ECC Platform Library


Conflict Between Tuareg and Farming Communities in Mali

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 1.5
Western Africa
Time 1991 ‐ 1996
Countries Mali
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary During the Tuareg rebellion of 1990-1995 many farming communities in northern Mali formed self-defence militias. In 1994, these merged into a larger...
Conflict Between Tuareg and Farming Communities in Mali
During the Tuareg rebellion of 1990-1995 many farming communities in northern Mali formed self-defence militias. In 1994, these merged into a larger organisation known as Ganda Koi. Originally intended to protect farming communities against Tuareg banditry, it was soon accused of unprovoked attacks against Tuareg civilians. A further issue opposing Tuaregs and farming communities supporting the Ganda Koi was competition over land and an incompatibility over land rights. The Tuaregs were in favour of communal property rights in line with their mostly nomadic lifestyle, whereas farming communities preferred private property rights.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Although communal violence between Tuareg and farming groups already existed, the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s were aggravating factors.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Many Tuareg fled Mali as a result of the extreme weather events and, upon their return in the late 1980s, sharp competition over land further strained the farmer-herder relations. A further issue was the incompatibility over land rights, in which the nomadic Tuaregs were in favour of communal property rights, and farming communities preferred private property rights.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

During the Tuareg rebellion of 1990-1995 many farming communities in northern Mali formed self-defence militias. Conflicts often involved indiscriminate attacks on civilians associated with either Tuareg rebels or self-defence forces.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversExtreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.Extreme weather event leads to displacements.Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather Event(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Insecure Land Tenure
  • Water-stressed Area
  • History of Conflict
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Marginalization
Conflict History

From early 1991, the north of Mali saw a gradual rise of communal conflicts opposing Tuaregs and self-defence forces of farming communities such as the Songhoi. The conflicts often involved land disputes and mutual suspicions. Drawing on inter-communal and racial tensions, these conflicts often involved indiscriminate attacks on civilians associated with either Tuareg rebels or self-defence forces (see Tuareg Rebellion in Mali). In 1994, different self-defence units merged into an organisation called Mouvement Patriotique Ganda Koi (“Ganda koi” literally meaning “land owner” in Songhoi), which officially disbanded in 1996 along with the last active Tuareg rebel group (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 1997Hershkowitz, 2005).

Insecurity and sectarian politics in northern Mali
Different factors contributed to the eruption of communal violence in northern Mali. Most apparently, the army’s indiscipline and failure to provide security for northern communities motivated violent responses by both, Tuaregs and farming groups. As renegade elements of the army were indiscriminately attacking and displacing civilians in the North, some farming communities profited from goods and resources left behind by fleeing Tuaregs stirring resentment amongst Tuareg communities. On the other hand, the lack of security in the North provided the opportunity for Tuareg bandits to raid famers and traders, prompting the creation of self-defence forces, which, in turn, got involved in indiscriminate retaliation against Tuareg civilians. This antagonism was reinforced by the perception of the government as being sectarian in favour of farming communities, in some cases even providing weapons to self-defence forces (Keïta, 1998Humphreys & Mohamed, 2003).

Drought, agricultural encroachment and land disputes
Farmer-herder relations were further strained by the expansion of cultures onto pasture land, some of which had been abandoned by Tuareg pastoralists during the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, when many Tuareg fled to Algeria and Libya.  As they returned to Mali in the late 1980s, these herders entered into sharp competition over land and land legislation with farming communities: The Tuaregs were in favour of communal property rights in line with their mostly nomadic lifestyle, whereas farming communities - who had been privileged by past land laws - promoted the extension of private property rights. Given their privileged status, they were afraid of the concessions, the government would make if the Tuareg rebellion was to succeed, thus providing an additional incentive to fight Tuareg groups (Keïta, 1998Hershkowitz, 2005).

It is however worth mentioning that the relations between farmer communities such as the Songhoi and different Tuareg insurgent groups varied in function of their economic interdependency. Tuareg groups having close business relations with Songhoi famers and traders, for instance, were much less likely to attack these (Keïta, 1998).

Eventually, the Tuareg rebels engaged negotiations with the Ganda Koi in late 1994 and several accords were signed throughout 1995. The Ganda Koi officially disbanded in 1996 along with the last active Tuareg rebel group. They have however been involved in new attacks on Tuareg communities in the wake of renewed conflicts in 2012 (HRW, 2012). 

Resolution Efforts

Negotiations between Tuareg rebel groups and the Ganda Koi began in November 1994 and were largely organised by community groups. Several accords were reached throughout 1995, providing for the coordination between Tuaregs and farming communities to prevent banditry and demilitarise the north of Mali. These efforts were encouraged by the Malian president Alpha Oumar Konaré and backed by military operations to suppress the violent activities of community self-defence forces. The Ganda Koi officially disbanded in 1996 along with the last active Tuareg rebel group (Lode, 2002).

Demilitarisation and local peace agreements
Several factors contributed to the demilitarisation process. Firstly, the Government of Mali was able to regain control over its army and to withdraw troops from the North, which had been involved in human rights abuses. Mixed patrols were put in place with a more humanitarian role, facilitating food distribution and engaging in consultations with local communities. Secondly, the Malian army dissociated from anti-Tuareg self-defence units and conducted several operations to suppress their violent activities. The Tuareg rebels, on the other hand, were weakened and financially exhausted by their fight against the government. Lastly, local communities were encouraged to take responsibility for the peace process in northern Mali, leading the way to a series of self-managed inter-community meetings, the creation of localised peace agreements, and the resolution of local land disputes (Keïta, 1998Lode, 2002Humphreys & Mohamed, 2003).

Nevertheless, renewed Tuareg insurgencies in 2007 and 2012 have led to the resurgence of farming community self-defence units, such as the Ganda-Izo and the New Ganda-Koi (HRW, 2012).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence reduced significantly, but did not cede.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Decrease in conflict intensity at least partially the result of conflict resolution strategies.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Tuareg communities
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Songhoi communities
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Government of Mali
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Disarmament, demobilisation & reintegration The Malian government and army encouraged a peace process that included food distribution, engaging in consultations with local communities, and suppressing the violent activities of community self-defence forces.
3 Dialogue Local communities organised negotiations between Tuareg rebel groups and the Ganda Koi, leading to the creation of localised peace agreements and the resolution of local land disputes.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse


Adaptation & Resilience

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Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Environment & Migration

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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