“Terrorists Don't Like Electricity”

Climate change threatens the security and stability of all countries. Fragile regions are particularly affected. The impacts of climate change are an additional driver of tension and make it more difficult to resolve conflicts peacefully. How does Mali, one of the most fragile states in the world, deal with the effects of climate change? An interview with Hussein Nafo, Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Mali, about peacebuilding and sustainability.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | February 2020
MSC 2020 Hussein Nafo Header Interview

At the Munich Security Conference, Hussein Nafo explained how to de-escalate tensions using the example of Mali.

Your home country Mali faces many challenges as one of the most fragile states in the world, especially in the past years with various violent conflicts. How does climate change exacerbate this particular situation?

Hussein Nafo: I think you have to start with the geographical and economic situation of the country itself. Mali finds itself in the middle of the Sahel, which is the one of the most arid places on earth. Two thirds of Mali itself are desert and the country is landlocked. With an economy that is largely natural resource based, we are looking at a confluence of challenges, such as poverty, insecurity and lately conflicts plus the effects of climate change in the form of increased temperatures and a subsequent decrease in our agricultural yield. We have seen very high variability in rainfall, which makes it very hard for farmers to predict and grow crops. That in turn has created some internal migration within Mali. As you can see, there is a very vicious cycle which creates this feeding loop between the climate change impacts and conflicts as well as all the other challenges I have mentioned. Climate change literally exacerbates and complicates the situation. With poverty, you have displacement, with rarefication of natural resources you have more stress on resources. We are seeing a significantly increased risk of violent extremism as well as conflicts between herders and farmers.

What does this mean with regard to peacebuilding activities in Mali and the region as a whole?

Building on the understanding that the impacts of climate change undermine stability and sustainability, you are also quickly addressing the core of peacebuilding: Any successful peacebuilding effort must bring about stability and be sustainable. Climate change takes those very elements away from you and places new demands on peacebuilding activities. In peacebuilding, you usually have a military/security element and maybe a humanitarian element. Development is actually a core benefit, but it is rarely addressed as a central question. In the case of Mali and the Sahel, this means that if you do not integrate climate considerations in your efforts, you risk ruining all the steps and the progress you have made. This is totally new. In my view, this is also a challenge in peacebuilding per se. Teams on the ground are not equipped from a conceptual, macroeconomic point of view nor do they have an understanding of the interplay of the effects of climate change in particular sectors and in particular areas. From a conceptual point of view, this is a challenge. From an operational point of view, it is also problematic for the coordination between all the different stakeholders both nationally and internationally. Therefore, we need to adopt a holistic systems approach to peacebuilding and move away from the industrial nature it has developed over the past decades.

Hussein Seyni Nafo Ausschnitt

Hussein Seyni Nafo


Hussein Nafo is Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Mali and represents Africa's concerns in the fight against climate change. As spokesperson of the African Group of Negotiators at COP-meetings, he collaborated on the development of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI). The initiative is committed to drive the transformation of the African energy sector toward universal access, sustainable production and good governance.

Given your regional background, can you give local examples of where adaptation to climate change helped to avoid further tensions?

Yes, there are plenty. Again, climate change causes a rarefication of natural resources. The most successful concrete measures address how, at a local level, you increase access to or the availability of technology, finance and capacity to produce whatever you need to produce. In a village for instance, again taking a holistic approach, this could be anything, which increases sustainable energy production or energy for productive use. This could be an average system with solar and battery energy which could power that entire village. There is a quote by President Keïta based on what we have seen in most of our villages: “Terrorists don't like electricity”. With electricity, you gain not only lighting, but also energy for productive use. You bring sustainable water management, like drip irrigation for instance which helps ensure (usually women’s) cooperatives have enough water for their crops. In doing so, you increase the yield. Consider also specific funding through microcredits as well as risk mitigation instruments such as agro-risk schemes to protect against rainfall variability. These things can make a huge difference, as can digital services such as weather information on the internet. We have seen that if you are able to bring to a village all these tools in a technology package, in a finance package and with an alliance of all the stakeholders you actually transform that local area. Again, this needs very good coordination among all stakeholders – and this is the biggest challenge that we have faced – at the national, local, regional as well as the international level and with technical and financial partners.

In order to bring about significant changes you need to cut emissions globally.

You just alluded to the various levels involved. In your opinion, what can be done at the international level to help support the stabilization of countries such as Mali with regard to ecological as well as political aspects?

On the ecological part that is easy. Mali and for that matter the whole of Africa only emit less than four percent of greenhouse gases. In order to bring about significant changes you need to cut emissions globally and that is why we are that involved in international negotiations at the UN and elsewhere. The continent, and this is extremely unfortunate, is on the receiving end of the consequences to others’ actions. This is different to the Aids crisis where we have seen many of our countries make great progress over the last ten years because of the strategy we put in place. We have been able to transform it from a survival crisis to what is now a serious public health issue. However, it is no longer an issue threatening the very survival of the country. Unfortunately, this is not the case with climate change because the emissions have to decrease outside of our borders. Under the Paris Agreement – which 53 out of 54 African countries have signed – Mali is revising its climate target this year. For the implementation of that plan, support at the international level for finance, technology and capacity building is central. At the domestic level, supporting the national processes and ensuring sustained engagement and country ownership is key.

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