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ICE Case Studies
Number 219, December 2010

Central African Republic

Zachary Adams

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

Map of the CATA growing course of study in international affairs is the role of climate change in producing conflict.  As the reality of climate change becomes widely accepted, policymakers are concerned about the human effects that could result.  Climate change is not widely considered to be a cause of conflict, but rather a factor that contributes to it, either by accelerating or multiplying existing threats.  The region comprised of the area at which the borders of the Central African Republic, Chad, and Sudan meet is an appropriate case for illustrating both how a climate change hot zone contributes to conflict and how the United Nations has responded.  Peacebuilding missions should incorporate projects of climate change adaptation in order to help stem further conflict.  Finally, climate change and environmental issues need not be considered wholly challenges, but can in part be considered opportunities for cooperation and relationship-building.

2. Description

If major governmental players are worried about the potential for climate change to produce failed states, what is the effect on already-failed states? The Central African Republic and three of its immediate neighbors, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan are all ranked in the top-10 of the 2010 Failed States Index (eighth, second, fifth, and third, respectively). This index aggregates rankings on 12 indicators to assess each country's stability. All four are categorized as critical.

The area in which CAR, Chad, and Sudan meet, which will be referred to as the central African triangle (CAT), is a porous and lawless area in the center of the three countries. This area has recently been characterized by refugee flows, arms flows, hunger, banditry, and as a haven for rebels from each country. Recently, Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, somewhat freely travelled through CAR and into Western Darfur in Sudan (Enough Project 2010, para. 4).

While the CAT has long been an area of insecurity, the current extremes have their immediate roots in the last decade. A number of assessments of the conflict in Darfur have applied identity labels to each group involved. It is a worthy endeavor to mention these. The people of Darfur are largely considered to be "black Africans," Christian or Animist, and agrarian. They came into conflict with the Arab, Muslim, nomadic herdsmen from the north. This dichotomy is not a wholly accurate reflection of the identity aspects of the conflict, but it does provide some reference to cultural differences that underlie the conflict. When herdsmen from the north brought their herds south for grazing, southerners defended their land and crops from destruction.

This touched off a conflict that expanded to include Sudanese government-backed northern militias and a number of Darfur rebel movements. The conflict escalated; when civilian populations were targeted, massive refugee movements into nearby Chad and CAR destabilized the respective areas:

The Darfur crisis has aggravated conflicts in Chad and the Central African Republic, expanding the protection challenge. Violent crossborder activities have led to accusations of meddling by all three countries, and Chad has accused the janjaweed of exporting its genocidal agenda. The result is hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the conflict triangle. (Bah and Johnstone 2007, p. 5-6)

By some assessments, the CAT became the center of a complicated proxy war between the Chadian and Sudanese governments. Sudan accused Chad of supporting the projects of rebel movements in Darfur to destabilize Khartoum. According to Stephanie Hanson (2007), "The Chadian government supports the Darfur rebel groups, allowing them to operate from bases within Chad in return for their assistance against the rebels trying to overthrow the Chadian president" (para. 11). Meanwhile, Chad accused Sudan of supporting Chadian rebel groups bent on overthrowing Ndjamena: "though initially unsubstantiated, these accusations are supported today by several sources" (Hanson 2007, para. 10). CAR also accused Sudan of supporting rebels, but there are no indications or accusations of CAR government support of its neighbors' rebel groups. Scholar Jennifer De Maio argues,

the spillover of violence is the result of calculations on the part of the Sudanese government, which is using the violence in Darfur to wage proxy wars in Chad and the Central African Republic. A dangerous system of war has developed, with the governments of Chad, the CAR, and Sudan supporting and arming rebel groups in pursuit of wider political objectives and military goals (De Maio 2010, p.31).

What was a complex local, intrastate conflict became an even more complex transnational conflict involving the governments and rebel groups of the three countries.

Not only are these three countries "on the brink," and thus highly susceptible to the negative effects of climate change, but climate change has already had a hand in the region's most recent violence. In an opinion article in the Washington Post, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon attributed some of the roots of the Darfur conflict to climate change. "Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change" (Ban 2007, para. 4). He explains that since the early 1980s, average precipitation has declined nearly 40% in southern Sudan. While the agrarian and herding cultures once lived amicably, "once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today" (Ban 2007, para. 6). Thus, the Darfur conflict may have originated as a domestic conflict, but both the cause (climate change) and the eventual effect (regional conflict) are transnational.

Darfur has not suffered the effects of climate change in isolation. The region known as the Sahel is a transitional zone between the savannahs of central Africa and the Saharan desert. It stretches across the continent from ocean to ocean and cuts through Western Darfur. This band has proven to be a focal point of climate change studies. As increasing desertification has caused the expansion of the Sahara south, the Sahel has shifted in composition. Chad has experienced climate pressures as well. "As a result of decreased rainfall and increased water usage, the extent of Lake Chad decreased by 95 per cent over roughly 35 years" (UNEP/GRID, para. 2). Has the CAT been a "perfect storm" of conditions, one which is too easy to trace to climate change?

Unfortunately, environmental security has had a hand in another notorious conflict in Africa. Jared Diamond argues that Malthus was right in regards to Rwanda. He argues that there were "too many people fighting over too little arable land" (Richter et al. 2007 p. 334). Richter et al. argue, in contrast, that Diamond's assertion is too deterministic. "In Rwanda and Darfur [Malthusian pressures] may have had indirect roles as pretexts for dominant elites to maintain and amass power, but do not account for their decisions to carry out genocide" (Richter et al. 2007, p.336). In other words, the environmental dimension of the roots of the Rwandan Genocide represents an incomplete part of the equation. Societal tensions were a necessary component that allowed elites to seize upon issues of environmental security in support of their divisive plans. As noted in the World Bank report, "increasing resource competition in heterogeneous societies may attract opportunistic elites who intensify social cleavages – particularly ethnic identities – and make the population more vulnerable to radicalization (Kahl, 2006)" (Buhaug, et al. 2007, p. 20).

Climate change appears be affecting the CAT already by increasing Saharan desertification, reducing crop outputs, and increasing pressures on an already-dwindling water supply. Additionally, the CAT represents an early victim of climate change-induced conflict. Again, there is not a direct link, but it is clear that the Darfur issue has some roots in environmental change. The United Nations is one of the few organizations at least partially equipped to manage conflict in the CAT. There are a number of operations in the region currently.

3. Duration

The link between climate change and armed conflict in the central African triangle is projected to be a salient issue for some time. IPCC estimates project

One of the most impactful recent works on climate change comes from the United Nations-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2007, the body released its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which examines a range of data and provides forecast models of future climate change. Of the African region specifically, and relevant to this case, the report's second working group said:

"By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. {WGII 9.4, SPM} […] By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition. {WGII 9.4, SPM}" (IPCC Assessment 2007, p. 50).

Many of the effects of climate change in central Africa will not be completely evident until midcentury.

The IPCC treats climate change as a real and evident phenomenon. It asserts that the effects of climate change will not be uniform globally. In fact, many of the most developed countries will experience more moderate temperatures and longer growing seasons as a result. Many countries that are already less developed will experience reduced land fertility and more extreme temperatures and weather (IPCC Assessment 2007). Much of Africa, as shown above, will suffer food insecurity and stressed water resources. But the AR4 notes, too, that "the consequences of climate change are already unfolding" (Smith and Vivekananda 2007, p. 7). As a result, efforts at climate change mitigation alone will not address the issue; societies must be prepared to adapt to the changes that will inevitably come in the next decades.

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: Central Africa

Countries: Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan

5. Actors

CAR: Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP), government, UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT), Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), the UN peacebuilding mission in CAR (BINUCA)

Sudan: Darfuri rebels (eg. Justice and Equality Movement [JEM]), the Sudanese government, Janjaweed militias, the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)

Chad: Chadian rebels, the government of Chad, the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT)

*Many of the above rebel groups, as mentioned previously, operate across borders

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem

Desertification, increased pressure on water resources, decreased agricultural productivity

7. Type of Habitat

The habitat in question ranges from the southern edges of the Sahara Desert, through the Sahel region of north-central Africa, into the semi-tropical forests of CAR.

8. Act and Harm Sites:

The climate effects in the CAT are tied to the warming of the Indian Ocean. The harm site includes the outer edges of the Sahara Desert. The act sites are primarily within the "Global North," where unsustainable developmental practices have stressed the global ecology for over a century.

