Politics in Africa, Civil Strife, and Failed States.
Politics in Africa has been a murky debate due to diverse methods of rules imposed on citizens of different African countries. The continent is home to the most diverse political formations in the world, which include democracies, dictatorships, kingdoms, aristocratic states and failed states lacking a sound government capable of providing for its citizens. The reasons for such diverse formations can be the relatively young states that received independence from the 1950’s through to the 1990’s. The young states coupled with weak constitutions result in states that have little rule of law, diminishing respect for the constitution and as a result, impunity begins to manifest itself. In most African countries, the political and economic elite operate under blankets of protection offered by both the state and their personal wealth. As a result, they are able to manipulate both the law of the land and public processes to suit their agendas and plans for themselves and their kind. In Africa, it is always about preservation. The ruling class desire to preserve themselves in power and the wealthy want to preserve their wealth. They do this at the expense of the common citizens, and this cause dissatisfaction among the general population.
The dissatisfaction among the people, prevailing economic conditions, and other factors result in a disgruntled population and this is a sitting time bomb. The population now provides fertile grounds for incitement and has an incentive, cause, and believe to go to war with its government. As a result, most civil strife in Africa is due to three main factors: cultural, economic, and political factors.
The cultural, economic, and political factors are a conglomerate of multiple factors that contribute to the emergence of civil unrest, conflict, and consequently war. The multiple factors include facts, needs, values, positions, and methodology.
Facts are past or present occurrences that have been disputed, and there seems to be no method of arbitrating the differences that exist in the occurrence of these current or past conditions. This can be a result of the inability of the legal system to provide methods and platforms of arbitrating these differences. However, they can be a result of the unwillingness of certain parties to engage in the dispute resolution process, thus ignoring calls or sabotaging the process altogether. The result is the use of unconventional or unconstitutional methods of either forcing the occurrence of certain actions or voicing their opinions. The unconventional methods are met with equal or excessive suppressive force, and the result is a conflict that could quickly escalate to civil war.
The needs of different factions of the people are also the cause of tensions and conflict among people. When people feel that the ruling class does not meet their needs and there is no means to address the problem or that their needs are being deliberately ignored, disagreements are likely to occur. The governments are in place to provide for the needs of the people. These needs include both economic and social development, provision of equal opportunities for all, justice, and control of various aspects of life. When these needs are not met, a disgruntled and possibly disillusioned population emerges, offering a platform form revolutionary action. Whether peaceful or not, revolutions usually escalate conflicts and result in civil tensions that more often than not result in bloody conflicts.
The value system in Africa is one of the main causes of conflict in the continent. The values held by most of the population tend to be cultural, and therefore are not enshrined in their constitutions or statutory facilities. As a result, it is easy for some groups to disregard the values or other groups or infringe on their value system altogether. For example, the payment of bride wealth in form of livestock or other naturally occurring resources, such as precious stones. In most countries, this has led to inter-community strife as different groups interfere with the values of others. The payment of bride wealth in many African countries, especially among the pastoral communities has led to the culture of practices, such as cattle rustling and raids on other communities. The young men raid neighbouring communities to steal livestock and other goods that are used in various cultural practices. Mostly, the cattle stolen are used to procure brides while other goods are exchanged as gifts between the families to enhance good relations. These practices escalate to unmanageable levels with time and due to armament of the conflicting communities, they tend to evolve from community conflict to full blown civil wars, as more atrocities are committed.
Other factors contributing to the escalation of civil conflict include the positions/ stands of various factions and the methods used to forward these stands and agendas. These positions and stands range from the division of public positions, and ways in which the needs of the people can be addressed. The engagement of different factions to address these methods is usually poorly coordinated with lack of proper structures and systems to address such issues. As a result, the satisfaction of position and stands held by certain factions results in the oppression of others since no form of justice or equitability exists. Most of these processes end up in futility, and conflicts usually erupt as a result of redundancy of the process.
One of the most common causes of civil strife in the African content is the acquiring and distribution of resources of the benefits accumulated from controlling such resources. The continent is rich in natural resources, such as oil and natural gasses, precious stones and metals, and resources such as ivory rich wildlife and much more.
The control of such resources has caused civil strife in countries, such as Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Liberia. These are countries rich in natural reserves of both oil and naturally occurring minerals. In Liberia, the control of a diamond rich province led to a bloody civil conflict and wars that lasted more than a decade. The sale of these resources funded the activities of warlords for the entire period. Other countries affected by the same problem include Angola, the Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of Congo that has engaged in numerous civil wars fuelled and funded by blood diamonds.
