCD (2014) Desertification: the invisible frontline. 2nd edition.
Bonn: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
UNCCD (2018) A rising Africa in a fragile environment: the initiative on
sustainability, stability and security. Bonn: United Nations Convention
to Combat Desertification
UNODC (n.d.) The Sahel programme. Webpage. Vienna: United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime (
UNODC. (2010) ‘World Drug Report’. United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime
UNODC (2013) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime contribution to the
United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel. Vienna: United Nations
office on Drugs and Crime
United Nations Environment Programme (2011) Livelihood security: climate
change, migration and conflict in the Sahel. Geneva: United Nations
Environment Programme
United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (2018) Pastoralism and
security in West Africa and the Sahel: towards a peaceful coexistence.
Dakar: United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel
United Nations Security Council (2018) 8307th Meeting. S/PV.8307
United Nations Security Council (2019) 8451st Meeting. S/PV.8451
United Nations Secretary-General (2013) Report of the Secretary General
on the Situation in the Sahel. New York: United Nations
Upton, K., O’ Dochartaigh, B. and Bellwood-Howard, I. (2018) Africa
Groundwater Atlas: Hydrogeology of Niger. British Geological Survey.
Verhoeven, H. (2011) ‘Climate change, conflict and development in
Sudan: global neo-Malthusian narratives and local power struggles’
Development and Change 42(3): 679–707
Verhoeven, H. (2014) ‘Gardens of Eden or hearts of darkness? The genealogy
of discourses on environmental insecurity and climate wars in Africa’
Geopolitics 19(4): 784–805
Vivekananda, J., Wall, M., Sylvestre, F., Nagarajan, C. and Brown, O. (2019)
Shoring up stability: addressing climate and fragility risks in the Lake Chad
Region. Berlin: Adelphi
Vizy, E., Cook, K., Cretat, J and Neupane, N. (2013) ‘Projections of a Wetter
Sahel in the Twenty-First Century from Global and Regional Models’
Journal of Climate 26: 4664-4687
Walch, C. (2017) ‘Fertile ground? Climate change and jihadism in Mali’.
New Security Beat, 8 May (
Walch, C. (2018) ‘Disaster risk reduction amidst armed conflict: informal
institutions, rebel groups and wartime political orders’ Disasters 42(S2):
WEF (2019) ‘Davos 2019 – Ending Violence in the Sahel’. Video. World
Economic Forum, 10 Feb (
World Bank (2019) ‘Climate Change Knowledge Portal – Niger’
Zinder archives (1914). Agricultural report, 2nd trimester (in Spittler, 1993)
Annex 1: Method
We carried out a literature review across a collection of topic areas,
including insecurity in the Sahel and evidence of climate change
there, also looking at the evolution of economic and political
dynamics in northern Niger and how this has impacted livelihoods
over the last 50 years.
Based on the literature review, we developed an interview guide for
conducting life histories. The interview guide focused on exploring
socioeconomic indicators during an interviewees’ childhoods,
such as living conditions, parental level of education and major
shocks, along with the factors influencing his livelihood choices
during his life.
We carried out interviews with 25 smugglers and 16 smugglers’
fathers in February and March 2019. Our initial intention was
to interview 25 of the latter but it was surprisingly difficult to track
down this group, as many were living in hard to reach villages,
were travelling at the time of the research or had died.
Three members of our research team were Nigerien and one was
Irish. One of our Nigerien researchers had been a former people
smuggler. To sample smugglers, we used his knowledge of the
smuggling networks in the villages around Agadez. The team then
travelled to Emzagar and Tabelot to carry out interviews with
smugglers working in conjunction with both the migrant and gold
mining industry. Finally, one of the researchers travelled to Ingall
to sample smugglers operating across the Niger/Mali border,
dealing in arms and drugs. One of the smugglers we interviewed
was a coupeur du route (bandit).
The interviews were carried out in either Tamashek, Hausa or local
Arabic. Interview notes were typed up in French and shared with
the team leader. The data was coded using MaxQDA with key
demographic indicators recorded in Excel. All data was anonymised.
The views presented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views
of BRACED, its partners or donor.
Readers are encouraged to reproduce material from BRACED Knowledge Manager Reports for their own
publications, as long as they are not being sold commercially. As copyright holder, the BRACED programme
requests due acknowledgement and a copy of the publication. For online use, we ask readers to link
to the original resource on the BRACED website.
BRACED aims to build the resilience of more than 5 million vulnerable
people against climate extremes and disasters. It does so through a three-year,
UK Government funded programme, which supports 108 organisations, working
in 15 consortiums, across 13 countries in East Africa, the Sahel and Southeast Asia.
