More than 40 years after a catastrophic famine struck the region, the Sahel has once again become the focus of global attention. Poor economic performance, growing instability, and deteriorating climate conditions have combined to produce a vicious circle of increased poverty, instability, and communal violence. By drying out sources of livelihoods for populations mainly dependent on natural resources, climate change reinforces long-existing rivalries and increasingly triggers violence. In this paper, we argue that while climate change is a proximate cause of violence, institutional failures and clientelism are the actual root causes.