Other countries, such as South Sudan and Nigeria have experienced bloody conflicts due to the presence of oil reserves on the land. The presence of these oil reserves means that the ruling class controls a vast spread of wealth and other resources since oil is one of the most important resources for countries across the globe. Lack of clear policy on the distribution of proceeds from such resources or the blatant disregard of such policy results in conflicts that usually escalate to civil wars.
GOVERNANCE AND AUTHORITY
In countries, such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, the control of political power by certain individuals and the lack of means of participation in political process for the public resulted in revolutions that ended up in civil wars. The uprising was a result of dictatorial regimes that did not offer the people the opportunity or means to select leaders of their own choice. As a result, the citizens of these countries felt they lacked choice in the type of leadership and the methods in which they wished to be governed.
Lack of statutory means through which their grievances could be addressed led to widespread demonstrations in the countries that quickly escalated to violent protest and eventually developing into fully blown armed conflicts.
CULTURAL AND IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICTS
These wars are generally known as identity wars and are usually fought between factions bearing certain backgrounds, such as ethnicity or belief in extremist ideologies, such as radical Islam. Tribal conflicts have been part of the African content since the pre-colonial era and have spilt over to the post-colonial era (Thandika, 182). The conflicts have been a result of cultural practices or the marginalisation of certain ethnic factions in matters of governance, development, and distribution of wealth (Thandika, 198).
Countries that have been aggrieved by this type of conflict include Rwanda, Sudan, and Kenya. In Rwanda, a genocide that took place in 1994 is estimated to have caused the death of between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people (Uvin, 262). The genocide was fuelled by the need to cleanse the Tutsi and moderate Hutus from the general population terming them as cockroaches (Uvin, 226). In South Sudan, the conflict erupted following the declaration of independence and escalated when relations between President Salva Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar turned sour (Khalid, 26). The dispute resulted in the firing of Machar from the government causing his tribe to take up arms against the rule of President Kiir (Khalid, 26).
Ideological wars on the other hand are new to the country, and are a result of mostly religious extremism. The belief in extremism and subsequent radicalisation has resulted in the armament of civilians who assume militant formations and engage other establishments in armed conflict. The conflict in Somalia, which started as a civil war between clans leading to the collapse of government has taken an ideological turn in recent years. The conflict has spilled over to neighbouring countries, such as Kenya, resulting in the deployment of Kenyan forces in Somalia to fight the insurgents.
The conflict in Nigeria has also taken a religious turn as opposed to the economic nature it had initially assumed. These conflicts have portrayed hard-lined ideological stands that have resulted in the emergence of less effective and failed states.
The fight for either resources, political power or ideological and identity prominence is usually fuelled by a lot of propaganda and false beliefs. In other cases, the fighters and militants are assured of handsome rewards upon the achievement of the insurgents’ agenda. These two factors contribute greatly to the evolution of conflict into wars and mass murders. Feelings of alienation and inequality are instilled in factions of the population, and the result is catastrophic as was experienced in Rwanda. Militants are made to believe they are fighting for their rights, equality, and they are securing the future for their children.
The methods used to analyze conflicts in Africa provide useful insight on the economic, cultural, and political factors that contribute to these conflicts. However, they fail to provide insights on the root causes of such conflict. Issues, such as greed and hunger for power and control of state machinery are rarely addressed. These are usually the factors behind any armed conflict and are usually masked behind fights for resource and other factors. Other factors, such as external interests are also not addressed in these studies. In any war, there are external players who benefit immensely from the sale of arms, acquisition of resources, such as oil and other natural resources like diamonds and precious metals. Most of these beneficiaries of the conflicts are developed countries that fail to disclose their interests in armed conflict across the continent. As a result, the analysis fails to provide insightful information on the real causes and evolution of civil warfare in Africa.
Khalid, Mustafa Medani. The Political Economy of Inter-Communal Conflict in South Sudan, 2014. Print.
Peter, Uvin. Ethnicity and Power in Burundi and Rwanda: Different Paths to Mass Violence. New York: Ph.D. Program in Political Science of the City University of New York, 1999. Print.
Thandika, Mkandawire. “The Terrible Toll of Post-Colonial Rebel Movements in Africa: Towards an Explanation of the Violence against the Peasantry.” The Journal of Medoren African Studies, 40(2): 181-215. 2002. Print.