Uniquely, BRACED also has a Knowledge Manager consortium.
The Knowledge Manager consortium is led by the Overseas Development Institute
and includes the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the Asian Disaster
Preparedness Centre, ENDA Energie, ITAD, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The authors would like to thank all of the interviewees who generously gave
their time for this research, especially the smugglers’ fathers who were sometimes
in poor health and had little energy to answer questions about their past. The
authors are grateful to Francesco Strazzari, Rebecca Nadin and Maarten Van
Aalst for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts. The authors are also
grateful to Katie Peters, who encouraged us to carry out this research and gave
us advice in developing our argument. The authors would like to thank Mousa Na
Abou for research support during fieldwork. The authors would also like to thank
Rajeshree Sisodia for production support.
The BRACED Knowledge Manager generates evidence and
learning on resilience and adaptation in partnership with the
BRACED projects and the wider resilience community. It gathers
robust evidence of what works to strengthen resilience to climate
extremes and disasters, and initiates and supports processes
to ensure that evidence is put into use in policy and programmes.
The Knowledge Manager also fosters partnerships to amplify
the impact of new evidence and learning, in order to significantly
improve levels of resilience in poor and vulnerable countries
and communities around the world.
Published September 2019
Twitter: @bebraced
Cover image: Migrant truck, Agadez, Niger, by Sven Torfinn
Designed and typeset by Soapbox,
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Purpose of Review After nearly 15 years of study, what do we know about the relationship between climate change and security? How can scholars of climate and security inform the world of practice? These questions animate this article, with an eye towards avoiding the twin traps of policy incoherence and academic irrelevance. Recent Findings The last 15 years of study has focused on whether climate change is directly correlated with the onset of violent internal conflict. That being inconclusive, the literature has now productively turned to studying the indirect pathways and mediating factors between climate and social conflict, including but not limited to armed violence. Summary I focus on five different causal pathways and mediating factors that represent the frontier of research on the study of climate and conflict. These include agricultural production and food prices, economic growth, migration, disasters, and international and domestic institutions.
Full-text available
In this study, we investigate changes in temperature and precipitation extremes over West and Central Africa (hereafter, WAF domain) as a function of global mean temperature with a focus on the implications of a global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C according the Paris Agreement. We applied a scaling approach to capture changes in climate extremes with increase in global mean temperature in several subregions within the WAF domain: Western Sahel, Central Sahel, Eastern Sahel, Guinea Coast and Central Africa including Congo Basin. While there are several uncertainties and large ensemble spread in the projections of temperature and precipitation indices, most models show high-impact changes in climate extremes at sub-regional scale. At these smaller scales, temperature increases within the WAF domain are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase (at 1.5°C and at 2°C) and heat waves are expected to be more frequent and longer. The most intense warming is observed over the drier regions of the Sahel, in the Central Sahel and particularly in the Eastern Sahel, where the precipitation and the soil moisture anomalies have the highest probability of projected increase at a global warming of 1.5°C. Over the wetter regions of the Guinea Coast and Central Africa, models project a weak change in total precipitation and a decrease of the length of wet spells while these two regions have the highest increase of heavy rainfall in the WAF domain at a global warming of 1.5°C. Western Sahel is projected by 80% of models to experience the strongest drying with a significant increase in the length of dry spells and a decrease in the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index. This study suggests that the "dry gets drier, wet gets wetter" paradigm is not valid within the WAF domain.
Full-text available
Purpose of Review Researchers from five social science disciplines—anthropology, criminology, economics, geography, and political science—review the literature on climate change and conflict, focusing on the contributions since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report. Recent Findings These authors find little evidence for direct pathways from climate change to violence, especially for group-level violence and armed conflict. However, there is stronger evidence for indirect effects in agricultural and other vulnerable settings and for exacerbating ongoing violence rather than initiating new violence. The authors also emphasize the importance of governance and institutions, adaptive capacity, and potential cooperative behavior in moderating violence. Summary Looking across disciplines and employing the full range of research synthesis tools can improve the characterization and communication of the evidence. Focusing on interactions of climate mitigation and adaptation policies with conflict as well as opportunities for peace building can provide more actionable research for the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.
Full-text available
West African summer monsoon precipitation is characterized by distinct decadal variability. Due to its well-documented link to oceanic boundary conditions in various ocean basins it represents a paradigm for decadal predictability. In this study, we reappraise this hypothesis for several sub-regions of sub-Saharan West Africa using the new German contribution to the coupled model intercomparison project phase 5 (CMIP5) near-term prediction system. In addition, we assume that dynamical downscaling of the global decadal predictions leads to an enhanced predictive skill because enhanced resolution improves the atmospheric response to oceanic forcing and land-surface feedbacks. Based on three regional climate models, a heterogeneous picture is drawn: none of the regional climate models outperforms the global decadal predictions or all other regional climate models in every region nor decade. However, for every test case at least one regional climate model was identified which outperforms the global predictions. The highest predictive skill is found in the western and central Sahel Zone with correlation coefficients and mean-square skill scores exceeding 0.9 and 0.8, respectively.
