Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Communal Violence in Mauritania and Senegal 1989-1992

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 3
Western Africa
Time 1989 ‐ 1992
Countries Mauritania, Senegal
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Conflict Summary A local famer-herder conflict over grazing rights in the Mauritanian-Senegal border region has triggered a spiral of violence between Senegalese and...
Communal Violence in Mauritania and Senegal 1989-1992
A local famer-herder conflict over grazing rights in the Mauritanian-Senegal border region has triggered a spiral of violence between Senegalese and Mauritanians in the southern Senegal River bank and different Mauritanian cities. This escalation has to be understood against the background of persistent racism and discrimination of the ‘black’ population of Mauritania.
Conceptual Model

Fragility and Conflict Risks

As a reaction to the violent clashes, both governments decided to expel each other’s citizens and to close the border. Attempts by members of the Mauritanian elite to challenge the land rights of local Mauritians and expel them to Senegal in order to derive benefit from the new dams further complicated the situation.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversIn-migration leads to demographic change.Demographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Infrastructure development facilitates land use changes.Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity undermines the livelihoods of agricultural producers.State elites strategically use livelihood insecurity for political advantage/power.Livelihood insecurity fuels grievances between groups.Use of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power intensifies interstate tensions.Voluntary or involuntary movement of people from one area to another.Migration patternsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityUse of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power.PoliticisationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate Tensions
Context Factors
  • Insecure Land Tenure
  • Unequal Land Distribution
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Political Marginalization
  • Power Differential
Conflict History

In April 1989, Fulani herdsmen and Mauritanian Soninke famers clashed over grazing rights in the Senegal River Valley, which demarcates the Mauritanian-Senegalese border. Mauritanian border guards intervened, killing two Senegalese peasants and taking several prisoners. As a result riots broke out in Senegal, targeting the Mauritanian immigrant population, which was quite numerous on the southern Senegal River bank. Subsequently, Senegalese immigrants were victims of reprisal attacks in Nouakchott and other Mauritanian cities. Both countries began expelling Mauritanian and Senegalese nationals and the Mauritanian-Senegalese border was closed. By the end of April several hundred were killed or injured and several thousand displaced (UCDP, 2014). Mauritanian-Senegalese diplomatic relationships remained strained until the reopening of the border in 1992.

While the incident that sparked the violence centred on a local land use conflict between farmers and herders, the wider conflict opposing Mauritanians and Senegalese has to be understood against the background of on-going racism in Mauretania. There has been a significant north/south divide in the country, roughly corresponding to a divide between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ populations. Frequently, villages inhabited by ‘black’ Mauritanians living close to the southern border to Senegal were evacuated, the inhabitants stripped of their identification and deported to Senegal or Mali. This discrimination of southern ‘black’ Mauritanians created a tense situation not only in Mauretania but also in Senegal, where numerous ‘white’ Mauritanian immigrants had opened businesses (UCDP, 2014).

A further factor contributing to these tensions were plans to build two large dams on the Senegal River and the Bafing River tributary in Mali. The dams were supposed to regulate the river's flow, while producing hydropower and allowing the expansion of irrigated agriculture in response to droughts and food shortages, which had been particularly severe in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Speculations about the increased value of land where irrigated agriculture would become possible, however, encouraged the predominantly ‘white’ Mauritanian elite to alter land legislation in order to strip ‘black’ Mauritians in the river valley of their rights and expel them to Senegal. This contributed to grievances against white Mauritanians in Senegal (Homer-Dixon, 1994).

Resolution Efforts

The Mauritanian-Senegalese border was closed and diplomatic relations between the two countries ceased on 21 August 1989. Mediation attempts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1990 were not successful. Finally, Senegal's President Abdou Diouf managed to work out an agreement with his Mauritanian homologue Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya and a treaty was signed by the two countries on July 18, 1991. The border was reopened on 2 May 1992 and the repatriation of refugees began, albeit slowly (UCDP, 2014; Onwar project, 2014).

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Diplomatic Crisis Diplomatic crisis involving non-violent tools such as economic sanctions
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Mauritania, Senegal
Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence has ceded completely.
Resolve of displacement problems There is some success in accommodating the displaced.
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
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Government of Senegal
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Government of Mauritania
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal International
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Organization of African Unity (OAU)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Treaty/agreement The border was reopened on 2 May 1992 after the president of Senegal, Abdou Diouf, and the President of Mauritania, Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, reached an agreement resulting in a treaty signed by both countries. However, the repatriation of refugees has been slow.
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 Symmetric: All parties can affect the environmental resource equally.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is strongly present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse