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  • Hosted by Partnership for African Environmental Sustainability (PAES), the symposium on Environmental Insecurity, Poverty and Conflict: Towards Sustainable Peace and Development took place at the Nile Hotel International Conference Centre, Kampala , Uganda , 23 - 24 September 2003. Participants (see list attached) came from a variety of disciplines engaged in policy making, research, teaching, natural resource management, development, policy advocacy and media.
  • The Honorable Dr. Kezimbira Miyingo, Minister of State of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uganda , officially opened the symposium. On behalf of the European Commission, the funding agency, Mr. Simon Le Grand, addressed the gathering. Mr. Mersie Ejigu, President & Chief Executive Officer of PAES, and Mr. Ben Kamugasha, Chairman of the Governing Council of PAES also spoke at the opening session.

Background to and purposes of the symposium

  • Africa has been beset by armed conflict for decades. To better understand the fundamental causes, triggering and amplifying factors of conflicts and determine the role of environmental security, Partnership for African Environmental Sustainability with funding from the European Union launched a project "Integrating environmental security concerns in national development policies" that covered Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. The primary goal of the project is to study the link between environmental insecurity and armed conflict and thereby influence policy decision-making and peace negotiation processes.
  • This symposium is a part of the activities undertaken by the project. The objectives of the Symposium are to:
  • Provide forum to debate the findings of the two-year study on the link between environmental insecurity and armed conflict in the four case study countries.
  • Broaden cross sectoral understanding of environmental insecurity as a possible trigger, amplifier and cause of conflict
  • Promote environmental security as a tool for conflict prevention and resolution and attainment of sustainable peace and development based on the findings of the Study feedback received at the Symposium
  • Develop mechanisms for integrating environmental security concerns in local and national development policies

The symposium process

  • The symposium consisted of plenary paper presentations and discussions, panel discussions and a working group session. With the view to giving the findings of the study and discussions at the symposium more publicity, the head of the host organization, Mr. Ejigu appeared on a half hour Uganda Television (UTV) talk show on 18 September 2003 and held press briefings at the beginning and end of the symposium. Representatives from key media organizations attended the symposium.
  • At the Symposium, the findings of the two-year PAES/EU project study in Burundi , Ethiopia , Rwanda and Uganda were discussed and critiqued. In addition, separately sponsored papers on actual and potential conflict concerns of the region like land scarcity and tenure in Rwanda ; environmental insecurity and conflict in Zimbabwe ; scarcity of the Nile and Zambezi waters and potential conflict were presented.

Findings of the country case studies

  • The overview of the findings from the country case studies establishes the importance of environmental insecurity to the understanding of armed conflicts. The studies highlighted that:
  • In all the study countries, e nvironmental scarcity in the context of high population pressure, low institutional and technology response, and poverty is bound to induce armed conflict between communities. Environmental insecurity thus potentially translates into environmental induced conflicts.
  • There are several types of environment induced conflicts experienced in the countries studied. These are:
  • Farmer - pastoralist conflicts
  • Farmer - farmer conflicts
  • Pastoralist - pastoralist conflicts
  • State - pastoralist conflicts
  • State - cultivator conflicts
  • State - state cultivator conflicts

Conclusion of the symposium

(i) Conflict prevention is a development agenda

  • Participants reaffirmed that conflict is a development issue in Africa . Preventing violent conflict, in addition to saving lives and scarce resources, creates an environment conducive to long-term sustainable development. The main challenge is to maintain healthy political contestation and fair competition for resources but prevent violent conflicts. This requires understanding underlying causes of conflicts and developing the institutions and political culture that permit differences to be settled through the process of governance.

(ii) African conflicts have changed in character

  • Participants noted that African conflicts have changed their characteristics, frequency and occurrence during the postcolonial period. Today, the majority of the conflicts are fought within national borders, rather than between different nation-states. Most of these conflicts are unstructured and difficult to predict as multiple actors often fight them with interdependent interests, and the distinction between combatants and civilians is often blurred.

(iii) Most conflicts are over scarce environmental resources

  • Conflicts in the majority cases are related to competition over access, use and transfer of scarce natural resources. The case studies highlighted that where there are occurrences of armed conflicts, there are often conditions of competition over scarce resources, institutional failures for dealing with management of scarce natural resources and conflict resolution, governance deficit, societal heterogeneity, and economic deprivation and impoverishment.
  • Whilst affirming the findings of the case studies, the participants further clarified on factors underlying violent conflicts. Public policy at times could directly contribute to degradation of natural resources and environmental insecurity. Policy design often fails to take into account indigenous knowledge on resource management. Even where there are policies that appear good (as most countries do after the Rio Conference), public action is weak and slow.

(iv) Property rights influence conflicts

  • Conflict is bound to occur where property rights are not responsive to scarcity of resources in a way that allows equitable access, efficient use, security of tenure. Inequitable distribution of resources where powerful groups marginalize the weak could in particular be a source of grievance and conflict. The reasons for change in tenure arrangements are varied; some are political. Apparently, there is no sustained policy action to address issues to access, utilization and transfer of land in the case countries.

(v) Poverty, environmental insecurity and conflict are correlated

  • Whilst recognizing poverty as a consequence of environmental degradation, it is also the cause of land degradation. The causality is not thus one way. What matters to explain conflict is not being poor today but the perception of future threat of their livelihoods and growing poverty. When people are under threat of environmental insecurity, they are prone for manipulation by warlords or conflict entrepreneurs for engaging them into conflicts for political end.
  • The poor often degrade their natural resources, which are their basic livelihoods. It is not, however, inherent in the poor to degrade their natural resources. The poor are bound to degrade natural resources, for example, under conditions of insecurity of tenure, lack of access to technology to improve productivity, perception of high risk and uncertainty over livelihoods and survival, and poor access to credit to smooth consumption. Or, the poor maybe pushed onto marginal areas by powerful groups as the evidence from Rwanda and Zimbabwe indicates. When incentives are right and constraints are relaxed, the poor invest their own time and resources to conserve and improve their natural resources. Whether the land degrading behavior of the poor is due to lack of knowledge or other factors needs to be understood for effective policy intervention.
  • The burden of poverty consequence of environment degradation falls heavily on women, who are dependent on natural resources to provide family subsistence. Addressing the poverty and environmental links eases the burden on women and consequently on welfare of families.
  • Focusing on sustained pro-poor development process is necessary to de-link the positive relation between poverty and environmental degradation. Broad based and diversified economic growth lessens the burden on natural resources through shifting population into other livelihoods. As the Ethiopia PRSP demonstrates, environment as a priority area is mainstreamed with strengthened regulatory and institutional capacity.

(vi) Where there is environment induced conflict, there is governance deficit

  • Participants underscored that African conflicts have major governance dimension. Unpacking it provides entry points for influencing environment, poverty and conflict nexus.

  • Participants emphasized also the three cardinal principles of governance: (a) centrality of governance; (b) increased participation of local communities; and (c) effective communication and feedback process.

(vii) Population pressure induces environmental degradation thus contributes to conflict

  • The case studies tend to emphasize the positive relation between population pressure and environmental degradation. Whilst there are African cases where population has positive effect on sustainability of environment, population under conditions of weak institutional and technological change and impoverishment has degrading effect in the case countries.
  • Population mobility and settlement tends to raise a likelihood of resource conflicts in most of the study areas. Large-scale migration translates on to conflict more likely where there are social cleavage between migrants and indigenous population.

(viii) Growing scarcity and inequitable use of shared water resources is a potential source of conflict

  • Environmental-induced conflicts occur between states arising over sharing common resources such as trans-boundary waters. Conflict in a country can also spills into neighboring countries such as flow of large refugees. As the case of the Nile basin shows, the upstream riparian countries do not benefit as much as Egypt and Sudan ). As the Nile water becomes scarce and the capacity of the upstream countries (or, the needs) increases, conflict is bound to arise unless mechanism is in place dealing with sharing water resources, utilization and management, and distribution of benefits.
  • There are eight riparian countries that share the waters of the Zambezi basin. These are issues that are potential sources of conflict: (a) increasing scarcity of water in the riparian countries and unequal demand for Zambezi waters; (b) declining water quality associated with pollution; (c) management of catchment areas and flows of water (e.g. low lying countries such as Mozambique are subject to flooding in time of good rain); (d) equitable sharing of benefits; and (e) threat from unequal economic and military strength between countries. SADEC considers how best to address these issues but it has build confidence and trust among the countries.

(ix) What triggers conflict needs better understanding?

  • What triggers conflict and what are the points of intervention? The operational questions are how to recognize the warning signs and what preventive measures can be put in place In addressing these questions, it is important to recognize conflict is an outcome of a cumulative process over time. Hence, it does not happen suddenly. Understanding the process, the factors underlying, and their change in character over time are necessary for effective early warning and intervention. It is often easier to predict where than when conflict occurs.

(x) Traditional knowledge, systems and institutions have significant role in the management of environment induced conflicts

  • In all the case countries, there are peace-making traditional (indigenous) institutions. These institutions are primarily for conciliation of disputes with compensation. They do not have the force of law, but derives their authority religious base and social acceptability (elders, clan-heads, prominent personalities, leaders of community-based networks). They often operate effectively with neutrality. However, the institutions erode as population size of communities increases, communities become heterogeneous, statutory laws fail to recognize the role of customary laws and the indigenous institutions become politicized such as appointing traditional leaders as local officials, and modernization or integration into urban economy dilutes traditional values and norms.
  • There are moves towards recognition of the role of indigenous institutions for conflict management in the case countries and integrating them in formal institutions such as the cooperative movements in Uganda , the decentralization of powers to local communities, and collective community networks.

(xi) Timely and wider dissemination of research results

  • Research findings such as the PAES case country studies need to be communicated with the stakeholders at community level, the public, politicians and policy makers. Pertaining to this issue, participants discussed how much policy research organizations are prepared and the mechanisms they would employ. It was pointed that it is often easier to communicate research findings (i.e., knowledge generated to policy makers), but it is hard to make them act.


  • Actions to be taken by governments:
  • Enhance diversified sustainable economic growth as a way to expand income growth opportunity that is less dependent on natural resources and reduce poverty.
  • Promote sustainable natural resource management
  • Promote governance -rule of law, protection of property, democratic culture
  • Institute effective conflict prevention and resolution process that is derived from indigenous or traditional peace making institutions.
  • Initiate and/or enhance capacity for early warning and response.
  • Enhance regional cooperation and integration as a way to reduce inter-state conflict.
  • Develop strategies for effective dissemination of research findings for action.
  • Improving public policy to prevent environment induced conflicts. Participants recommended that the need for:
  • Policies to account for local knowledge and practices;
  • Strengthening local-level participation of stakeholders;
  • Sensitizing and making aware of the long-term effects of policy action;
  • Providing incentives such as fair distribution of benefits in addition to awareness; and
  • Greater transparency and accountability of public institutions.
  • Promoting sound governance in relation to sustainable peace and development. Three key priority areas of action were highlighted:
  • Strengthen the move towards decentralization as it means setting a process of broadening participation of stakeholders, aligning development priorities to needs, greater control and management of resources including scarce natural resources, and mitigating conflicts.
  • Institute a transparent land tenure system that are responsive to the needs of local communities;
  • Strengthening dispute resolution system that is built on traditional values and practices, and expanding diversified economic opportunity.
  • Communicate knowledge and promote awareness
  • Actions recommended for the multilateral and bilateral agencies:
  • i. Whilst the responsibility for preventing and managing conflicts lies mainly on national governments, the international community had important role in preventing or containing conflicts, particularly those that have regional dimension.
  • ii. Those organizations providing financial and technical support in the area of conflict management should take into account environmental security in designing their conflict management programmes.

29. Actions to be taken by PAES:

  • Set up an African knowledge network on environmental security to broaden understanding and facilitate exchange of views, experiences and research results.
  • Disseminate proceedings of the symposium as well as the results of the case studies as widely as possible.
  • Prepare follow up project proposals that help enhance the mainstreaming of environmental security concerns in local and national development policies and process.

Please contact:
Sauda Katenda
Plot 3157 Tankhill Rd Muyenga
P. O. Box 10273
Kampala, Uganda

Email: info@paes.org