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict

The CAT has, for nearly a decade, been suffering from a complicated mix of intrastate and interstate conflict. As detailed above, the conflict in the region, the most recent iteration of which grew from the Darfur Crisis, has sparked tensions between each state and its respective rebel groups, and has included cross-border clashes and proxy wars.

10. Level of Conflict

The level of conflict has been relatively high since 2000. However, the efforts of the United Nations with UNAMID, MINURCAT, BINUCA, and diplomatic actions have helped to significantly tamp down on conflict frequency and intensity. Because the region is so delicate, the projected further climate change could cause a resurgence of highly intense conflict without comprehensive adaptation and peacebuilding efforts.

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

The conflict in the region has historically and (should it reflare) will in the future disproportionately affect civilians. Just as the effects of climate change primarily target civilians, the resulting conflict will do the same.

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Causal diagram linking environmental factors to conflict in the region

This causal diagram represents the linkages that connect the effects of climate change on Central Africa to existing conflicts.  The existence of human-made global climate change is supported by an overwhelming portion of the scientific community.  Its effects are not consistent in all parts of the world.  A number of models project that climate change will cause increasing desertification in the areas of southern Chad and Sudan and northern Central African Republic (CAR) by expanding the reach of the Sahara Desert.  As desertification increases, available arable land will decrease.  Both of these immediate effects will result in further food shortages in an already undernourished and poor region.

Food shortages can result in three effects.  Refugee movements, already a cause of cross-border tension at the Chad-Sudan-CAR nexus, will increase as people try to find food (the World Food Programme works in CAR, but has itself been facing food shortages).  Rioting is a common response to food shortages worldwide.  This will compound the human suffering and ethnic tensions already existing.  Furthermore, people seeking protection and sure sources of food may join ethnically-based militant groups that secure these by force.  These three effects all serve to exacerbate the existing ethnic conflict in the region and thus result in increased conflict intensity.

13. Level of Strategic Interest

Strategically, Sudan is a relatively major concern of international actors. It is a huge country with oil resources, a front in Western-Muslim relations, and is on the verge of a referendum that is expected to partition the country and create the new state of South Sudan. Darfur specifically has and will attract a significant amountt of attention bbecause of the genocidal atrocities committed there.

Chad and CAR are of relatively little strategic interest to international players. However, France and Libya have maintained strong ties to the two countries.

14. Outcome of Dispute:

The dispute resulted in the intervention of UN peacekeepers in the region (MINURCAT/UNAMID). A peace deal in Darfur (the Comprehensive Peace Agreement) was signed in 2005. Low-level violence continues to occur throughout the region. Nevertheless, the mandate of MINURCAT is scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.

V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

SUDAN Civil War in the Sudan: Resources or Religion? , by D. Michelle Domke

RWANDA Rwanda and Conflict, by Tara Mitchell

NIGER Fulani and Zarma tribes pushed into fights by Desertification?: Desertification in Niger, by Andrew H. Furber (June, 1997)

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Bah, A. M. S., & Johnstone, I. (2007). Peacekeeping in Sudan: Dynamics of Protection, Partnerships, and Inclusive Politics An occasional policy paper of the Center on International Cooperation's project on Global Peace Operations. New York: Center on International Cooperation.

ICG. (2007). Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State Africa Report. Nairobi: Internatioanl Crisis Group. African Republic Anatomy of a Phantom State.ashx

IPCC. (2007). Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. Valencia, Spain: IPCC.

De Maio, J. L. (2010). Is War Contageous? The Transnationalization of Conflict in Darfur
African Studies Quarterly, 11(4), 25-44.

Ban, K. M. (2007). A Climate Culprit in Darfur, The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Enough Project. (2010). Lord's Resistance Army Finds Safe Haven in Darfur, AllAfrica. Retrieved from

Foreign Policy, & The Fund for Peace. (2010). 2010 Failed States Index. Washington, D.C.: Foreign Policy.

UNAMID. (2010). African Union/United nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Retrieved December 8, 2010, from

UNEP/GRID. Lake Chad. Retrieved December 8, 2010, from