Full-text available
In the Sahel very high temperatures prevail in spring, but little is known about heat waves in this region at that time of year. This study documents Sahelian heat waves with a new methodology that allows selecting heat waves at specific spatiotemporal scales and can be used in other parts of the world. It is applied separately to daily maximum and minimum temperatures, as they lead to the identification of distinct events. Synoptic-intraseasonal Sahelian heat waves are characterized from March to July over the period 1950-2012 with the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) gridded dataset. Morphological and temperature-related characteristics of the selected heat waves are presented. From March to July, the further into the season, the shorter and the less frequent the heat waves become. From 1950 to 2012, these synoptic-intraseasonal heat waves do not tend to be more frequent; however, they become warmer, and this trend follows the Sahelian climatic trend. Compared to other commonly used indices, the present index tends to select heat waves with more uniform intensities. This comparison of indices also underlined the importance of the heat index definition on the estimated climatic heat wave trends in a changing climate. Finally, heat waves were identified with data from three meteorological reanalyses: ERA-Interim, MERRA, and NCEP-2. The spreads in temperature variabilities, seasonal cycles, and trends among reanalyses lead to differences in the characteristics, interannual variability, and climatic trends of heat waves, with fewer departures from BEST for ERA-Interim.
Post devaluation : hypotheses and mortgages. The recent CFA franc devaluation is a new external stroke for the African countries of the Franc Area (PAZF). Given the deplorable economical and social situation of most of them, this measure is often presented as an ultimate resort and seems to heavily condition the future. The possible PAZF futures fit into two opposite scenarii. The first pessimistic one makes room for a series of unfortunate chain of events leading up to increasing marginalization and pauperization and could also give rise to a growing lack of interest from the international community for the continent. The second alternative, more optimistic, sounds hopeful by conveying a revolution in the African elite behavior who would, from now on, work for the present and future well-being of the whole population.
Trans-Saharan exchanges over time and political uncertainties This text which focuses on the central Sahara (Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger), traces, first of all, the evolution of trans-Saharan trade since the pre-colonial era until 2011, this year being a pivotal date, because marked by major political events: Arab Spring, fall of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi which has paved the way to a civil war still ongoing, beginning of a new Tuareg rebellion assisted by jihadists in northern Mali. The authors then analyse the impact of these political events on trans-Saharan flows (since 2011) and underline the pervasiveness of informality and fraud due to the corruption of state agents and the weakness of these states. Finally, this text deals with the criminal nature of some flows through the examination of drug and arms trafficking and concludes on the incapacity of States to restore their authority in these marginal and lawlessness areas.
Extant research has explored the effect of natural hazards on the risk of armed conflict, but very few studies have examined how conflict dynamics affect disaster risk reduction (DRR), including climate change adaptation. This is surprising given the empirical evidence that indicates how often disasters and armed conflicts collide. To understand better the impact of armed conflict on DRR, this paper develops a conceptual typology that is based on rebel groups’ territorial control and on the strength of informal institutions. It documents three main political orders amid conflict: rebel stability; informal stability; and fragmented landscape. These wartime political orders will have different effects on DRR and other development programmes, revealing the importance of desegregating armed conflict to facilitate tailor‐made and more efficient interventions. The paper provides empirical evidence from Mali and the Philippines that illustrates the influence of these wartime political orders on DRR programmes.
Since 2015 jihadist groups have taken control of the Mopti region in central Mali. We ask how such a radical development has been possible in a country previously praised as a bulwark against radical Islam in Africa. While the dominant literature on the crisis in Mali has focused on how global political economic developments and international jihadist thinking and organisation relate to national dynamics, we take a materialist political ecology approach to explain the current situation. By focusing on the micro-politics of two land-use conflicts and how these conflicts are affected by the jihadist expansion, we seek to explain peasant (or pastoral) logics behind joining these armed groups. In particular, pastoralists seem to support the jihadist takeover, because of an anti-state, anti-elite and pro-pastoral jihadist discourse, because they have become increasingly fatigued by and disgruntled with a predatory and corrupt state, and because the development model imposed by the state and international donors has not responded to pastoral priorities. Rent-seeking by government officials has been especially intense in relation to conflicts over pastoral land, environmental management and the fight against desertification. This happened while the international community continued to praise Mali as a model of African democracy.