Past, present and future perspectives


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HIV/AIDS leads to labour shortages, decreased productivity, reduced income and an increasing number of dependents. In turn, traditional farming methods are often lost together with, inter-generational knowledge, and specialized skills, practices and customs.


One of the most destructively persistent historical legacies of Africa's past has been the subversion and destruction of indigenous coping strategies due to foreign military, political, administrative and economic interference. Colonial dispossession of the richest traditional pastoral and agricultural lands from Africans, and the commodotization of agriculture production for export purposes, marked two of the most far-reaching colonial interventions which have significantly contributed to Africa's current state of vulnerability. The loss of pasturage and farmland to colonial settlement/private ownership, and insecure land tenure for the native population, have further undermined traditional coping strategies. In Eastern and Southern Africa, in particular, indigenous Africans were confined to marginal, and increasingly degraded and unproductive, lands due to the impacts of settler agriculture, colonialism and subsequent changes in traditional land tenure which exacerbated negative environmental change after independence. In Ethiopia, for example, foreign resource conservation measures introduced by the government between 1971 and 1985 not only eroded indigenous processes of resource conservation, but also led to soil erosion and impact on crop production (Singh 2000).


A total of 26 armed conflicts erupted in Africa between 1963 and 1998, affecting 474 million people in Africa, or 61 per cent of the population. Some 79 per cent of people were affected in Eastern Africa; 73 per cent in Central Africa; 64 per cent in Western Africa; 51 per cent in Northern Africa; and 29 per cent in Southern Africa (ECA 2001). Another impact of armed conflict is the creation of refugees. In 2001 in Central Africa and the Horn of Africa, for example, a total of about 9.6 million people were either refugees or internally displaced as a result of armed conflict (US Committee for Refugees 2001). Refugee settlements often result in environmental degradation which, in turn, increase human vulnerability, limiting livelihood options and exposing the refugees to health risks.

Environmental change due to environmental stress has an indirect impact on the outbreak of conflict. Environmental stress-including deforestation, land degradation and scarce supply of freshwater-alone, and in combination with high population density, increases the risk of low-level conflict.

Armed conflict over resources can also spill over national borders. In 1977-78, deforestation and soil degradation, in conjunction with rapid population growth, forced Somali pastoralists to migrate to Ethiopia, resulting in conflict between the two countries (Molvoer 1991). Overgrazing induced widespread deforestation and desertification in Somalia, prompting the large migrations of Somali pastoralists into Ethiopian territory. The migrations brought the Somali pastoralists face to face with local Ethiopians who were dependent on the same resources. The bitter competition between these groups fuelled cross-border tensions which eventually found an outlet in armed conflict between the two nations.

Conflicts in the region are partly attributed to disputes over environmental resources. For example, Liberia/Sierra Leone/Guinea conflicts are partly attributed to contest over the resources of the Manor River basin. The DRC/Rwanda conflicts, the Sudanese conflict, and tribal conflicts and wars in many African countries are attributed, in part, to contest over natural resources. Environmental problems which are exacerbated by civil strife, armed conflicts and wars are threatening the survival of large numbers of people in the Africa region, and these problems are becoming increasingly serious. The types of environmentally related conflicts include:

The situation described above is vividly illustrated by a case study on natural resources scarcity and conflicts, summarized in the Box 3.10.

Box 3.10 Natural resources scarcity and conflicts

The semi-arid land of northern Uganda is usually referred to as Karamoja. It is home to pastoralists called karimojong,made up of several tribes which depend on livestock for food, payment of bride price and other cash needs.

Karamoja is characterized by low/unreliable rainfall. Scarcity of water for human and animal needs, and inadequate pasture for grazing, results in overstocking of livestock in the area in relation to the carrying capacity of the limited pasture. The groundwater resources on which the population depend has been reducing because the water table in the area has been falling since 1960, as a result of the effects of drought and other aspects of environmental degradation. Also, the rate of livestock loss is high, due to the effects of drought and disease. Furthermore, about 50 per cent of Karamoja is a protected biodiversity conservation area, where the government prohibits any human activities.

The explosive situation described above has led to internal armed conflicts and cattle raiding between the different tribes, and also to external armed conflicts with people from neighbouring countries with the same resource scarcity problems.

Source: Y.Moyini, Natural Resources Scarcity and Conflicts: Case of Northern Uganda (unpublished 2002)

The analysis of the relationship between environmental change (especially that which leads to scarcity), violent conflict and security has highlighted both positive and negative social effects (Matthew 2000). The negative social effects of environmental change include:

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