A Convenient Excuse

NAIROBI: Al Gore has done a fine job alerting those who wouldn’t otherwise listen to the dangers of climate change. For that he thoroughly deserves his Nobel Prize. But something interesting is going on. His is the second peace prize awarded to an environmental campaigner following the precedent of Wangari Maathai three years ago. Increasingly a link is being made between the environment and conflict in the developing world.

Al Gore

Nowhere has this been more obvious than in Darfur.  Earlier this year Ban ki-Moon, secretary-general of the UN, wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post headlined A Climate Culprit In Darfur, arguing that the start of the conflict coincided with a drought in Sudan. The drought precipitated (ahem) a breakdown in relations between herders and settled farmers as they both struggled for food and water.

It is one short hop to pin the blame on manmade climate change. This is neat. Brilliantly neat. It lets the UN off the hook for its failures in Darfur – how can it singlehandedly roll back global warming – and pins the blame on the developed world and its carbon emissions. So with the guilt receptors nicely triggered, aid agencies and the UN can embark on a fresh round of fundraising in the West.

Much easier to raise money if fingers are not being pointed at Khartoum for killing its own people or the rebels for passing up the chance of peace talks.

One problem: This is not the Darfur recognised by Abduljabbar Abdellah Fadul, an economist and expert in natural resources at El Fasher University. “This is a political conflict,” he told me during my recent visit. “Global warming has exacerbated the problem, but this is an issue of resource management.” Ultimately a lack of investment and the marginalisation of the Darfuri people has meant that stone age survival strategies are still being used in the 21st Century. It is a nonsense to blame climate change for a lack of roads, railways, schools and jobs. And it overlooks the way that Khartoum has ruthlessly mobilised tribes against each other.

I have seen the same thing happen in northern Kenya. Last year aid agencies launched huge fundraising campaigns to ease the suffering of nomadic herders, again blaming climate change for the problem. Much safer than blaming the government for abandoning its ethnic Somali population and risking dangerous accusations that charities are involved in “political activities”.

Herders in Wajir, northern Kenya, standing amid the remains of their cattle herd in the drought of 2006f

There is no doubt that global warming is happening. But it is not the whole story. So never mind Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth – I’m starting to think that climate change is becoming a convenient excuse.

3 thoughts on “A Convenient Excuse

  1. Analysis of Darfur has to improve. Let’s acknowledge that the long term tribal conflicts within Darfur and elsewhere that have a component over natural resources are a serious problem. Though these have been manipulated in the larger political conflict over marginalisation of Darfur they are not the same issue.

    Of course the blaming climate for underinvestment is nonsense – and it is a great shame to make such a simplistic parody of the considerable environmental challenges that Darfur faces. Darfur faces huge problems both on environmental and political fronts. Setting one issue against another doesn’t help understand the complexity of how the issues interrelate, and how they both need to be addressed.

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